Five Sixers storylines to watch for this season


Five Sixers storylines to watch for this season

There are no secrets about what is likely to happen this season for the Philadelphia 76ers. More often than not, they are going to lose ballgames.

Vegas has the over/under on victories for the Sixers this season set at 16½. In team history, the Sixers famously went 9-73 in 1972-73 to set the NBA record for futility. The Sixers also went 18-64 in 1995-96 and followed that up with a 22-60 record in Allen Iverson’s rookie season in 1996-97.

No, the Sixers don’t have an Iverson-type on this team. They have some pieces to the puzzle, but the others haven’t materialized yet. For coach Brett Brown, in his first season at the helm of an NBA team, there haven’t been any surprises. New president/general manager Sam Hinkie blew up the roster and pushed the team into a rebuild, doing what many of his predecessors could have done, but just didn’t have the stomach for.

Very easily the 2013-14 Sixers could have been transformed into an eight-seed playoff team with an aggressive approach to free agency. However, in the modern NBA, just making the playoffs doesn’t get a team anywhere.

That’s a clear flaw in the system, but that’s a story for another day. For now, Brown understands what Hinkie is doing with the franchise.

“He’s backed it up,” Brown said about Hinkie’s plan. “It’s a deliberate thing, it’s a patient thing. It’s a strategy that when he designed it, I was aware of it when I signed up with him to come here and it’s playing out as told.”

But it doesn’t necessarily make it fun-to-watch basketball. Losing is no fun and the danger of a rebuild is that losing can sometimes get stuck in the fabric of what is trying to be created. That’s the slippery slope Brown, Hinkie and the rest of the Sixers have to watch carefully.

In the meantime, since losing ballgames is supposed to be the course de rigueur, here are a few things to keep fans focused on the good times that could come down the road.

Michael Carter-Williams’ development
There is no more interesting player on the Sixers’ roster than MCW. At first glance, he doesn’t look like much -- tall, thin and baby-faced, Carter-Williams looks like he started shaving just last week.

Carter-Williams could be the young guard that the veteran point guards in the league will light up. Sure, Carter-Williams is a taller point guard, but that’s not unique anymore. And without a grizzled veteran on the roster to help guide Carter-Williams through the league, it could be a long season for the rookie.

Can he handle the likes of Dwyane Wade or Russell Westbrook? Can he stand up to taking the brunt of the opposition’s pick-and-roll? What are his mind and legs going to be like at the end of March when the Sixers are closing in on 60 losses?

That’s what we’ll learn this season. It’s also worth pointing out that on closer inspection, MCW isn’t only tall, thin and baby-faced, but also mature, thoughtful and measured. In fact, Carter-Williams is a lot like the guy he replaced, Jrue Holiday, in that regard. No one expected much out of Holiday when he left UCLA early to jump to the NBA, and he was an All-Star by his fourth season.

Evan Turner and his future
By all accounts, this is a big season for the former No. 2 overall pick (see story). Headed into his fourth NBA season, Turner will learn by the Sixers' Thursday deadline whether he'll be extended or able to test free agency next summer.

And after a summer spent trying to deal Turner, the Sixers seem poised to allow him to dip his toe into the free-agency waters.

Before that happens, Turner has numbers to produce. Three seasons have come and gone and Turner hasn’t had that magical breakthrough yet. He’s been close and had some pretty epic ballgames, but consistency over a season has been an issue.

Turner should have something to prove this season. Seemingly focused on the season rather than future free agency and contract extensions, a big season could be at hand for Turner.

That is, if he’s still with the team past the trade deadline.

The offense?
His players have described Brown’s offense as “vanilla.” The thing about that bland and boring flavor is it often can be enhanced. What the players call vanilla is something very basic. The idea is for the young Sixers to run, run and then run some more.

And then after that, Brown wants the Sixers to keep on running.

If that’s vanilla, it might have a few sprinkles on top. An All-Star Game or playground-like style could supplant the lack of complexity in the playbook. In that regard, count on the Sixers to score some points ...

The defense?
... And expect them to give up a bunch, too.

While youthful exuberance can spark a run-and-gun offense, it can cause problems on defense, where the nuances of the game are more pronounced. Certainly, defensive issues have shown up during the Sixers’ exhibition games when the opposition averaged 108 points.

Add in the facts that the Sixers have one 7-footer in Spencer Hawes and that rookie defensive whiz Nerlens Noel might not play this season, and rebounds are going to be few and far between.

Expect to see the Sixers dabble with some zone defense to help them protect the paint. Also expect the Sixers to get whistled for a bunch of defensive three-seconds calls, too.

Is a 9-73 season a possibility?
Doubtful. Though the Sixers will rank near the bottom of the standings in the NBA, there are a lot of bad teams in the league. The Sixers will get four chances to get wins against Charlotte, Orlando, Atlanta and Boston. They also face Phoenix, Sacramento and Utah twice apiece.

