Extreme Makeover: Sixers Edition

Apologies for the long break from posting. Being as the Sixers’ season has been anything but  interesting thus far this season and the college basketball season upon us, I have been taking the time to write previews for each of the Big 5 teams and Drexel. Despite how our pro team has performed, we Philadelphians are extremely lucky to live in one of the best hoops hotbeds in the country. If you’ve never been to a Big 5 game at the Palestra, you must make it your top sports priority this winter. Once you experience the excitement of a game there, you will immediately be hooked, and you will quickly learn that there is great basketball being played in our backyard, despite what the NBA standings say. I’ll dive a little deeper into this over the course of the next week, but I can’t emphasize my point enough. If you are a basketball fan, you need to take a look at what is but a short train ride away. Over the next week, I will be posting previews as follows:

Wednesday: Penn/Drexel
Thursday: St. Joe’s
Friday: La Salle
Saturday: Temple
Sunday: Villanova

On to the Sixers:

A season that began with many eyes turned toward what all were hoping was a bright future has quickly dissolved into a lottery watch as the Sixers continue to flounder like a fish out of water. Any glimpse of hope, glimmer of talent, flash of brilliance has been quickly extinguished by a deluge of ineptitude, time and time again.

We are only halfway through November and even myself, ever the optimist when it comes to my teams, has to admit that this team is destined for the lottery. There are simply too many holes in the roster as it stands today for the Sixers to expect to contend for a playoff spot and, in all honesty, making the playoffs as a 7 or 8 seed will be more detrimental to the franchise’s long term development than a 20-win season would be.

The team must continue an overhaul that began this offseason if they desire to become relevant again even in the next 5 years. The situation is that dire. Below, I have listed the entire Sixers’ roster and my opinion on whether or not each player should stay or go and why….

Tony Battie – Battie’s value to the Sixers is best described as “trade bait”. Signed as a clubhouse guy whose main job is to keep the young players focused, his services are not needed on a team that is at best the 28th best team in the league. Battie would be a nice throw in on a deal that could serve to turnover the roster, and that’s about all.

Craig Brackins – The youngster hasn’t seen the court at all this season. He was acquired in the same trade that sent Willie Green and Jason Smith to the Hornets. Brackins is exactly the kind of player the Sixers need to hang on to right now but, knowing this front office, he’ll be one of the first to leave. Hoepfully history isn’t the best indicator as to what the Sixers will do here. Brackins is young (23 and a rookie), talented (avg’d almost 17 pts and 9 boards at Iowa State last year), and big (6’10” 230 lbs.), and, best of all, inexpensive ($1.3 mil this season). Doug Collins is starting to show frightening similarities to Larry Brown in that he is refusing to develop young talent, a terrible formula for a team in as deep a rebuilding mode as the Sixers. Brackins is a perfect example of a young guy who needs to start seeing the court, if only so that the Sixers may begin to more accurately evaluate the talent they have. Worst case scenario: he works his way back to the bench, where he has been resting comfortably all season. Best case scenario: the Sixers end up realizing they have a scrappy young guy with size who will definitely command solid trade value to a contender late in the season, if not establishing himself as a solid rotation guy for the future (this concept will be a recurring theme going forward).

Elton Brand – I’m probably going to surprise you here considering my rhetoric regarding Brand as recent as a month ago, but I think the Sixers need to keep him at this point in time. Considering the contract the Sixers signed with Brand, combined with Brand’s well documented injury history, there is no chance the Sixers will get a solid return on their investment in a trade scenario for Brand. Looking elsewhere on the roster, the Sixers are severely hurting at the PF and C positions. In fact, they are hemorrhaging from those positions. The Sixers have been killed in the paint this year and it is the most obvious hole on the team. The most realistic way for the Sixers to improve in the frontcourt will be through the draft, and someone like Brand (who, by the way, is playing very solidly, averaging 16 and 8) is the perfect mentor for a young, talented PF or C. Brand has always been a fundamentally sound player and fundamentals seem to be where the Sixers young frontcourt talent has been falling short. Assigning Brand as a mentor to the young guys currently on the roster and whomever the Sixers get in the draft (it HAS to be a big man) will only help to hasten this teams’ climb back to relevance. Why this hasn’t worked up to this point? More on that later.

