When you’re picked as a contender in the preseason and currently find yourself sitting at 24-40 and sinking faster than a mob informant in the Hudson River, it’s safe to say things went horrifically wrong. And that is precisely the reality that the Philadelphia 76ers find themselves in.
It’s also safe to say there is plenty of blame to go around. Okay, sure, plenty of bad luck as well, with the devastating Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson injuries topping the list.
As for blame, head coach Doug Collins is certainly not exempt. His inconsistent lineup rotations and minutes distributions, plus his refusal to give younger players—specifically rookie big man Arnett Moultrie—an extended look have boggled the mind at times. It also seems as if he’s once again approaching the “three-year burnout” mark, as he had with three prior coaching stops, with players apparently beginning to tune out the message.
However, Collins is not most to blame for this lost season. No, you’ll have to point the finger higher up on the management totem pole: general manager Tony DiLeo and, for good measure, the man he inherited the role from, Rod Thorn.
Just as they would have deserved the credit for transforming a middling franchise into a force to be reckoned with, they in turn have earned the role of scapegoat for the ensuing implosion.
Now, don’t get me wrong: Pulling the trigger on the aforementioned Bynum/Richardson deal last summer is not where the fault lies. Because, as one of many cheering the move—or at least the attempt at aggressively pursuing something that could finally move the needle—it would indeed be hypocritical to then throw management under the bus for it not panning out.
Instead, the problem is when DiLeo devised a “Plan A,” as he stated after the trade deadline, one which came with inherent risks, without having a Plan B in his back pocket.
Why? Because in seven previous seasons, Bynum played in more than 65 games just once—and that was in his second year, when he played them all. Because Richardson, instantly slated to be the starting shooting guard upon being acquired, is on the wrong side of 30 and had significantly regressed last year in Orlando, which should have raised a red flag.
And because when you intend to build complementary pieces around one player—in this case, perimeter guys who can spread the floor and allow their big to isolate in the post and exploit matchups down low—you damn well better make sure there’s at least one other player on the roster who can play the same game if that one man goes down.
Instead, the Sixers resigned Spencer Hawes—one of the smallest-playing (if not softest) 7’1’’ men to ever lace them up—and picked up Kwame Brown, soft in his own right and one of the biggest busts in recent NBA history. What has transpired is Hawes failing in his quest to be the next Reggie Miller while refusing to bang bodies and block out, while Brown has been so good that Collins would much rather go with Thaddeus Young, a natural small forward, and Lavoy Allen, often overmatched even as a power forward, while leaving the former No. 1 overall pick on the bench.
At least last season, the Sixers had Tony Battie, who, even well past his prime, was willing and somewhat able to get on the court and do some dirty work. This year? Far too many jerseys have remained far too clean after games.
Yet even with the writing on the wall and the chance to still keep the ship afloat, the only move made by the deadline was inexplicably for Charles Jenkins, who now gets to be the fourth point guard on a team whose first one is good enough to take most of those minutes anyway.
Now DiLeo finds himself in a precarious situation. He can stick with Plan A and roll the dice by re-signing Bynum, risking the wrath of the dwindling Philly fanbase if he fails to come through again. Or he can cut his losses and play do-over. However, convincing a high-end free agent to make this their destination at this point may be asking for too much.
Regardless of which outcome occurs, it could be sink or swim next season for many in the 76ers’ organization.