How'd We Do? Analyzing the Totality of the Sixers' Off-Season Moves

How'd We Do? Analyzing the Totality of the Sixers' Off-Season Moves

Halfway into July, if I had to take an educated guess, I'd say the
Philadelphia 76ers are basically done with their off-season maneuvering.
There's always the chance of the Andre Iguodala trade that we've been
predicting for about two-and-a-half years now, but talks have slowed on
that front, and most of the teams being talked of as possible landing
spots for 'Dre—whether a contending team like the Lakers or a rebuilding
one like the Warriors or Timberwolves—have either locked into their
current roster, and/or already looked elsewhere to fill their small
forward void elsewhere. With the free agent pool drying up and the
Sixers running up on the salary cap, it seems fairly likely that this is
the team the Sixers will take into next year.

So how did the Sixers do in what we here at the Level have been
calling the most pivotal off-season in the franchise's post-AI history?
Well, let's break it down into a series of questions.

Did We Get What We Wanted?

Superficially, the answer here would appear to be yes. If you'd
asked me before the off-season what the three things we needed the most
going into next year, I would have said a perimeter scorer who can
create his own shot, a knockdown three-point shooter, and a proven
interior presence who can anchor a defense. We basically got one of each
of those, in shooting guard Nick Young (17.4 ppg for Washington two
seasons ago), small forward Dorrell Wright (194 threes for the Warriors
two seasons ago) and big man Kwame Brown (starting center for the
Bobcats with decent results
two seasons ago), respectively. Technically speaking, the Sixers
managed to add the two pieces they most needed without needing to give
up anything on the two rosters.


What makes these moves so unsatisfying is that the Sixers basically
nabbed the lowest-cost, lowest-upside versions of the three players they
needed in Young, Wright and Brown. Young can score, but he can't do
anything else, Wright has little value when he's not parked behind the
three-point line, and while Brown has turned into a decent interior
defender and rebounder, he's certainly no Tyson Chandler, and his
offensive game can be charitably described as that of a "Rich Man's Ben
Wallace." Both still add something the team was sorely lacking, but
neither represents any sort of long-term solution for their respective
role. 

What's more, Young and Brown are notoriously low-IQ players with
long, long track records of losing and losing big, with Wright having
little post-season success of his own to speak of. Nick Young's
first-round victory with the Clippers this season was the first time in
any of the 24 combined seasons for the three players that one of them
won a playoff series in which they actually played. If creating a
"winning atmosphere" was one of the primary goals of the team this
off-season, this was an odd way to do it.

So I guess the answer here is yes, we got we wanted. But it turned out we didn't really want it that badly.

Did We Lose Much in the Interim?

No,
not really. Well, that's not totally true—we lost two of the guys that
came to define the team over the last half-decade of Sixers basketball
in overpaid free agent power forward Elton Brand and bench scorer turned
swaggy rapper Lou Williams. But the latter is basically replaced in
role by Nick Young, and while advanced stats still say that Lou was a
far better player than Nick the past few seasons...I'll believe that
when I start yelling at Young on one out of every three possessions as I
eventually was with Sour Patch Lou. And Elton was on his way out soon
anyway—either through a trade deadline deal or walking as a free agent
next summer—so though he was still an effective post defender and
occasional scoring option, you can't bemoan his loss too much.

If anything, you could argue that we should have lost more,
as the decision to retain Spencer Hawes at two years, 13 million was
probably the Sixers' most roundly mocked of the off-season, and
deservedly so—Spencer has still yet to prove that he can be a starter in
this league, and 6.5 a year is an awful lot for a backup. But
ultimately, the Sixers lost little that can't be fairly readily
replaced.

Did We Screw Ourselves For the Future?

Surprisingly,
no. If the Sixers want to claim one victory for the off-season, it's
this: They made absolutely zero moves that we'll be regretting four
years down the line. That, of course, is because the Sixers made no
moves that will imapct the team four years from now—every single thing
they did was for a maximum of two years. No contract signed by a Sixer,
old or new, this off-season, will still be going past the 2014
off-season.

This may not sound like that big of a deal, but it actually is—the
contracts that really end up hamstringing a team are the five-year,
$35-million type you give out to role players who either underperform or
turn out to be not $7-million-a-year important in their role, clogging
up a team's cap space for a half-decade and preventing any kind of big
moves from being made. The fact that Lou Williams and Spencer Hawes were
not given such deals has to be seen as some kind of progress. (Though,
puzzlingly, it seems like Lou was offered one and turned it down.)

Did the Sixers Show Evidence of Having a Long-Term Plan?