Spencer Hawes – Keep him. Unless he is the make-or-break piece in a deal involving Iggy, Hawes is another young big man the Sixers have on the cheap at just $2.9 mil. A first-round guy who is only 22, his best basketball is ahead of him. A 7’1″ Center isn’t readily available on the playgrounds of Philadelphia, so an effort needs to be made to develop the skills of one when you have him. In just 16 minutes a game, Hawes has averaged 6 points and 3 boards. Those numbers are nowhere near gaudy but, when your most obvious talent is in the backcourt as it is with the Sixers, you don’t need 1990s Shaq numbers out of your center. You need a guy who can control the paint and clog the lanes. Hawes, with a body that is still developing, could conceivably fill this role. At just $2.9 mil, give him a chance to develop or, more to the point, take advantage of the asset when you have it and follow up on your investment – give him the tools to develop. Hawes is a keeper for at least the rest of the season.

Jrue Holiday – An obvious keeper. Holiday, 20, has the raw skills to be an All-Star at 24. Keep him on the court and let him learn the position slowly. Holiday is one of the few keystones on this roster that you can actually build around.

Andre Iguodala – A strained Achilles sidelined Iggy for a few games last week and the Sixers offense suffered no obvious loss of talent. Rumor had it that the Hornets inquired about his availability in that time and, for some reason, he is still on the Sixers. Why the front office is so enamoured with Iggy simply boggles my mind. I don’t mean to pick on the guy… having met him, he is a true professional and a seemingly good person, however, he is not going to lead this team out of the woods. He is not the right guy. I truly believe that once he is traded, he will flourish on a roster where he is not expected to carry the scoring load and is free to be more of a Swiss Army-knife type of player, but that is not going to happen in Philly. In my opinion, this is the Sixers’ biggest obstacle to success, the result of a combination of things, not the least of which is Iggy’s ridiculously excessive contract. Plain and simple, and discussed ad-nauseum in this space, he is not the right guy to rebuild this team around. The sooner he is gone, no matter how badly the Sixers get ripped off on the deal, the sooner the Sixers can build themselves into a contender.

Jason Kapono – Ed Stefanski was an improvement over Billy King in what way? Terrible contract for a terrible defender, and the shooting touch that won him several 3-point shootouts earlier in the decade has been elusive in Philly. He’s got to go.

Jodie Meeks – Jodie is an interesting talent. He proved at Kentucky that he can light it up at the drop of a dime but hasn’t gotten a chance to prove himself in the pros. This is something I have never really understood about the NBA. Weird, dated prejudices against players (i.e. lack of size) prevent them from ever even getting the opportunity to get in the flow of an NBA game. Meeks is a guy who I think can be a spark plug off the bench in the right situation, he just needs to see the court. This is another example of a guy who I think the Sixers need to just play to see what they have. It is completely pointless to park a young player on the bench. He isn’t going to bring anything to the table in the clubhouse, and being as he’s never as much as seen the floor, he carries little to no trade value. Play him, see what he can do. You’re already one of the worst teams in the league, so it can’t get any worse.

Andres Nocioni – Nocioni is a journeyman, but I don’t understand why. I love his lunchpail approach to the game, and he plays smart basketball. Nocioni is another keeper, with the “Iguodala Caveat”, where if he is the make-or-break player in a deal to move Iggy, you’ve got to let him go. Love Nocioni’s game though.

Darius Songaila – He is pointless on this roster. He is old and something tells me he’s not leading that clubhouse anywhere. Songaila could be a solid role player on a good team, a solid contributor as the 9th or 10th man, but he’s not doing this team any good.

