At The Ground Floor: A Philadelphia 76ers Season Preview
This year, for the first time, Hickory-High will be tackling the challenging of crafting season previews for all thirty NBA teams. Beginning today we’ll be rolling out these previews, one each day, leading up to Opening Night. This was a task of considerable size and complexity and it required the help of every member of our staff. The only guidelines given were that each writer approach team by staying true to their own style and the result is season previews of a difference sort. We hope you enjoy!
Ian: Kris, what do you see when you look at the Sixers?
Fenrich: I see a team that bet their entire bankroll on a balky-kneed Andrew Bynum and lost everything. They lost Andre Iguodala, Nikola Vucevic, Jrue Holiday, coach Doug Collins, GM Tom DiLeo. I love a good gamble as much as Kenny Rogers or Mike McDermott, and maybe this was a well-thought out, high-risk/reward play, but a glance at Philly’s roster shows us how badly things can turn out when you put all your eggs in Bynum’s basket.
Ian: The Bynum thing obviously worked itself into an enormous disaster and has gone a long way towards creating the situation the Sixers now find themselves in. But didn’t it seem like there was a roster blow-out waiting to happen? Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday were both talented young perimeter players who couldn’t create scoring opportunities inside of 15 feet. They were surrounded by an assortment of other players with an irrational love of their own jumpshots and Doug Collins just standing on the sideline egging them on. (Statistical aside – Of the 18 players who played for the 76ers last season, 11 of them attempted more mid-range jumpers than shots at the rim.) Even with Bynum their interior defense would have been a mess and methinks that having him man the middle for last year’s offense would have led to even more isolation play and standing around.
I, for one, am really excited about some of the front office changes they made. Bringing in Sam Hinkie and coach Brett Brown, means that their fantastic Director of Analytics Aaron Barzilai won’t have to spend another season shouting his suggestions down an abandoned mine shaft. I might be inflating that narrative but I see an organization transitioning, at a fundamental level, towards a process guided by logic and reason. Does that sort of a metamorphosis held any interest for you?
Fenrich: We’re men apart on the Bynum thing. I find the catastrophe of it akin to a natural disaster or someone dropping a nice-looking, tasty chocolate cake off the top of top of the Spectrum. Splat, smothered, never to be tasted. We’ll never know if Vucevic and Holiday could’ve accompanied someone like James Harden into a Brotherly Love renaissance.
Alas, I spend most of my time looking back, wondering what could’ve been or looking forward speculating about what could be; ignoring the present like a lingering depression.
I don’t think Doug Collins was ever going to take this team past a second round playoff elimination so Brett Brown, a man I couldn’t have picked out of a lineup until I just searched for his face, is at least stepping into a fresh start. As he’s a Spurs acolyte and Hinkie is a Daryl Morey disciple, there’s a lot of titillation for the NBA blogging set.
I’m not standing at full attention nor am I taking potshots at Philly’s latest project. What comes of this latest experiment or plan or philosophy is something none of us will know for certain until a few years down the road when all the time the current management group has purchased will finally run out.
Brown’s comments after being hired are somewhat honest and if you read into his words, could cynically be read as a pre-emptive plea for time with this mishmash of talent, most of who likely won’t be there in three years:
“You get excited to be a part of the rebuild, we all know the pain of the rebuild is real. There needs to be patience. I have not been a part of a rebuild since I was in the NBA. The rebuild has to be keeping the locker room together.”
The interesting angle is whether or not the Sixers front office and ownership are committed to a lengthy rebuild or will the inevitable pain of losing, pain of rebuilding turn fans sour, players bitter, and leave Brown unemployed?
So … what’s the timeline? Does Hinkie get the same timeframe as Morey? Will fickle Philly fans tolerate three more, four more seasons of losing?
Ian: The fact that there has been absolutely no trace of a rebuild on the fly leads me to believe that everyone involved will have a long leash. Since trading for Tony Wroten at the end of August, here are the players they’ve signed – Rodney Williams, Darius Morris, Nerlens Noel, Khalif Wyatt, Michael Carter-Williams, Hollis Thompson, Vander Blue, Mac Koshwal and Solomon Alabi. Other than their draft picks from this year it looks like they’re holding a season-long open audition to fill the end of bench for the competitive team they’re hoping to build three or four years out. I know it’s easy to say this from the outside but the expectations here are clearly focused on player development and that’s where I imagine Hinkie, Brown and company will ultimately be held accountable.
But there’s something really interesting to me in offering opportunities to all these fringe players. Every year circumstances give a handful of these of players a smattering of minutes and one or two shed their flotsam disguises and reveal themselves to be actual NBA players. I’ve always had a suspicion that the opportunity is a bigger factor than relative talent margins in allowing these players to be successful and, to me, it will be fascinating to watch and see who sinks and who rises to the surface.
But that’s just the edges of the roster. The middle, as badly as it might play, is just as intriguing to me. I have an irrational, and slightly embarrassing, love of Evan Turner. I’m eager to see if he can finally get all the pieces of his talent moving in the same direction at the same time. Thad Young is a splendidly limited basketball player and Michael Carter-Williams is built from a template that haunts my dreams. I desperately want to growth and development and I’m willing to sit through multiple double-digit losses to get it.
Fenrich: You sweet, sweet hopeful man. Hollis Thompson? Rodney Willliams? Vander Blue? Solomon Alabi? I’m sure they all have compelling tales of Hoop Dreams, but the players I’m most interested in are Wroten, Royce White, Noel, and Carter-Williams.
As for Turner, it seems each fan harbors irrational feelings and hopes for players (ie; my fascination with Terrence Williams). Turner’s entering his fourth season at just 24-years-old. I was a fan at Ohio State and I’m a fan of his multi-dimensional game. He’s a strong rebounder for his position and passes the ball well. His weaker-than-average jumper is still improving, but what stands out to me continues to be a story told by a friend who saw Turner play in the NCAA Tournament in 2010. What stood out to my friend, a long-time player and fan whose opinion I respect, was a player being held back by a bad attitude with poor body language and a pissy overall demeanor. As a Turner fan, I rejected this entirely miniscule and subjective sample size, tossing and turning restlessly in bed, insisting to myself that Turner’s multi-faceted game would translate to the pros. And it has in small doses, but the consistency so necessary for NBA productivity has been fleeting. Finally a veteran and team leader, Turner arrives in 2013 at a fork in the road: Is he up for the challenge or will those youthful perturbations continue to act as a wedge between Evan and his potential?
If we insist on identifying storylines for this motley crew, what I’m most excited for is the inevitability of Wroten working his way into the starting lineup at some point. Little known Wroten facts: His dad was an NFL player, his mom was a sprinter at Arizona State and an aunt was a two-time All American at LSU. Carter-Williams’s length and obvious Livingstonian similarities have everyone frothing at the mouth (“Oooh, a big point guard!” – present company included), but a composed and more mature Wroten playing within himself should push MCW for minutes and spend plenty of time alongside him in a big-guard lineup.
As much as I’m open to joining you watching the Sixers grow through double-digit losses while Noel’s high top reaches higher and higher; if we end up sitting side-by-side on a couch somewhere, I’ll politely ask you to please, turn the channel to a more competitive game as I’ve seen enough rebuilds to know that with the promise of a brighter tomorrow comes painful and boring todays.