Even the most jaded observer knows that the Philadelphia 76ers' run to the Eastern Conference semifinals this past year was due more to smoke and mirrors (and Derrick Rose's torn ACL) than anything else.
In order to be truly successful, the team will need to acquire a transcendent talent through either the draft or via free agency. However, with the Sixers' front office embracing the strategy of "tread water until we can free up cap space," it doesn't appear as though the team will strike gold in the lottery anytime soon.
So, with the 76ers insistent on not relying on ping-pong balls to make them better, let's take a look at the five steps that the team should make in order to become elite.
In a perfect world, Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner would log 30-plus minutes playing alongside each other every night. However, due to the 76ers' lack of a backup point guard, that may not be possible. Since Turner will likely log a few minutes as the playmaker for the second unit, he and Holiday will have less time to develop chemistry together.
It's an absolute travesty that in his two-year career, Turner has started only 34 games for Philadelphia. The Sixers will only go as far as Holiday and Turner can take them, so Collins needs to do whatever he can in order to maximize their time on the floor together.
Heading into the summer, 76ers head coach Doug Collins said that Thaddeus Young needed to bulk up so that he could be effective at the 4 position. However, with those in the know speculating that Collins could start Kwame Brown at power forward and Spencer Hawes at center, the Sixers could very well make the mistake of having Young come off of the bench next season.
At 6'8" and 220 pounds, Young would be best served by adding another 10-15 pounds of muscle. However, regardless of what he weighs coming into camp, he's still the second-best forward on the team and the Sixers' best option at power forward. Young is a willing defender, and his per-36 minute averages (16.6 PPG, 6.7 RPG) represent far more production than the team will get if they choose to start anyone else at the 4 spot.
At some point—preferably soon—the 76ers need to figure out exactly what they have in 2011 first-round pick Nik Vucevic. However, with the re-signing of Spencer Hawes, the addition of Kwame Brown and the drafting of Arnett Moultrie, Philadelphia's front office has made it that much more difficult for Vucevic to get on the court.
After a decent start to the 2011-12 campaign, Vucevic hit the rookie wall late last season. The 6'10" rookie was so ineffective down the stretch (especially on defense) that he only logged three minutes during the Sixers' entire playoff run.
That said, relegating Vucevic to the bench doesn't solve anything, and the 76ers aren't in a position to draft someone 16th overall and simply not play them. What Vucevic needs is a consistent 15-20 minutes per night; only then will Collins and the rest of the team know what they have in the former USC star.
As many players on the Sixers can attest, Collins has something of a love-hate relationship with young players. Do well, and the head coach will sing your praises for days. Falter slightly, and you will quickly fall out of favor.
However, for the sake of the team, Collins just needs to play Maurice Harkless and Arnett Moultrie and allow them to learn from their mistakes. We've seen very little evolution from former No. 2 overall pick Evan Turner over the past two seasons—mostly because Collins has yet to give him the proverbial keys to the car.
The Sixers can't afford to wait two-plus years for Harkless and Moultrie to develop. By that time, both of them should already be consistent members of the team's rotation.
By essentially standing pat this summer, the 76ers could have set themselves up nicely for next season's free-agent bonanza. Instead, the team appears to have its sights set on the 2014 offseason, when some of the league's most talented (but aging) stars—including Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce and Danny Granger—will be on the market.
No matter what their plan seems to be, Philadelphia needs to stop spending frivolously and avoid any long-term commitments whenever possible. Cap space is the second-most valuable commodity in the NBA, and the Sixers basically wasted whatever competitive advantage they had when they amnestied Elton Brand.
Patience is an important trait that the 76ers will need in order to become one of the league's elite teams.