The 76ers are set embark on yet another new coaching era (their 7th since Larry Brown left in 2003), this time under Doug Collins, a coach whose most notable achievement in coaching to this point was being Phil Jackson’s predecessor in Chicago. Collins has a project on his hands here in Philadelphia. The Sixers haven’t had a winning season since 2004-2005 and even then they lost in the first round of the playoffs. While this Sixers team boasts a boatload of youthful talent and seems to have at least some semblance of a plan for the future, there is still much work to be done in order to turn this team into a contender. Below, I have concocted a checklist of steps to success that I feel the Sixers must follow in order to return to relevance in Philadelphia.
1) Get rid of Andre Igoudala, even if it means taking 50 cents on the dollar. Igoudala’s reign in Philly as the “go-to guy” has been disappointing to say the least. I honestly do believe that Igoudala is a good player as proven by his time on Team USA this summer, however he is not A) capable of being “the man” on an NBA team or B) worth the nearly $12.5 million he is due this year. Igoudala is a world-class defender and possesses athleticism that most can only dream of, but he just doesn’t have “it”. In his 7th season, any success as a leader that he may be destined for should have been evident by now. Given his skill set (great defender, a slasher on offense) Igoudala would make a great Artest to someone’s Kobe, but unfortunately for the Sixers, their “Kobe” to be, Evan Turner, plays the same position as Igoudala. You may ask why shedding Igoudala takes precedence over getting rid of Elton Brand. Do not get me wrong, shedding Brand and his monstrous contract would only help the Sixers, but the market for Igoudala is significantly more lucrative than the market for Brand. Also, Brand could be more useful to the team given the current roster, which is guard/small forward heavy.
2) Bring Evan Turner along slowly. No one expects the Sixers to win 50 games this year. Turner, who last year suffered from a stress fracture in his back, will no doubt hit the “rookie wall” late in the season. Given the wide-open nature of the Eastern Conference, where it is not inconceivable that a team with a 38-42 record can make the playoffs, the Sixers could find themselves in position to make some noise come May. With the abundance of youth on this team, and considering that team and coach will need time to develop a relationship, the Sixers should not expect to peak until late in the season. If they are able to sneak into the playoffs, a healthy Turner will no doubt be a difference maker.
3) The continued development of Jrue Holiday. Thankfully and mercifully, the Lou Williams at PG experiment was brought to an end when the Sixers drafted Holiday as their PG of the future. As a huge Sweet Lou fan, I still hope that he can find his niche here in Philly, but it will not be at PG. Holiday has the tools to be a great PG, speed, athleticism, uncanny passing ability, etc, but being a true PG in the NBA is a whole different beast. There are so many nuances to the position, it takes years to develop, especially considering Holiday left college early and lost those valuable years of development. One of Doug Collins’ bigger challenges in his first year as coach will be helping Holiday make the leap to being a true NBA PG. If the Sixers can establish him in his position, with so much youth and talent filling out every other position on the roster, this team can establish itself as a perennial playoff team with the emergence of a true PG to distribute the ball to the likes of fellow young guns Turner, Thaddeus Young, and Marreese Speights.
4) Establish someone as the starting center. Whether it be Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes, or Marreese Speights, Collins’ coaching style, which emphasizes ball control, quality possessions, and defense over the run and gun style of someone like Mike D’Antoni, requires a center in order to be successful. Brand would be an undersized center, but has proven in the past that he can be a successful rebounder despite his lack of size. Hawes is probably the only true center on the roster with a chance of seeing much playing time, but he is young and unproven. Speights, in my opinion, is better suited to the Power Forward position given his speed and athleticism and if Hawes or Brand can step up to fill the 5 spot, it would only benefit the Sixers to have some combination of Speights and Brand or Hawes on the floor as opposed to only one of the three at a time given the emphasis on ball control in Collins’ system.
5) Keep the floor spread. This is where players like Jason Kapono, Lou Williams, and Jodie Meeks are of benefit to the Sixers. If these three can find their stroke, it will open the floor for attackers like Turner, Holiday and Young. This, more than anything, will be key to the Sixers success in 2010-2011. With an offense predicated on success in the halfcourt, it is essential that defenses not be able to clog the lanes or lay off the perimeter. If the Sixers can keep the floor spread, it will be worth at least 5 or 6 wins this year, which could be the difference between the playoffs and the lottery.
Oct 27th and the arrival of Miami’s Big 3 is just a few weeks away, and the Sixers main rotation has been coming into focus in the last few preseason games. The Sixers have a long, uphill battle to becoming relevant, but following my checklist above will help the team to get there more quickly.