The Philadelphia 76ers were inconsistent last season. After struggling out of the gate to integrate All-Star Elton Brand into their offense, head coach Maurice Cheeks was fired in December. At about the same time, Brand dislocated his shoulder. This injury turned out to be season-ending, after a failed comeback attempt in January. While the Sixers lost a lot of firepower with the injury, it made interim coach Tony DiLeo’s job a bit easier, as he could let the team return to the small-ball style that allowed them to have some success the previous season.
These Sixers had some notable wins, beating teams like Portland (twice), Houston (twice), San Antonio, and the Lakers. They also lost to the likes of Oklahoma City and Golden State. Watching this team play, you didn’t really know which team would show up on a given night. They sometimes played above their heads, and other times appeared disinterested. Their talented point guard, Andre Miller, put up good numbers but was not always giving his all. At the end of the year, though, they finished 41-41, good enough for the sixth seed in the East and a matchup with the eventual conference champion Orlando Magic. They shocked the Magic in Game 1 and squeaked out another win in Game 3, but the Magic showed they were the superior team after that and finished the series in 6 games.
Considering these guys were without their best player, 41 wins and a first round exit sounds about right to me. Philadelphia fans have a right to be upset about the inconsistency and the atrocious losing streak at the end of the season (which ended with a one-point overtime victory against Cleveland’s bench), but they can’t be too upset about the end result. This team lacked outside shooting, an inside presence, and depth. They were slightly above average on defense and slightly below average on offense. That’s a recipe for a .500 team.
So, what have they done this summer? Well, not much, aside from hiring former Wizards coach Eddie Jordan. In June, they traded tough-guy Reggie Evans to Toronto in exchange for Jason Kapono. In the draft, they selected point guard Jrue Holiday out of UCLA. In late July, they watched as Andre Miller signed a free agent deal with Portland. Finally, just the other day, they re-signed guard Royal Ivey. Not much to be excited about, there.
Despite this lack of headline-grabbing moves coming from Philadelphia this summer, I believe this team could improve. Obviously, the biggest variable here is Brand. We all know he’s been injured, but this man can play. He’s still 30 years old, technically in his prime if healthy, and he’s proven himself to be a legitimate scoring and rebounding machine despite his lack of size compared to other 4s. It’s true that he never seemed to fit last season, but Eddie Jordan is an offensive wiz and if anyone can make this work, he can. With a new playbook and a game plan geared towards a balanced attack featuring Brand, Andre Iguodala, and Thaddeus Young, the Sixers could make a big jump from being the 19th-best offense in the league last season.
As a Raptors fan, I’m more than aware of the limits to Jason Kapono’s game, but this team was desperate for a long-range threat and his presence on the perimeter should help them space the floor. As for swapping Miller for Holiday, I can’t pretend that this is an upgrade. Sixers fans must hope that Lou Williams shines in his presumed starting role and that Brand’s return coupled with Jordan’s expertise will more than offset what they’ve lost at point guard. Personally, I think this likely and Philly will have a slightly better record in 2009-2010.
The problem with analyzing the East next season is that, after the top 3 teams, everything gets muddy. By my count, there are 8 teams that could finish with something like 44 wins. This is where Philly stands. They’re not going to be great next season, but they could be pretty good. If they want a chance to make it out of the first round, though, they better hope to finish 4th or 5th this time.