At the beginning of the Sixers season, I thought the best case scenario was that both Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner took significant steps forward and that the team could take advantage of the compressed season / short training camp and fight for the 3rd seed in the big group in the East behind the Heat and Bulls. Worst case was, well, getting the 7th-9th seed again, where NBA teams go to die.
For a while there, it looked like the best-case scenario might come true as the team got out to a 20-9 start… only to follow it up with a 15-22 finish. I’m not going to lie, at the end of the season, I was hoping they wouldn’t even make the playoffs.
But they did, and one Derrick Rose knee ligament changed everything. The beat the Bulls, and then took the Celtics to 7 games. They showed their flaws (scoring, much?) and their assets (defense, athleticism, hustle). They gave the fans and ownership a glimpse of what the team would look like in a big series – something we would have only been able to imagine if not for poor Mr. Rose.
So where do we stand now? After a couple years of “figuring out what we have” – the Sixers are in a position to actually have some roster flexibility. The next two years will define whether or not the franchise will continuously be doomed to 7th-9th seed purgatory – or whether new ownership can pair some savvy basketball moves with their enthusiasm and bring back some genuine excitement.
So what will the next 24 months bring? Here’s where I think they should start (ages as of Oct 31, 2012), ranked in order of likelihood to return…
1. Jrue Holiday, 22
Quick 2012 wrap: His regular season was a disappointment, seemingly taking a step back from 2010. Everything (Pts, FG%, Ast, Reb, FT%) went down except his 3p%. He played in the playoffs (18.4 PER vs. 14.7 PER in regular season) – how we hoped he would play all year.
Contract: On his rookie deal signed through next year and will be a RFA after that.
Verdict: I often have to remind myself that Jrue is still young. He’s only 3 months older than John Wall. He’s 16 months younger than Lavoy Allen. This was only his second season as a starter and it came without a proper off-season. I’m not going to say I didn’t expect more from him in 2011-12, but he showed plenty of signs in the playoffs of the player I think he can be (all-star level, 2nd-3rd best player on a really good team). As to what he will be, let’s hope he took a step this May.
2. Thaddeus Young, 24
Quick 2012 wrap: Did little to improve in his first year of his new contract. Scored at lower rate with a lower shooting % and lower rebound rate. Still a solid sub, but continues to be somewhat one-dimensional.
Contract: Signed longer than any other player on team. To make $8 million next year, $8.6 in 2013-14, $9.2 in 2014-15 and has a player option for $9.7 in 2015-16.
Verdict: Doug Collins’ favorite player didn’t show me much this year. I still like him as a rotational player, but you get the sense he could be more. Was a big no-show in the playoffs due to injuries and match-up problems (7.7 pts, 5 rebs, 42.9% FG). He will probably stay in the same role next year. He’s still young enough to get better.
3. Nik Vucevic, 22
Quick 2012 wrap: I was not pleased with the draft pick at the time, and even though the guy I pleaded for (Kenneth Faried) was a 1st team all-rookie, I don’t hate the Vucevic pick anymore. He showed a nice offensive game, and played hard on defense and the boards, leading the team Reb/36 minutes.
Contract: Rookie deal runs through 2015-16, when he become a RFA.
Verdict: Vucevic vanished down the stretch as Collins obviously decided he wasn’t ready – but he showed plenty of signs he can be a better version of Spencer Hawes (take that for what it is) given the chance.
4. Evan Turner, 24
Quick 2012 wrap: The toughest player to read for me this year. His 10 best games this year: 21.2 pts, 9.4 reb, 3.9 ast, 57.8 FG%. His other 55: 7.2 pts, 5.1 reb, 2.6 ast, 39.9 FG%. He improved slightly across the board, but lacked consistency and still needs to improve a jumper I’m not sure will improve.
Contract: Two more years on his rookie deal, then RFA in 2014-15.
Verdict: Let me put it this way – I personally have a lot more confidence that Jrue will become great than I do Turner. If he was a hair more athletic or a slightly more consistent shooter I’d feel differently. Still, he’s shown enough potential that you have to give him another year but I wouldn’t put me on “Team Evan” at the moment.
5. Lavoy Allen, 24
Quick 2012 wrap: A draft pick that looked like a favor to a local kid more than anything else, he played well at times in the regular season, but broke out in the playoffs with excellent defense, energy and a reliable jumper.
Contract: Unfortunately, the Sixers must have not thought Allen would be a player of note (let’s face it, we pretty much all felt that way), and signed him to 2nd round contract that deems him a RFA this year.
Verdict: Allen’s breakout was a highlight of the playoffs, but I would caution the Sixers against overreacting. We are talking a small sample size and someone who in the end only averaged 6 points and 5 rebounds per game in the playoffs. I am 100% behind bringing him back and giving him big time minutes to see what he’s got – but think he’s far from a sure thing at this point.
