While this season is still far from over, any 76ers fan who isn't delusional knows that this team has little chance of making a deep run in the playoffs.
Sure they've shown a lot of improvement since the disastrous start to the year, and this season as a whole should be considered a success, but ultimately this is an average team at best.
With that being said, I thought I would take a look at seven issues that the Sixers will need to resolve in the offseason if they want this team to have a chance at becoming more than just average.
The last guy that could pack the house for Sixers games
First things first, let's start off with something that should be fairly simple. Get the people of Philadelphia excited to come and see the 76ers play.
The picture above doesn't mean that I think they should bring back Allen Iverson—I just used it because he was the last Sixer that could pack the house.
Philadelphia sports fans are known to be incredibly passionate and supportive, yet the Sixers have the fourth-lowest attendance in the entire NBA. Only the Nets, Kings and Pacers have lower attendance numbers, and none of those teams are anywhere near as competitive as the Sixers.
Within the city itself the Sixers are clearly behind the Phillies, Eagles and Flyers in terms of popularity. Heck, if they're not careful they might wind up behind the new MLS team the Philadelphia Union.
Alright, maybe falling behind the Union is a bit of a stretch, but I'll throw out a quick plug for the new team with an awesome fanbase that calls themselves the Sons of Ben, a gorgeous stadium by the Delaware River, and a catchy anthem when goals are scored.
In the end I'm sure winning will solve the attendance problem, but you need only to look across the street at the Phillies to see what a raucous crowd can do for your team. Free agents like Cliff Lee wanted to play in Philadelphia because of the atmosphere, and if the Sixers can get the crowds at the Wells Fargo Center rocking then maybe they can attract some big-time free agents as well.
Your gonna give Elton Brand 80 million over 5 years? Hold Up!!!
With essentially the same lineup that went 27-52 the previous year, Doug Collins has been given most of the credit for being the driving force behind this year's turnaround.
That being said, I think 76ers general manager Ed Stefanski should make it a priority to let Doug Collins have as much input as possible when it comes to personnel decisions. To be honest, I'm not certain of the amount of input he currently has, but with his coaching style and schemes making such a difference, letting Doug have a greater say in the decision-making process can only be a positive.
Remember Ed Stefanski is the guy who decided to give Elton Brand $80 million over five years, and Andre Igoudala $80 million over six years. Those two contracts have put this team in a bad position when it comes to making any kind of moves to improve the team.
"Sweet" Lou doin his thing
I know a lot of you probably read that title and thought, "He must be an idiot because the bench is the strongest part of the team."
While that might be true, it is also an indication that some of the players coming off the bench, i.e., Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner, deserve more minutes as starters. Of course, that would require some changes in the starting lineup, and I'll explain those in greater detail later on in this piece.
The greatest asset the Sixers currently have on the bench is Lou Williams. He comes into games with a ton of energy and can score in bunches. It's a perfect role for him as he's capable of playing either one of the guard positions off of the bench.
As far as the rest of the bench goes, it's mostly just filler. Andres Nocioni, Jason Kapono, Tony Battie, Darius Songaila and Craig Brackins have contributed almost nothing. Marresse Speights is the only other player that I think has any value coming off the bench.
All in all it is a group that has definitely helped turn the 76ers around this year. But as I said, going forward I think Young and Turner need to be starters, and that would leave a void that would have to be filled.
This years draft class is...well...it's not great.
This one is a bit of a stretch given the fact that their pick will likely be in the high teens or low 20s, but there is almost always one or two guys who teams overlook that end up becoming impact players.
Obviously, it's a little early to try and decipher what the 2011 NBA Draft has to offer with the lottery having yet to take place and not knowing which college players will declare. If I had to guess I would say the 76ers will be looking for a big man, but having taken a quick look at some of the prospects, things don't look promising.
Again, it's a bit early, and I could throw out a few possibilities like Patric Young from Florida, Tyler Zeller from North Carolina, or Alex Oriaki from Connecticut, but who knows if they'll declare or not.