Sort
of, although how sound or noble the plan is is certainly up for debate.
It appears that the front office is basically planning on putting the
team on hold for two years, at which point Iguodala comes off the books
and the team has to have officially decided how much to invest in Jrue
Holiday and Evan Turner. In the meantime, they have the short-term
contracts and financial flexibility to either pursue free agents next
off-season or make a blockbuster trade for a big-name guy should the
opportunity for either arise. And they can use these seasons as sort of a
trial period to see who, along with Holiday and Turner, should be
considered a crucial part of the team's future.

It's a plan, anyway—certainly one better than pretending the team
was actually close to contending last post-season, and keeping the
team's core in place while adding pieces to put them "over the top."
(Team CEO Adam Aron basically admitted the team had maxed out as
currently constituted, which is a healthy realization for him to come
to.) It's not all that sexy of a plan, however, and it's not even one
the team followed through with all the way, as they failed to find a
trade for Andre Iguodala and their draft strategy of Young and Athletic
failed to mesh with their free agent strategy of Middle-Aged and Not
Totally Stiff. An inconsistent, unglamorous plan is probably still
better than no plan at all, but how much better is certainly subject for
debate.

Does Our Roster Make More Sense Than it Did At the End of Last Year?

And
this is where the Sixers really failed this off-season. None of their
signings or draft choices were explicitly terrible, none of the players
they cut bait with were particularly tragic losses, but the combination
thereof has left the Sixers with a roster totally lacking in balance. If
you count Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young (and in my opinion, you
should), the Sixers will be entering next season with a grand total of
five small forwards, all of whom will command some sort of consistent
minutes. Meanwhile, the team totally lacks a backup point guard (unless
you count Xavier Silas or Nick Young, which, no) and appears to be
giving serious consideration towards tipping off 2012-13 with a starting
front line of Spencer Hawes and Kwame Brown—which, really, shouldn't
happen under any circumstances ever.

Can Coach Doug Collins make sense out of the mess? Probably, but not
without some issues of poor roster equilibrium eventually being
exposed, and not without somebody bitching about role and/or
minutes. You'd like to think that a trade or two is still on the way to
help clear up the mess, but such a trade doesn't seem a particular
priority with the Sixers currently—rather, when they trade, it's for a
guy like Wright that has one very valuable skill, but also already has
four other dudes at the same position in front of him.

Ultimately, you might not be able to call this Sixers off-season a
total failure—the fact that Lou Williams was actually allowed to walk to
Atlanta basically disqualifies it from being labeled as such—but you
certainly wouldn't call it a resounding success, either. It was about
100x more active than the last four off-seasons, but ultimately we're
left in the same place—watching a mediocre team that keeps putting off
the decision of whether to rebuild or try to contend. The Sixers could
still be a fun team next year, but it's gonna be hard to be real excited
about the group Rod Thorn and company—whoever's making decisions for
the team these days—have put together.

MRI on T.J. McConnell's wrist comes back negative; Nerlens Noel has ankle sprain

MRI on T.J. McConnell's wrist comes back negative; Nerlens Noel has ankle sprain

The Sixers will be without their starting point guard for the time being, as T.J. McConnell has left the team to return to Philadelphia to receive treatment for a right wrist strain and will miss Monday's game vs. the Bucks in Milwaukee.
 
An MRI taken on McConnell’s right wrist came back negative, according to Sixers coach Brett Brown.
 
“He has a strain,” Brown said. “There’s no structural damage. In relation to what that means with regards to his return to play, I don’t know that yet.”
 
McConnell is averaging 4.8 points and 5.4 assists in 38 games. He has started Philadelphia’s last seven games, a stretch during which the Sixers have gone 5-2.

With McConnell out, Sergio Rodriguez will start at point guard Monday against Milwaukee.

Rodriguez started 29 of the first 30 games he played this season, his first in the NBA since 2009-10. The 30-year-old is more of an offensive threat than the defensive-minded McConnell, averaging 8.8 points and 5.8 assists.  

“You immediately go to losing that defensive energy T.J. is known for,” Brown said. “Sergio is a more gifted scorer. T.J. is a more gifted defender. To have Nerlens (Noel) and Joel (Embiid) behind the scenes, we can make up some ground with Sergio.
 
“People understand Sergio’s pedigree. He’s a 30-year-old legend in Europe. He has a wealth of experience. He’s a medalist and an MVP of the Euro league. He also was our starting point guard for a while. We’re happy to give him back that responsibility.”

No Noel
In addition to McConnell, the Sixers on Monday will also be without the services of Nerlens Noel, who is dealing with a left ankle sprain. Noel came down with a season-high 12 rebounds in Saturday's loss to the Wizards.

Still restricted
Sixers center Joel Embiid will still be on a 28-minute restriction Monday against the Bucks.

