Since the Sixers' last NBA Finals appearance in 2001, the team has been an afterthought in Philadelphia, plagued by being in the middle of the pack. In the eleven seasons that the Sixers have played since 2001 they have made the playoffs seven times, but all but two of those appearances resulted in first round exits. However, the Sixers have undergone a significant culture change over the last two years. Here’s how they did it.
May 21, 2010: Sixers sign Doug Collins as their head coach.
Collins’ signing began the transition for the club. A former All-Star and Olympian during his time playing for the Sixers in the 70's, Collins brought a hard-nosed team mentality to the Sixers. He is also the current decision maker for the organization, despite the promotion of Tony DiLeo to GM.
July 13, 2011: Comcast sells the Sixers to Joshua Harris.
When Comcast owned the Sixers, they were considered to be the red-headed stepchild to their golden boy older brother, the Flyers. Attendance at Sixers games prior to the ’11-’12 season was third worst in the East and sixth worst in the league. Given that Philadelphia is the fifth largest market in the US, the numbers were pathetic. However, the new ownership along with Collins’ arrival has made a strong impact in reviving this previously bland organization.
Basically, with Harris and Collins in the picture the Sixers now have a passionate duo to maximize the team’s potential on and off the court. The proof is already there.
Here’s a look at the Sixers over the last few seasons:
|Did not qualify|
|Did not qualify|
|First round exit against Detroit(2-4)|
|First round exit against Orlando (2-4)|
|Did not qualify|
|First round exit against Miami (1-4)|
|Beat Chicago (4-2), Second round exit against Boston (3-4)|
As you can see, in two years with the team Collins took a 27-55 squad and turned them into an overachieving team that took the Celtics to seven games in the Conference Semis. It’s worth noting that the Celtics then took the Heat to seven games in the Conference Finals.
One major reason that Collins was able to accomplish this goal was by using a deep bench rotation, lovingly called “the night shift”, to rotate a variety of specifically talented players. For example, sixth man Louis Williams—while a below average defender—was the team’s leading scorer and Thaddeus Young provided 12.6 points per game and 5 rebounds off of the bench.
While this formula allowed the Sixers to compete last year, it seemed clear that the team lacked the talent to be a legitimate title contender. As a result, the Sixers have remade their roster. Only five players are returning from last year’s squad: Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes, and Lavoy Allen.
During the offseason, the Sixers made their first big splash by amnestying former free agent prize Elton Brand. Brand averaged 11 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game as the starting power forward last year.
After applying the amnesty clause to Brand, the Sixers no longer have to count his salary into the upcoming cap and luxury tax. However, he is still owed 18 million dollars from the Sixers. By freeing up that money, the Sixers were able to make the blockbuster trade that may have gotten you thinking about basketball again: the Andrew Bynum deal.
On August 10, 2012 the Sixers made their biggest move in decades, trading Andre Iguodala, Mo Harkless, Nik Vucevic and a first round pick for Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson. Bynum, a 24 year-old seven-footer, is the second best center in the league and provides the Sixers with a franchise cornerstone to build around for the foreseeable future.
Iguodala, on the other hand, is the symbol of the type of team the Sixers were before. One of the best perimeter defenders in the league, Iggy was often criticized for his inability to be an elite “put the team on my back” type of scorer even though that was not the type of player he was meant to be. As a result, the Sixers would often lose close games due to their lack of an elite shooter.
In Bynum, the Sixers now have a big man to utilize in spacing the floor. With Bynum drawing attention to the post, the expectation is that outside shooters will be able to take more open looks. New additions Richardson, Nick Young, and Dorell Wright—37 percent, 38 percent, and 36 percent three point shooters respectively—should help the Sixers improve the the 8th lowest offensive output in the league. How this transition will affect their third best scoring defense remains to be seen.
What’s important to know about this season is that the Sixers, while now a contender, should not be expected to win a title. There will be plenty of changes in offensive philosophy due to Bynum’s presence and with such turnover in personnel, it will take time for Collins to see how the young talent will mesh.
More specifically, this is a huge year for Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner. Holiday has shown flashes of being a good scorer, but needs to continue the output he demonstrated in the playoffs of 15.8 points, 5.2 assists and 4.7 rebounds per contest.
For Turner, he will now have his chance to sink or swim. Formerly limited by the presence of Iguodala on the court, Turner will see an increase in playing time as well as chances to run the second team offense. So far, the third year player has yet to live up to the hype of second overall pick in the 2010 draft and is still an unknown commodity. Turner’s contract is a team option after this season, so ideally he can convince Collins that he is a quality every-night player in the NBA.
The other big change for this team comes in the front court, where former center Spencer Hawes will shift to power forward and Thaddeus Young will likely man the three spot. In other words, the Sixers will have a much stronger presence in the post and, combined with Turner’s rebounding ability, have the potential to be a true force on the glass.
Overall, this Sixers squad is young and gifted. How Collins is able to groom that talent will be the most important part of the puzzle. If everything clicks for the Sixers they have a chance to be the second seed in the East. However, given some likely growing pains, I predict that they’ll be the fourth or fifth seed heading into the playoffs.
Outside of that, the most important thing is that you give this team a shot. They’re not the same old Sixers anymore. This is a talented young team that has plenty of long-term potential and a new direction in the front office. If you prefer to be cynical about their odds of improvement…well, just have a conversation with a Charlotte Bobcats fan.