Personally, none of those players excites me very much, but that's why the Sixers have scouts, and maybe they can identify someone who has been flying under the radar to this point.
Does anyone really think I can stop Superman?
I touched on this in the last slide, but it's important enough to warrant its own discussion.
The 76ers need someone who can bring some toughness and intimidate opposing players from driving to the hoop. You have to go all the way back to Dikembe Mutombo for the last time the Sixers had someone like that, and he was the missing piece that helped that team get to the Finals.
Currently, Philadelphia is trotting out Spencer Hawes as its starting center, and while he has good size at 7'1'' and 245 pounds, he's not a physical player. So far this year he's averaging 6.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg and 0.8 bpg. That line doesn't strike fear into the hearts of opposing teams, and neither does Hawes.
The biggest issue here is the fact that the free agents who will be available in 2011 don't look very promising. Yao Ming is one of the biggest names that would be available and fits the description, but I don't think he would ever sign here, and with his constant foot problems I'm not sure I would want him.
In my opinion, the best guy that they might be able to get would be Tyson Chandler. His stats on the year are 10.2 ppg, 9.4 rpg and 1.1 bpg. Those may only be marginally better than Hawes, but I think Chandler is a much more physical presence inside.
You don't have to go home, but you got to get the heck up outa here.
I'm not the first person to say this, and I won't be the last person to say this, but the 76ers have to move on.
Understand that I'm not one of those Iguodala haters who thinks that the guy is worthless. He's an excellent player, a perfect fit for a contender that is looking for someone to be that second or third star on the team. The problem is that the Sixers have cast him as their No. 1 go-to guy, and he's just not suited for that role.
Ideally, the Sixers would keep Iguodala and move Elton Brand with the hope that Philadelphia could sign another star or bring one in with a trade, but the likelihood of that happening isn't very good. Brand's contract is not something that any team is going to want to take on, so like it or not we're pretty much stuck with him.
Not that he's a terrible player. He's got a great mid-range jumper and rebounds fairly well for his size, but he has a $16 million-a-year contract that still has three years remaining on it, and that's what draws the ire of the fans.
The need to make a move leads to my last and most important point...
Is it the shoes? It must be the shoes. (reference, look it up)
Let me reiterate the fact that I'm impressed with the strides the 76ers took this year—they've improved by leaps and bounds from where they were last year. But you're kidding yourself if you think that this team has a legitimate shot at being a title contender.
I just don't see it, and if you're satisfied with a team that is good but not great then this piece wasn't meant for you.
I think the team needs to see what it has with its younger players, and if that means taking a step back next year, then so be it. Let's take a look at three guys who should be in the starting lineup come next year.
Jrue Holliday is in his second year in the league, is still only 20 years old and is growing into one of the best young point guards in the league. Numerous scouts and experts consider him to have the talent on defense to be one of the best defenders in the NBA.
He needs to improve on his ball-handling and decision-making skills as he tends to turn the ball over a little too much, but that's the kind of thing that comes with experience.
Thaddeus Young, in his fourth year in the league, is also only 22 years old. He'll be a free agent at the end of this year so it's possible he won't be back, but unless he demands a ridiculous amount of money I think the Sixers will bring him back.
He's a relentlessly hardworking player, who rebounds well and has exceptional athleticism. Over a 10-game span from the end of February through the beginning of March, he averaged 18 ppg, six rpg and 1.5 steals.
Evan Turner, who is in his rookie season, is also 22 years old. He still has the most to prove out of all the young guys, but there's no question that he has gotten better and more comfortable as the season progressed. I'm not convinced he'll ever be a superstar or live up to being the second pick, but you've got to at least give him the chance to prove it by putting him in the starting lineup.
His jump shot isn't very pretty, but they'll work on it and all indications from people on and around the team are that he's in the gym as much as any guy on the squad.
The big question is whether any of those three guys is a franchise player. I think Jrue Holiday might have the best chance out of any of them, but we'll never know unless the team commits to making them a bigger part of this team.