Embiid sat out Saturday’s 109-93 loss to Washington after playing 28 minutes in a 102-93 win over Charlotte on Friday. He has reached 30 minutes just once in his 27 games this season.

Changes coming? Ron Hextall says Flyers 'not very happy right now'

Changes coming? Ron Hextall says Flyers 'not very happy right now'

WASHINGTON — As the Flyers filed into the visiting locker room of the Verizon Center, no temper tantrums were thrown, nor were any chairs.
 
In the end, “What good does that do?” head coach Dave Hakstol asked.
 
Instead, the Flyers’ dressing area Sunday felt like a morgue. Players quietly and somberly stuffed their gear away. Once all dispersed, in walked Ron Hextall — and none too pleased.
 
“It’s been a tough couple of weeks for us,” he said softly, “and quite honestly, we’re not very happy right now.”
 
For a man that loathes losing more than anyone, nobody expected him to be. That much was already understood during the third-period catastrophe of his team’s demoralizing 5-0 defeat to the Capitals.
 
What wasn’t known was what follows? The Flyers have gone from 10 consecutive victories — the franchise’s longest winning streak in 31 years — to 11 losses over the following 14 games and a state of dismay.
 
As the Flyers limp into their NHL mandated five-day bye week, do players sense an imminent shakeup within the roster?
 
“It’s a good question,” Claude Giroux said, “but I don’t know.”
 
Despite never losing his sense of prudence, Hextall ruled nothing out.
 
“Obviously we always keep an eye on the big club and the Phantoms, as well,” Hextall said. “Right now, we’re going to stick with what we’ve got here and move forward. But on a day-to-day basis, I always look at how we can make our club better and, if there’s something that we think makes our club better, we’ll do it."
 
If Hextall wants to add some fresh blood from within, the organization is not lacking for young and spry prospects full of energy down at Lehigh Valley, where the Phantoms are 24-10-2 and third among the entire AHL entering Monday.
 
For the Flyers, who have surrendered a league-worst 144 goals, could defensemen T.J. Brennan, Travis Sanheim or Robert Hagg be options? Brennan owns NHL experience, has 30 points and is a plus-10 with Lehigh Valley. Sanheim, a big and touted prospect, is also a plus-10 to go along with seven goals and 11 assists. And Hagg, a seasoned 21-year-old, is “just about NHL-ready,” according to Flyers assistant general manager Chris Pryor, via ESPN’s Craig Custance (see Future Flyers Report).
 
“The worst thing you can do is overreact when things aren’t going right and that’s not going to happen,” Hextall said. “But if we can find a way to make ourselves better, we will.”
 
Hextall’s biggest gripe with his current team is its mental fortitude.
 
“Right now we’re making a lot of mental mistakes and it’s killing us,” he said.
 
And then it snowballs, Hextall said, which good teams prevent from happening.
 
“When things are going wrong, all of a sudden something happens and things tend to really go wrong,” he said. “That’s where we have to get better. Mentally we have to be better, have to be better. If something goes wrong, let’s move on. It happened a lot earlier in the year where things go wrong and we fought through it. Right now, the negative energy seems to be a landslide.”
 
Following the meltdown in Washington, players didn’t question the effort.
 
“We care,” Michael Del Zotto said. “No one likes losing. It’s not fun for anyone. But sometimes effort's not enough. Everyone wants to win in this league. It's a matter of execution. Whether it's offensively or defensively in all situations, we're not doing it.”
 
Hextall believes the effort has been “sufficient.”
 
“Again, the mental mistakes,” he said. “It seems like when something goes against us, it goes against us hard and that’s something we’ve got to battle through. You can’t let a little bit of adversity turn into a lot of adversity. You’ve got to nip it in the bud and we’ve got to do a better job of that.”
 
As for the leadership structure and coaching, Hextall defended both.
 
“Our leaders haven’t been good enough. Neither have our lesser guys,” Hextall said. “Nobody’s been good enough right now. You don’t win 10 and then go through a stretch like this without responsibility being everywhere.
 
“Line changes, different D combinations, flipping [Steve Mason] and [Michal Neuvirth]. Everything that’s there, Hak has tried. In the end, it comes down to our whole group just being better and not reacting the way we do when something negative happens. That’s the game of sports, right?”
 
The game goes away for the Flyers this week (see 10 observations). When it returns, who knows which team we’ll see.
 
“We all have to look at ourselves in the mirror, hold ourselves accountable,” Del Zotto said. “As far as changes and personnel moves, that's out of our control.”
 
That, of course, is up to Hextall.
 
“We’ve got to keep our heads now,” the GM said. “Nobody’s going to get us out of this. It’s the whole group. This isn’t about one thing or one move or one player not playing or one player playing. This is about our whole group.”