Dr. J: 'You can win without having a dominant big man'

Dr. J: 'You can win without having a dominant big man'

February 19, 2013, 9:45 am
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HOUSTON – The All-Star break is over. Thirty-one Sixers games remain and they start their sprint to the end of the regular season four games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Andrew Bynum has stated that he’s targeting a return after the all-star break to get back to playing basketball – not by himself but playing with teammates and against opposition.

The time has come. Bynum needs to make good on his word. Are the knees of the 25-year-old damaged beyond repair, or can he play on them, on and off, like he has the past seven seasons?

The work of Doug Collins over the previous two years feels lost in this season. If Bynum does take the court, what does ownership need to see to convince them that offering Bynum a new contract is the right decision?

If the Sixers’ front office decides the Bynum trade was an unfortunate move that did not pan out, and they walk away with the $17 million in cap space that Bynum’s expiring contract allows, who do they target in free agency? Atlanta’s Josh Smith and Indiana’s David West are high-level forwards, but not centers. Those are two names that start the conversation.

During All-Star weekend, Julius Erving, who is a strategic adviser for the Sixers, advised patience.

“Right now they know that they have a great coach in Doug Collins and they have some great young talent in Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner, and the frontcourt players, Spencer Hawes is playing well,” Erving said. “I think a lot of pieces are there. The key thing is not to panic and realize that it is a long season.

“Last year was such a short season and Philly got off to a great start and [it] rode that out to the end of the season and then had a good run in the playoffs, getting to the conference semifinals. The expectation is the thing they have to get over right now because they do have such high expectations.”

Dr. J played for the Sixers when the expectations were high. The franchise lost in the 1981-82 NBA Finals and then returned the following year after acquiring all-star center Moses Malone in a trade. The dominant Malone was named the league’s MVP that year and helped the Sixers steamroll through the playoffs en route to a championship. The Sixers have gotten back to the NBA Finals only once in the 30 years that have followed.

“The game is different now then when Moses played, it is 30 years later,” Erving said. “I think the style of play takes the big man and negates a lot of what they can do. Even if you have that dominant big man like Bynum and [Dwight] Howard, who are supposed to be 1-2, Roy Hibbert maybe three, in the league [at center], they are not the guys walking away with the MVP trophies -- it’s the guards and forwards.”

Miami proved that last year. And Sunday night, the MVP of the All-Star game was a six-foot guard who will be the most coveted free agent this summer, although it is unlikely Chris Paul will leave the Clippers.

Many who play the game today agree with Erving’s premise that the perimeter players are now running the show.

“The point guard position is the toughest position in the NBA right now and it has been that way for a nice little while,” Paul said. “Everyone in the NBA is talented, but some are more talented than others, and at the point guard position you never have a night off. Most nights the point guard you play is going to be the go-to guy, the guy you have to slow down in order to slow down that team.”

“You have somebody coming after you every night, somebody is trying to prove their status and worthy of respect,” Holiday said. “You do have to run the team and that makes you the head of the snake. It is the hardest position, but hopefully Chris Paul would back me on this -- it is the most fun.”

And Erving understands that a force in the paint isn’t quite the same today as what it used to be.

“They are taking the big man out of the game,” Erving said. “Once somebody on the sidelines finds an ingenious way to incorporate the big man back in, maybe it will make a change, but right now you can win without having a dominant big man.”

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