Marreese Speights – Here is where I admit to inflating the value of a player who is going nowhere. I really thought at the beginning of the season that Speights could turn the corner this year and combine his talent with basketball IQ and work ethic to be a solid contributor, but I thought wrong. Speights seems uninterested when he plays, which isn’t often. Averaging 10 minutes a game, Speights contributes about 4 points and 3 boards a night on just 41% shooting, terrible for a big man. The knock on Speights coming out of Florida, and the reason he fell to the Sixers with the 16th pick, was that he was lazy and somewhat uncoachable. After the draft, he said all the right things to refute those claims, and I really wanted to believe him, even somewhat staking my preseason prediction on his development this year, but he can’t continue to hide his true identity as an all-talent, no drive paycheck casher. Not that there is anything wrong with that, you are who you are, but all too often Speights seems to be running a different play than the rest of the team on offense, completely spacing on help defense, and throwing up ill-advised shots to stuff his stat sheet. Maybe Speights will learn someday how to combine his sick athleticism with basketball brains to become a good player, but it’s not going to happen in Philly. Speights has worn out his welcome with me.

Evan Turner – Obviously, Turner is a keeper right now but Sixers fans have to have the word “bust” crawling around in their heads, especially after watching John Wall dismantle the Sixers a couple of weeks ago while Turner hardly made a dent in the stat sheet. With DeMarcus Cousins, chosen after Turner and playing a position that continues to be a major hole in the Sixers roster, tearing it up in Sacramento, you have to wonder whether Turner was the right pick. Throw in the fact that Lou Williams continues to evolve into a solid scorer at shooting guard, and one wonders why exactly the Sixers felt the next to bolster a backcourt that was already much more stable than their frontcourt. This is more a knock on the Sixers front office than Turner, and I really do hope he can develop into the player he was in college (he did win Player of the Year over Wall last year), but the whispers of “bust” are only going to get louder until Turner starts to produce.

Lou Williams – Well, we’ve gotten this far, we might as well keep him, right? I’ve always liked Sweet Lou so I may be a little biased here, but he has to be one of the more pleasant surprises of the season so far. Averaging about 15 points, 3 assists, and 2 rebounds in just 23 minutes a game, Williams has provided many a spark off the bench for the Sixers thus far this year. Being just 24, he will only continue to develop his game. Let’s keep him, if only for the fun of it.

Thaddeus Young – Young, unlike Speights, has not let me down in my preseason prediction. In just over 20 minutes of action a night, he has averaged 10 points and 4 boards. I really like what Young could be, with an emphasis on the word “could”. He is another player the Sixers need to focus on developing more than demanding production out of. Young is just 22, only spent a year in college, and is probably just beginning to grasp some of the more intricate details of the game as his talent alone was enough to get him to the pros. I think Young is still a keeper, despite his somewhat mediocre numbers, but the Sixers need to give him the tools to develop.

All in all, the Sixers need to focus more on developing talent than winning games. It’s time to give the keys of this bus to young guys who haven’t seen much action up to this point. Let them develop, let them build some trade value for themselves. If one of the cheap, young players on the roster can prove themselves to be a solid prospect for the future, it may help soften the blow the Sixers will need to take in any trade for Iguodala, a player whose contract outperforms his talent. As I alluded to earlier, Collins has shown flashes of Larry Brown this year (remember his handling of Larry Hughes?? Still one of the bigger travesties in recent Sixers history) which simply won’t work if you are looking to rebuild. The front office needs to pressure Collins into developing this team. As it stands, Collins is playing the players who give him the best chance to win, presumably the players who best understand how to defend in the NBA, how to run an offense in the NBA. Unfortunately, the players on this roster who give you the best chance to win are not the same players who would play if you were playing the most talented players.

With the Sixers seemingly headed towards the lottery regardless of who plays, Collins needs to see what else he has. In the meantime, with college basketball upon us, I will be keeping an eye out for potential lottery picks who could help this team and report on them here. Look for these lottery updates to start within the next month as teams get into the bulk of their non-conference schedules and it becomes easier to evaluate their talent (something tells me that Syracuse vs Kutztown isn’t going to tell me much about Fab Melo’s ability (ALERT!!! Keep an eye on him, could be just the type of player the Sixers need)). In the meantime, look for the Penn/Drexel preview come Wednesday evening.

Finally, Mike Vick is God on the football field. Go Birds!


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The Philly Phour

November 2010
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