It is that time of year again. Cooler weather, changing of the leaves, rumors and injuries are signs that the NBA season is upon us. The end of October is a magnificent time, as far as sports are concerned. All four major sports, at least in this country, are engaged in either the regular or post season. In Philadelphia there is much to be concerned with. The Eagles have two quarterbacks, the Flyers kicked off the regular season fresh off a remarkable trip to the Stanley Cup Finals and the Phillies were chasing their third World Series appearance in as many years. Then there is our beloved Philadelphia 76ers.
The Sixers are not as recently accomplished as the rest of their Philadelphia sports brethren but, I believe they are only one or two moves, trades, changes or improvements away from being relevant in the NBA Eastern Conference. Though progress has stalled since the Sixers last excited us in their first round playoff appearance versus the Detroit Pistons a few years back, they may be headed in the right direction.
Last year was disappointing for the Sixers. You could almost call it a lost season. With the exception of Allen Iverson’s homecoming, the stadium was virtually empty. I swear Ed Snider sitting in his courtside seats could eavesdrop on some fans in the second level complaining about how they could have avoided the traffic and parking fees and watched the Sixers drudge their way to yet another loss from the comfort of their recliner at home. Let’s be honest, the Sixers were giving tickets away. Even with free tickets, they couldn’t pack the house. At certain points, I thought for a second that I was going to a Tampa Bay Rays game.
With another year upon us and another clean slate, if you will, I will do as I always do and head into the season with optimism and dreams of being shocked by a stellar effort provided by our hometown Sixers. I want to be excited about our potential and opportunities. I want to be able to watch a contest without already knowing that we are going to lose before the opening tip. With that in mind, here is my 2010-2011 Philadelphia 76ers wish list. This is what I, and probably every Sixers fan, would love to see happen during the course of the season. I tried not to be too unrealistic but, sometimes I just can’t help it.
I think I could have been a better head coach for the Sixers than Eddie Jordan was. He tried to implement a shooters offense with basically no shooters. That was mistake number one out of many more to succeed it. But there is no sense in dwelling on the past. We have a new coach, a pretty good one at that. Doug Collins is, of course, a basketball head. He has played and coached at all levels. He brings an energy and, best of all, accountability to a Sixers team that lacked those two items during the course of the previous season. If Coach Collins can infuse his passion for playing basketball the right way into the heads of each player on the roster it will be impossible not to progress. We can’t expect Collins to deliver a championship in his first year but, he can help to lead a team to making marked improvement. Only time will tell.
It is not fair that Andre Iguodala is our first option on offense. It is not fair to Andre and it is not fair to the fans. We both deserve better. My hope is that we can mimic the success of the Detroit Pistons several years ago when they shocked the world by beating the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. They had no dominant star. They always went with the hot hand and for the majority of the time their scoring was very balanced. They hung their hat on hustling, defense and rebounding. It is probably more realistic that we can only do two of those three things well. Which brings me back to Iguodala. His strengths are running, hustling, defense and finishing around the rim. He shares the ball effectively and rebounds well. If everyone works as hard as Iggy in those areas, there will be balanced scoring, we will beat teams to the loose balls and we will play stingy defense. Andre is where that attitude and demeanor will start. He must lead in this department. If he does, the others will follow. AI2 is our best player. Even though he isn’t the highest paid person on the team, he must play like it and lead the team with his assertiveness.
This guy is scary (and I don’t mean that in a good way). At first glance, this pick at number two seems to be heading down the direction of a bust. You don’t pick a guy that high to be your backup point guard, especially if your original intention was for him to play shooting guard. If he is to eventually become a shooting guard how will he ever grow to be effective in that role if he rarely gets a chance to play the position? His strengths, right now at least, are what we already have in two positions, a point guard with size and a small forward who needs the ball in his hands to do anything positive. I wish that something would click in his head one night (soon, like before the season starts) where he would realize how to be a sly but dominant scorer like Brandon Roy. I know everyone has made that comparison (myself included) but, that is really what his game was imagined to have been like. He does not lack confidence; he probably just needs more experience and a few good games at the role of shooting guard to get him over the hump. Deservedly, being picked at number two brings added pressure on him and on everyone in the Sixers organization that helped make that decision. Evan has a great attitude and I fully expect that the Sixers as a whole and Turner himself will do everything that they can to improve his game. My wish here is that Evan can split his playing time between both guard positions and as time moves on be playing much more of the two than the one. I expect to see some flashes of brilliance during the course of the season that gets the ugly bust word out of my head.
The entire team considered, I am most excited about Jrue Holiday. Pretty soon, I assume that we will no longer refer to his dominant play as flashes of something for the future and just see him as someone who has already realized his high potential. Jrue has the skills to be a top flight point guard. He has a body built for defense. He has great court vision. Holiday also seems to have the intangibles that can help a player elevate his game from average to above average. He works hard, he attacks, he is unselfish and he is smart. My hope is that he has a breakout season, sort of like Rajon Rondo did for the Boston Celtics. I imagine him having several triple-doubles, a reputation for defense like the Glove – Gary Payton and a slightly improved jump shot to help keep opposing defenses honest. I have a feeling that this is not just wishful thinking but rather the reality of a wonderful draft decision by the Sixers.
What can I say that hasn’t already been said about Elton Brand? He was injured, he seems slow, he seems a bit weak and uninterested. It wouldn’t be as bad if he was the 14th man on the roster. Unfortunately, he is the centerpiece of our team, at least salary-wise. If he is ineffective, it cripples us because we don’t have the capital available to get some real help. I desperately desire that this season, Elton Brand will be the Elton of old. I want Chicago’s or LA’s Elton Brand. I want 20 points and 12 rebounds. I want someone who I don’t feel is indifferent and just punching the clock at the job. He is a highly paid professional athlete, not someone on the assembly line in a machine shop. The team, the organization, every Sixers fan in the city is depending on him to be some semblance of what we expected when we signed him. If not, our hands are tied and we are at his lackluster mercy. My hope is that we get a beast this year and not the dud in years past. We desperately need a reliable post scorer and rebounder. Please Elton, please, give us something to be happy about.
Bench and Role Players:
I would love to see a bench with purpose. High energy, defensive minded effort is what I am craving. Adept three-point shooting from Brackins, Meeks and Kapono is what I am expecting. We need Nocioni, Speights, Young, Turner and Lou Williams to contribute consistently and efficiently. We need hard-nosed defense and rebounding by Spencer Hawes and Tony Battie. I was all for the trade of Sam Dalembert but, it is a loss of rebounding and shot blocking. To that end, the bigs that remain need step up and take control. I am confident that Collins will get the most out of the role players and this bench. By mid-season we may even be wishing that some of the bench personnel were starters.
My ultimate wish is an NBA championship, or multiple NBA championships. Actually while we are at it I also would love to have an Eagles Super Bowl, a Phillies World Series and a Flyers Stanley Cup. Plus, maybe you can add $10 million dollars in my bank account to that list. I know, I am dreaming. There is no way that all my needs, wants and desires (basketball-wise) will be fulfilled this year by this Sixers team. But maybe, just maybe, if each person is held individually accountable and works toward that end goal of improvement I will see enough progress to be satisfied. Just like any other sports fan, I have an insatiable desire to see my team win. Each game feels like it is the last, until the next “last” game. The Sixers organization and team cannot think like that, though the players are encouraged to perform like it. I certainly hope they play with that fire and intensity every single night. So even though my wildest dreams won’t be fulfilled this season, I will be content with an improved team, a confident team, and a promising team.
We will find out very soon just how much of this laundry list of items will actually be completed. Let’s hope the work gets done.