Sixers Season In Review
A season-out-of-nowhere leaves Philly with the most uncertain of futures.
by Doobie Okon | @doobieSLAM
Very little was expected out of the Philadelphia 76ers this year. Not that anybody believed they couldn’t make the Playoffs—in fact, plenty of pundits predicted as such. But an actual contender? I can’t imagine anyone considered the Sixers in that regard. Not without a true superstar. Not the way this League works.
So when the Sixers locked up the eighth seed with a victory over the Nets on April 23, it was hard to label this particular Sixers season as “special.” But in some ways, it indeed became very special.
Philadelphia was off and running on squads the second this shortened NBA campaign took off. They jumped out to a 20-9 mark, at one point had a scoring margin over +15, which was mind-boggling, and played suffocating defense all year (89.4 points allowed per game), even through the most frustrating offensive stretches.
And most importantly, the city of Philadelphia was having fun watching basketball again. The Sixers saw the worst attendance of any NBA organization last season even though they made the Playoffs and did next to nothing in the crazy offseason that surrounded the lockout. But one thing that did change was the ownership, led by Josh Harris and new CEO Adam Aron. And even though he’s merely a publicity stunt, Philly-bred Will Smith joining in as a minority owner certainly excited the town as well.
Tickets prices were cut, in-game entertainment and giveaways became way better, and the seats filled up. So it was rather awesome to see the team itself get out to such a great start, even if many (myself included) figured that it wouldn’t keep as the season progressed.
As the Sixers’ season began to falter after that fantastic start, their inefficiency of their half-court offense was exposed game in and game out. It’s not Doug Collins’ specialty, point guard Jrue Holiday is still very young, and the lack of a go-to isolation scorer makes the need for cuts, pick and rolls and solid passing much more important. But the Sixers aren’t that kind of team. Not that they don’t share the ball well, they just do it much better in the open floor. For sheer speed, barely any team could match the Sixers overall, but when forced to play a half court game, Philly continually struggled.
But even through those hard times, one of the more fascinating storylines was the “emergence” of Andre Iguodala. By no means was Iggy a slouch before this season, but his spotty offensive game and rocky relationship with Philadelphia always left the city and NBA critics wanting more. I’ve lauded Iggy for his defense since day one, but this year he finally validated his game to this city, the League and to himself. Iguodala was rewarded with his first All-Star appearance, and even though he might never make it back, it was great to see the League acknowledge his overall game.
Sure, Iggy has holes. His free-throw shooting was putrid (61.7 percent) and even worse in the Playoffs (58.9 percent). He is not a go-to scorer in the clutch, but he is also not afraid of the last shot. And if the Playoffs proved anything, it’s that he finally emerged into the leader the Sixers always envisioned. Whenever the Sixers won a huge game this year, especially in the postseason, it seemed as if they were following Iguodala’s lead. So I applaud his season overall, especially after the beating he’s taken in the local media his entire career.
As Iggy and Co. began the postseason against the Bulls sans DRose, I’ll admit it was difficult to muster a huge amount of excitement since I believed the Sixers had zero shot of winning the title. This isn’t the NHL, where a 6-seed and an 8-seed could meet in the Finals. This isn’t the NFL, where you need 11 guys playing cohesively on both sides of the ball to succeed. This is the NBA, where one superstar can make the difference, where a team like the star-less Sixers can succeed in the regular season but suffer in the Playoffs.
Even with all that, the Sixers had one thing going for them all season—their never-say-die attitude. And that is what truly showed in the Playoffs, and what I will remember the most about this year. In the first round, they turned Chicago from a team who went 18-9 during the regular season without Derrick Rose into a team that looked very lost without their MVP, and was forced to use the injury excuse. And even when Iggy jumped on top of the press table in front of a raucous, confetti-laden crowd after CJ Watson’s last-second heave missed in Game 6, it was still hard to muster excitement. And that was Sixers first Playoff series win since 2003!
It’s not that I feared the Celtics. I didn’t think we were going to win, but I didn’t fear them. It’s just I, and the rest of the world, knew the Sixers would have no shot against Miami. Or OKC or San Antonio for that matter. But then the Boston series began, and the Sixers never looked scared.
At times, I wanted to throw up watching the Sixers try to run their offense, but they never let that get to them or affect their defense. The Celts didn’t win two games in a row all series, and needed the confines of TD Garden and some Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo three-balls to pull away from the Sixers in the fourth quarter of Game 7. Fourth quarter of Game 7? Yeesh. With three future Hall of Famers, a game-changer in Rajon Rondo and a hot Brandon Bass, the Celtics were still pushed to the brink by Philly, who shot only 41.7 percent for the entire series. And the Sixers deserve a lot of credit for that. But sadly enough, they couldn’t pull it off in Boston and are forced to watch the conference finals from home.
So, now, we look to tomorrow, next year and years ahead. And even though I consider this Sixers season a success in relative terms, the future is definitely lying in a foggy haze. For some reason, the NBA hasn’t caught onto the fact that Philadelphia is currently a sizzling destination spot for free agents as the Flyers, Eagles and Phillies continue to sign key players and make impact trades. And what’s even more frustrating is that if this particular Sixers team were able to sign or trade for a Dwight Howard or another star big man, this team would become instant contenders. But the Sixers just aren’t attracting the big names.
So what is there to do? There is a ton of young talent on this roster, and many teams would love to have guys like Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Thad Young and Lou Williams. If the Sixers truly wanted to blow it all up in hopes of scoring big in the Lottery next year, it’s certainly feasible. The two true vets of this team, Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand, will face critical decisions from the organization as the idea of “amnestying” Brand has been brought up all year. Iguodala is also way overpaid, even with the great season he had, and is set to make nearly $15 million again next year. Do the Sixers trade him while they can? Philadelphia would most certainly receive good value in return, but they might be willing to let him finish out his contract and negotiate to bring him back for less money next summer. Doubtful, but possible.
Starting center Spencer Hawes, only 24 years old, is now a free agent. The Sixers have a team option on both Turner and Holiday next season. Lou Williams has a player option but he’s certainly a guy many teams would love for his scoring ability and fearlessness. The only player that’s locked up long term is Thaddeus Young, but that doesn’t exempt him from a possible trade either. A big bright spot that surprised many was the play of rookie Lavoy Allen, who was drafted by the Sixers strictly because of his Philly ties. Allen was very underwhelming at Temple, but looked like he belonged with the big boys as soon as he stepped in for the injured Hawes. He’s not afraid to shoot the ball. He made Kevin Garnett look weak at times in the Celtics series. When this kid plays with energy, he’s sincerely legit.
So all in all, there’s questions up and down the roster. And at head coach as well. A rumor that’s been gaining steam around Philly questions the return of Doug Collins next season, and it’s neither been confirmed nor denied. I hope he does—he’s the first Sixers coach I truly want at the helm since Larry Brown, and he’s just a Philly guy through and through.
The future is ill-defined and full of concerns. But as for this past season, the Sixers showed how far a scrappy team can get on toughness, defense and depth. Hopefully, it was a season to build on, instead of merely a fun memory.