The Sixers Need to Be More Like the Lakers
Within minutes of the Los Angeles Lakers’ Western Conference semifinals exit last week, talk began about what they could do to improve. This is a team whose three best players—Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol–are better than anybody on the Sixers roster, and reporters were demanding a better 2012-13 outcome.
That’s what happens when a franchise is expected to win a championship, rather than give fans a few weeks of fun. The Sixers’ unlikely post-season performance was a surprising bit of happiness on the Philadelphia sporting landscape, but anybody who thinks this team is even close to an NBA championship is delusional. Forget that the Sixers couldn’t dispatch a creaking Boston team that is likely to be run through by Miami. Don’t mention that injuries to Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah made Chicago just a bit easier to conquer. The Sixers lacked the outright talent to compete for a championship this season, and unless they fortify all parts of their roster, they won’t contend again next year.
It is important not to regard a seven-game near miss in the second round as reason for optimism. The Sixers cannot think that getting the band back together for 2012-13 will do the job. They have colossal holes to fill. They lack shooters, interior scorers and reliable bench performers. It’s possible to argue that every position on the starting five is in need of an upgrade. If the Lakers, whose top three players all own championship rings, understand the need to get better, then the Sixers had better be wiping those smiles off their faces and starting to work.
A lot was accomplished during the 2011-12 season, beginning with the goodwill engendered by the new ownership group and the excitement that returned to the Wells Fargo Center. Those are necessary steps in the growth of any franchise. But the Sixers cannot be so naïve as to think the fans will continue to support the team if big changes aren’t made. Forget about letting the team grow together under coach Doug Collins. We have seen this outfit’s high-water mark, and it’s not good enough.
The problem is that it won’t be easy to get better. Even if the Sixers create salary cap room by jettisoning Elton Brand’s contract through the amnesty provision (they still have to pay him, but his money won’t count against the cap) and by waving good-bye to Lou Williams, the available crop of free agents is not deep. For instance, ancient Ray Allen, Landry Fields, C.J. Miles and Carlos Delfino top the list of unrestricted shooting guard free agents. Not exactly inspiring, eh? Kris Humphries would be an upgrade at power forward, but he’s bound to be coveted and therefore expensive. Unhappy with Spencer Hawes in the middle? (Aren’t we all?) Well, Chris Kaman is available. So are Mehmet Okur, Eddy Curry and Hasheem Thabeet. That’s hardly an inspiring group.
Expect no help to come from the draft, even though the Sixers are selecting 15th. This draft includes a bunch of future role players and very few starters. Even if the Sixers trade up–way up–they won’t get someone who can be considered a guaranteed contributor in 2012-13. Speaking of trades, it’s possible the Sixers could convince someone to take Andre Iguodala and his awful foul shooting off their hands, but don’t expect a superstar in return. Teams usually trade problems, not standouts. That’s why the Sixers would want to get rid of Iguodala.
Any improvements the Sixers make this summer are likely to be small. A complete overhaul is unlikely, and unless Deron Williams decides he wants to be in Philadelphia, instead of heading to his Dallas home, there will be no standout donning the red-white-and-blue next season.
This off-season should be about establishing a philosophy and framework for real contention. Great teams do not shoot 35% from the field in key games. They do not feature rosters with no long-range threats. Grit, guts and determination are important, but without offensive skill, there can be no real success. Collins loves tough defense and teaches it better than just about anyone, but he must be convinced that scoring points is just as important as preventing opponents from compiling them.
The Sixers rescued a drab season with their post-season play, but they can’t be fooled into thinking they have arrived. The Eastern Conference may be weak and getting weaker (Boston is cooked; Orlando is fading), but that doesn’t mean the Sixers can tweak things a bit and move forward. This team needs a lot of help, and the process of soliciting that aid must begin now. Upgrade the frontcourt. Teach Evan Turner to shoot – a little bit. Find a player who can create his own shot. It’s not going to be a quick fix, but as long as the Sixers understand that they must improve, they can begin the process.
And should they start getting complacent, they should just look at the Lakers. They have three All-Stars and aren’t happy.
- Nobody who has been watching Roy Halladay can be surprised by the news that his shoulder is hurting. He hardly threw any fastballs against Washington last Tuesday, and those he did hurl had little steam. Let’s hope the pain he is experiencing is minor (15-day DL), rather than catastrophic (torn labrum). On a team with little margin for error, losing a stalwart could be crippling.
- If you want to watch the only team–college or pro–playing basketball the way it should be played, check out the Spurs. San Antonio isn’t flashy or exciting, unless you consider perfect execution scintillating, but it has a style that stands out from the muddle that characterizes most ball these days. The Spurs love to pass, spread the floor expertly and defend well as a team. San Antonio may not beat Oklahoma City (I think the Spurs will), but it will be fun watching the team try.
- My first two installments of “How to Act at the Ballpark” dealt with cell-phone etiquette (stop waving when the camera is on you) and what to do when opposing pitchers throw over to first (shut up; it’s part of the game). Now, it’s time to address the throwing back of rival hitters’ home runs. It’s fun when they do it at Wrigley Field, where the concept originated. Here, it’s a copycat crime and shouldn’t be practiced. If you want to do something, turn your back as the offending party trots around the bases. The sight of 45,000 indifferent fans would get national attention and be a unique way of expressing distaste.