Of those 24 games, the Sixers ought to put together at least 10 wins and still be able to have a crack at the top pick in next summer’s NBA draft.

Sixers still deciding who will start opener, how long Jahlil Okafor will play

Sixers still deciding who will start opener, how long Jahlil Okafor will play

CAMDEN, N.J. — Brett Brown doesn’t have many options at his disposal for opening night against the Thunder, but a day before the Sixers' regular-season tip-off, he still is considering how to utilize his shorthanded roster.

What Brown is sure of is Joel Embiid is will be capped at 20 minutes in five four-minute segments. Embiid, coming off two years of foot injuries, began the preseason playing 12.

The Sixers have not locked in a minutes restriction on Jahlil Okafor. The second-year big man aggravated his right knee during training camp, and played eight minutes in his first preseason game last Friday.

“You’ll intermittently sub that and Richaun Holmes will make up the rest,” Brown said after practice Tuesday. “The five-spot is locked in with those three, and I feel like tomorrow we’ll be able to better figure out how many four-minute sections does Jahlil actually get.”

Brown started Sergio Rodriguez, Gerald Henderson, Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Embiid in the final two preseason games. On Tuesday he did not announce a starting five, specifically a point guard. That role is between Rodriguez and T.J. McConnell because of the injury to Jerryd Bayless (wrist). 

“Still considering a lot,” Brown said of the one-spot. “Not prepared right now to say one thing or another.”

Rodriguez, who has been practicing with the white squad, anticipates he will be given the nod. It will be his first regular-season game in the NBA since 2010.

“Yes, I expect, but for me that doesn’t matter,” Rodriguez said. “It’s going to be a big game for everybody. Everybody needs to be ready. We will need all we have to beat them.”

The Sixers' inactive list includes Bayless, Ben Simmons (foot) and Nerlens Noel (knee), all of whom could be starters if healthy. With so many injuries to major contributors and the implementation of segmented minutes, Brown will have to look down his bench over the course of four quarters.

“We’re going to have to go 10-deep. I bet we could even go 11-deep,” he said. “We’re in a very unusual circumstance that players can’t play multiple minutes. ... That, coupled with I think you can’t expect to have the energy and effort that we want on the floor without giving people six-minute chunks.” 

The Sixers and Thunder face off at 8 p.m. on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

Kevin Durant era begins as Warriors open vs. Tim Duncan-less Spurs

Kevin Durant era begins as Warriors open vs. Tim Duncan-less Spurs

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Kevin Durant era tips off for the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night against an opponent, the San Antonio Spurs, that both Durant and the Warriors would consider unfriendly.

After signing a two-year, $54.3 million deal to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder in the offseason, Durant is expected to take his place alongside holdover Warriors standouts Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green in the nightcap of TNT's opening-night doubleheader (10:30 p.m. ET).

And he will do so against a Spurs team that also will sport a new look this season -- albeit one with a key piece missing.

In its quest to unseat Golden State as the two-time Western Conference champs, San Antonio will go forward without future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan, who retired in July after his 19th season.

Before concluding the addition of Durant and the subtraction of Duncan tilts the balance significantly in the Warriors' favor, consider this: The last four times the Spurs played Golden State without their star big man, they won two of them.

The Spurs went after Durant in free agency, then settled for Pau Gasol, who is primed to join a star-studded collection of talent himself. San Antonio returns Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard from a team that won 67 games last season.

"I wouldn't think of ourselves as the guinea pig," Gasol said Monday when asked if the Spurs saw themselves as a test experiment for Golden State's new concoction. "We have an incredible team here with a lot of talent and a lot of experience. It's going to be an interesting, challenging first game."

The Warriors feel the same way, and with good reason.

Even after winning the season series 3-1 last season, Golden State has prevailed just six times in its past 30 regular-season meetings with the Spurs.

Meanwhile, halfway across the country, Durant was having similar struggles with his Southwest Division rival. His 25.8-point career scoring average against the Spurs is lower than his mark all teams except the Charlotte Hornets, Dallas Mavericks, Milwaukee Bucks and Portland Trail Blazers.

The Warriors will take the court fully aware the NBA hasn't scheduled a coming-out party for Durant on opening night.

"It'll be a really good atmosphere, obviously, and I'm sure there will be a very high level of play on both ends," Curry said. "It'll take a lot to get a win."

The Warriors did more tinkering to their record-breaking, 73-win team than adding Durant. They even plucked one of the Spurs -- David West -- with a team-friendly, $1.6 million offer that was similar to the one ($1.5 million) that lured the veteran away from the Indiana Pacers for a shot at a title in San Antonio last season.

That didn't work out as planned, as West contributed only a career-worst average of 4.0 rebounds and his lowest scoring output in 10 years (7.1 points per game) to the Spurs' quest.

So now, instead of backing up Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge as he did a year ago, he will team with Zaza Pachulia in replacing Andrew Bogut in Golden State's bid for a second championship in three seasons.