What's Next for Philadelphia 76ers After Disappointing 2012-13 NBA Season?
Following a terrible 2012-13 season that featured zero games played by Andrew Bynum and a wasted breakout by Jrue Holiday, the Philadelphia 76ers are set to embark on what needs to be a transformational summer.
But before getting to what's next, it's worth a look back at the gory specifics of how the Sixers got to where they are.
Any analysis has to begin and end with the abject failure of the Bynum trade. The big man was supposed to help bring the Sixers' offense (ranked 17th in 2011-12) into the modern era. Instead of low-percentage jumpers from inside the three-point line, Philly was supposed to thrive in an inside-out game that would generate more long-range attempts and better spacing.
But the season-long absence of Bynum, combined with a series of questionable personnel moves leading up to the season (I'm looking at you, Nick Young), resulted in a major step backward for an already poor Sixers offense. Philly lost nearly two points per 100 possessions on offense this past season, dropping their overall efficiency all the way to 26th in the NBA.
For what it's worth, a shrewd (but humble) writer predicted the Sixers' woes before the season even began.
In sum, Philly barely had the personnel to be successful with Bynum. But without him, uninventive coaching and a lack of talent meant the Sixers' lottery fate was sealed by early February.
Through with the painful retrospective on what went wrong with the Sixers' season, it's time to look ahead.
Heading into next season, Philadelphia has about $46 million in salary commitments—assuming Kwame Brown exercises his $3 million option for 2013-14. Bynum, Dorell Wright, Nick Young and Damien Wilkins are the only significant Sixers who'll hit unrestricted free agency, so Philly can make a max-money pitch to Bynum if it wants to.
Whether or not the 76ers choose to make Bynum an offer is probably the team's biggest offseason decision. Considering how things went this past year, not to mention team adviser Julius Erving's not-so-sunny take on the injured center, it seems highly unlikely that Philadelphia will put itself through the headache of another go-round with Bynum.
On the coaching side, Doug Collins' resignation on April 18 means the team will also be in search of a new sideline stalker. It's hard to overstate how important the Sixers' coaching selection will be.
The team is in desperate need of a forward-thinker who'll put forth a strategic plan that doesn't feature something akin to Collins' outdated emphasis on gut feelings and low-percentage offensive plays. The Sixers don't need an MIT grad with a degree in advanced analytics, but they've got to have someone capable of embracing the changing landscape of the league.
In other words, painfully simple high school plays that yield long jumpers in isolation just won't cut it.
The good news is that Collins is off of the bench; the bad news is that as a member of the front office he'll still have input into the coaching selection. Sixers fans had better hope his gut makes the right choice.
The Sixers have less than a one-percent shot at the top pick in the 2013 NBA draft, and based on their record, they'll most likely end up with the No. 11 selection.
It's hard to suggest the best use of that pick without being sure about whether Bynum will be back, but assuming he's a goner, Philadelphia would be wise to use its selection on a young big man who could serve in a backup role initially, but possibly unseat the mighty Spencer Hawes from the starting center position at some point during the year.
Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk and Maryland's Alex Len seem like realistic options at No. 11, but the lack of "wow" factor those names evoke is a good indication of just how weak this year's draft truly is.
Evan Turner doesn't seem to think he's on the trading block, but because the Sixers need to seriously consider a thorough housecleaning, he might want to dial back his confidence a bit:
#Sixers Turner: 'I think I'll be here next year. My name comes up because I believe there's trade value.'— Tom Moore (@tmoorepburbs) April 18, 2013
Sure, Evan. Who wouldn't want an unathletic tweener whose rate stats showed no growth despite a pressure-free environment and ample playing time last year?
If the Sixers don't trade Turner, it'll only be because no other team wants a below-average player on a lottery-pick deal with an extension decision looming in the summer of 2014. They should definitely see what they can get for him, though.
Philadelphia's complete list of unrestricted free agents this summer includes Bynum, Young, Wright, Wilkins, Royal Ivey, Charles Jenkins and Justin Holiday. And as I mentioned, Brown has a player option for $3 million he seems likely to exercise—he's probably not going to do any better on the open market after missing almost the entirety of his past two seasons.
The danger of bringing Bynum back is clear, and that risk should probably be one the Sixers allow another team to take.