I’d say the 5 above are pretty much 80%+ to return next year. There is a pretty big drop to this 2nd group, which starts around 50%.
6. Elton Brand, 33
Quick 2012 wrap: Had his moments, but looks cooked. Surprisingly, his rebounding rate and block rate were up over the previous year.
Contract: One more year at $18.2 million.
Verdict: Lots of people are yelling to use the amnesty clause on Elton. But I would make sure to ask: for what? To give Kris Humphries $10 million a year? I certainly hope not. Looking at this weak FA class, the Sixers might do better to hang onto Brand and try to trade his contract during the season and wait for the much better 2013-14 FA class. Unless there is a trade that requires we take on some money, I say keep Brand, and limit his minutes even more than before and see if he can be effective in spurts.
7. Andre Iguodala, 28
Quick 2012 wrap: Continued to have less of an impact in the scoring column, but was an all-league defender (despite what the voting may have said) and provided one of the biggest surprises of the year in becoming an excellent 3P shooter (39.4%).
Contract: Set to make $14.7 million next year, and has a $15.9 million player option for 2013-14.
Verdict: I like more about Iguodala than I don’t. People think he needs to score more to justify his contract, but don’t understand that allowing an opposing player to score 10 points less is the same as averaging 10 points more. His contested fade-away jumpers are the 2nd most frustrating thing to watch on the floor for this team. But his transition game, defense, and passing ability make him a valuable player. However, I’d be open to trading him to fill a need on the scoring end or get a promising, young, cheap player. I feel like in order to see what we really have in Evan Turner, we need to let Dre go. But at his age, and with his talent, I wouldn’t mess around with Monta Ellis-level garbage in return. Will try to brain-storm trade options as I write.
8. Jodie Meeks, 25
Quick 2012 wrap: Not as good as 2011. Points down and his 3p% dropped from 39.7% to 36.5%. Might not seem like much, but when you are up near 40% – that’s a legit NBA skill. When you drop to 36%, you are in a big pack and Meeks doesn’t do enough else.
Contract: A free-agent
Verdict: I’d be OK with bringing him back on a short-term, small deal. I like 3-pt shooters, and wouldn’t mind keeping him on the bench. Haven’t heard much on him.
9. Lou Williams, 26
Quick 2012 wrap: Led the team in scoring coming off the bench and also improved on his 3P% with a career high 36.2%. Is maddening down the stretch as he predictably heaves contested shots in the final minutes of quarters (The most frustrating thing for me to watch on this team). Can’t play defense worth a lick. Very streaky offensive player, but can get to the line better than any Sixers’ player.
Contract: Player option for $6.4 million.
Verdict: I’m personally ready to see Lou walk. Among players with 1,500 shots over the last 2 seasons, he has the 3rd worst FG% at 40.6%. He doesn’t play defense and while he carries us on offense from time-to-time, it’s not consistent enough to see him stick around. I’d rather his shots go to Jrue and ET. Hopefully he opts out and gets a deal from another team.
10. Spencer Hawes, 24
Quick 2012 wrap: Was pretty darn good to start the year, then not-so-darn good later on, then pretty bad in the playoffs. His first 6 games of the year he put up 13.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.1 blocks per game while shooting 65% from the field. The 23-year-old looked on his way to a breakout year. Then, a couple injuries and fall back to earth later, he averaged 9.1 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.2 blocks on 43.2% shooting in his last 18 games and was basically replaced by Lavoy Allen in the Boston series.
Contract: A free-agent
Verdict: We have someone who can duplicate his offensive skill in Nik Vucevic, and desperately need a defensive presence in the middle. Let him walk.
Kiss ‘em Goodbye: Tony Battie, Andres Nocioni, Craig Brackins, Sam Young
So – if I’m the GM, here is what I am doing this off-season…
1. Evaluate the trade value of every single player on the roster
2. Call Orlando and see what Dwight Howard would cost (Dre, Turner, Thad, #1?) – then realize he’s kind of a baby and you don’t want him anyway
3. See if Eric Gordon has any chance of leaving New Orleans.
4. Look to trade Dre for one of the following players: Rudy Gay, Paul Milsap, Pau Gasol, James Harden
5. Let Lou and Spencer walk
6. Target a scorer or a defensive inside presence at #15
7. Send Evan Turner back to Herb Magee
8. Don’t spend a ton on free agents that aren’t EG
9. Study what exactly San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Houston do in evaluating players
It’s tough to say what exactly the Sixers should do, but the jist of it for me is keep the top 5 on the list of players above and work your tail off trying to turn the rest into something that could give this team a big step forward. And if you can’t? Don’t force anything and try again next year when Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Paul Milsap, Al Jefferson, Dwight Howard, James Harden, Andrew Bynum, Ty Lawson and Taj Gibson are all potentially out there.
The Sixers have our attention. They have a chance to win the city back. Let’s see what they do with it.