Think of competing in the NBA as a constant struggle against a firm, deep current in the ocean. You are either moving forward or you are moving back.
There is no treading water.
If a team falls back too far they risk taking a plunge off the waterfall that is NBA relevancy and for most, those depths are a place of no return.
Enter the Philadelphia 76ers.
The 76ers’ overall production has been as consistent as a rock for years, but therein lies the problem. This team is in the exact same shape they were in during the days when Detroit and Miami ruled the Eastern Conference; a middling .500 team with enough fight to momentarily scare an upper seed in a playoff game, but not enough talent to win the series.
Unlike most teams, the 76ers shortcomings aren’t due to lack of front office aggression. To the contrary, one could argue that the 76ers have been too aggressive in their attempt to ascend in the Eastern Conference’s standings.
I like Andre Iguodala as much as anyone, but shelling out 80 mil over the course of six seasons for him isn’t just overpaying, it borders on self-robbery. Elton Brand hasn’t exactly lived up to his five year, $82 million contract yet either.
What’s worse is that these moves revealed the desperation of the 76ers front office and the financial restrictions they impose will likely keep them out of the arms race for the 2010 big-name free agent sweepstakes.
Through their recklessly frequent hiring/firing of head coaches (five different coaches in the last five seasons), their overestimation of Iguodala’s growth and the relatively new juggernauts waiting at the top of the Eastern Conference, the 76ers have been pushed so far downstream that they are now on the brink of irrelevancy and it may not even take until the end of the season before they take that plunge.
To be fair, the fact remains that nothing the Sixers could have possibly done over the off-season would have given them the chance to bring Larry O’Brien home this upcoming June.
The stark reality of today’s NBA is that there are only five, maybe six teams that have a realistic shot of winning the whole damn thing and there is too big of a gap between them and the rest of the league to bridge in only one season.
The loss of Andre Miller will only further damage an already incompetent half court offense while the 76ers inconsistent defense will keep them miles beneath Boston, Orlando, and possibly Cleveland as they’ll duke it out for Eastern Conference supremacy.
The Sixers 120-106 opening loss to Orlando, in which they trailed by as many as 31 points, only further cements the point that they just aren’t ready to play with the big boys of the league yet.
With the development of Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls, the potential of the new look Pistons, and with Dwyane Wade entering what could be his last season with the Heat before looking for a new contract elsewhere, the Sixers management better find answers from somewhere soon.
It won’t get any easier to move upstream once they plunge off the deep end.