Young has absolutely no place on a winning team, as his atrocious shot selection and complete inability to make anyone around him better make him a player that lacks any real value. Unless Young pays the Sixers, there's no scenario in which his return could be construed as a good move.
Of the rest of Philly's free agents, only Wright has much use. His three-point stroke has hovered between 36 and 39 percent for the past six seasons, and although he does almost nothing else at an above-average level, there's value in a consistent floor-stretching shooter. If the Sixers can bring him back for something like the $4 million he made last season, they probably wouldn't regret it.
Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic will be on the market this summer and he'd be a solid fit for the Sixers. His brutal strength in the post would draw defenders the way Philadelphia hoped Bynum's would.
Best of all, he'll probably command less than a max salary and has two functional knees.
Everyone seems to value Al Jefferson more highly than his unrestricted free-agent teammate, but Paul Millsap is a a gritty, competitive forward that plays better two-way ball than Jefferson. Remember, half of the game is defense and Jefferson doesn't play any.
The Sixers could do worse than a Millsap-Thaddeus Young pairing in the frontcourt. That duo would be among the league's most versatile tandems and could provide excellent spacing and good defense in pick-and-roll situations.
Millsap made $7 million last season, but even with a slight raise, the Sixers could afford to bring him in if they let Bynum walk.
Nate Robinson would not only help with the bad-shot withdrawal symptoms Sixers fans would likely feel after Nick Young's departure, he'd also represent a dangerous backup option behind Holiday.
The Chicago Bulls' spark plug averaged 13.1 points in just 25 minutes per game this year, and his energy could really invigorate a stale, stagnant Sixers attack. After making just $1 million in 2012-13, Robinson could be had on the market for much more than that and still constitute a bargain.
Really, though, there are probably a few D-League options that would improve the 76ers' backup point guard situation. It was that bad this year.
On the Rise: Thaddeus Young
Thaddeus Young saw a marked uptick in his minutes per game last season and aside from a curious 20-percent decline in his free-throw shooting, his overall productivity remained steady. That's a good sign for a player who's at a turning point in his career.
For the rangy, athletic forward, 2013-14 is going to be the season he either takes another step forward into stardom or levels off as a good (but not great) rotation player.
Young is a good defender in the pick-and-roll, shoots a high percentage from the floor (53 percent in 2012-13) and has excellent athleticism. Freed of the restrictive Collins, perhaps Young will also be allowed to shoot more threes.
Remember, he hoisted about two per game in 2008-09 and 2009-10 at a 34 percent clip. More long-range shots would only increase Young's value as a stretch-4 in a more modern Sixers offense.
Biggest Question Going Forward: Is Jrue Holiday for real?
It's easy to accumulate good numbers on a bad team. Somebody is bound to score, log assists and pull in rebounds.
But it's hard to know how valuable those stats are when they come in meaningless games.
Holiday posted career bests of 17.7 points, eight assists and 4.2 rebounds this past season and despite almost no help from his teammates, he still managed to up his overall efficiency rating from 14.74 in 2011-12 to 16.74 in 2012-13.
Plus, he competed on defense and the stats show that his on-court presence improved the Sixers' defensive rating by over five points per 100 possessions.
And Holiday did give Sixers fans a glimpse of his ability to step up in big moments:
Those are great signs that point to Holiday being a very good player. But his overall numbers last year were far from elite. He'll have to shoot better than 43 percent from the field and cut his turnovers from 3.7 per game before he proves he belongs on the the upper tier of young point guards alongside Stephen Curry, Ty Lawson and Russell Westbrook.
The Sixers are committed to Holiday for the foreseeable future, having signed the point guard to a $44 million deal through the 2016-17 season. But they can't know what they've really got in him until their games matter more.
Hopefully, an offseason of changes will allow the Sixers to play in a few more games that actually count for something next season. That'd go a long way toward determining whether Holiday really can become a franchise cornerstone.
Projected Power Ranking Entering 2013-14: 18
Depending on how wisely the Sixers handle their free-agent decisions and spend their cap space, they've got a lot of power-ranking mobility. Simply assuming slight improvements for Holiday and Young and projecting replacement-level performances from whichever free agents take over the minutes of guys like Nick Young and Turner, the Sixers can expect a modest improvement overall.
If they hit it big with a free agent or two, the playoffs are a real possibility. Although in the marshmallow-soft lower tier of the Eastern Conference, that's not necessarily saying much.
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