Is This the Worst Sixers Season of the Post-Iverson Era? Comparing '12-'13 to '09-'10

Is This the Worst Sixers Season of the Post-Iverson Era? Comparing '12-'13 to '09-'10

You know this Sixers team has hit its low point when their badness is
getting national media attention. Zach Lowe of Grantland had an excellent column yesterday
calling out the hypocrisy of Coach Collins' recent throwing of his team
under the bus in his conference after the Orlando drubbing, pointing
out how unreasonable it was to complain about personnel moves and
on-court execution when, in fact, Collins has had a large (and some
would say final) say in just about all roster decisions made by the
Sixers in the last few years, and his inefficient offensive gameplan
puts his players in a very poor position to have any kind of sustained
success. (To which, just about every Sixers writer on the internet
responded: "THAT'S WHAT WE'VE BEEN SAYING FOR THE LAST TWO YEARS!!")


It's all fair, and it's pretty clear that even though the Sixers are
still only five games out of the playoffs, and tied for the ninth spot
in the Eastern Conference, their season is already good as over—minus
seeing whether or not The Funny-Looking Kid With the Big Hair makes an
on-court cameo at season's end. Without any expectation of a late surge,
it's officially OK to declare this season a tremendous
disappointment—very possibly the most disappointing Sixers season in
recent memory—and start to wonder: Is this the worst season we've had since AI left?


When considering this question, there's really only one season
to provide competition—2009-10, the Sixers' only season under the
stewardship of ex-Wizards coach Eddie Jordan. That year, the Sixers
finished with one of the worst records in the Eastern Conference, lucked
out in the lottery (though, in retrospect, perhaps not as much as we
thought at the time), and so lost their way as a franchise they needed
to bring in a hard-headed, experienced disciplinarian such as Collins
the next season to get the team back on track.


So which season was more despairing, more miserable, more impossible to see the positive in? Let's break it down.

1. Worse Overall Record.
The '09-'10 Sixers started mediocrely enough, winning five of their
first 11, before the bottom fell out and the team lost 12 in a row. They
showed a little life during a five-game winning streak in February, but
otherwise were consistently subpar for the entire season, ending with a
27-55 record.


Bad as this year's team has played recently, thanks largely to a
fools' gold 10-6 record to start the season, it'll be tough for them to
beat that record, as the team currently sits at 22-33, needing to go
5-22 for the rest of the season to match '09-'10's futility. Not
impossible, but harder than you'd think, especially with two games each
against the Bobcats and Cavaliers coming up.


Edge: 2009-10 (For Now)

2. Loftier Pre-Season Expectations.
Coming off two straight playoff appearances (and two first-round
exits), the Sixers were expected to contend for a playoff spot in the
East in '09-'10, but with point guard (and arguable team MVP for at
least one of the previous two seasons) Andre Miller departed for
Portland and sixth man Lou Williams taking over responsibility at the
point, nobody expected really big things from these Sixers. My old NBA
Preview issue of SI from 2009 (yes, I hold onto those, apparently)
pegged them to finish tenth, and in my own season preview,
I expected them to finish at around .500. They fell short of both of
those, natch, but expectations were never particularly high.


The same can not be said, sadly, for 2012-13. Most of us at least
expected the addition of Andrew Bynum to make the team nationally
relevant again, and thought that if a couple breaks went their way, they
could maybe reach up to first-round home-court advantage in the
playoffs. (Some wondered if they could even dethrone the Heat in the
East, and ridiculous as that kind of speculation always was, the fact
that it was there at all tells you something.) We expected the team to
be good enough to make people care again, and instead, they're more of
an afterthought than ever. That's pretty disappointing.


Edge: 2012-13

3. More Dispiriting Lack of Player Development.
At the end of my aforementioned '09-'10 preview, I predicted that this
would surely be the year that Andre Iguodala would become an All-Star,
and a franchise player. It made sense at the time, Iguodala coming off
his best offensive season in '08-'09, and showing flashes of being a
true big-game, give-me-the-ball player in the team's first-round playoff
series against the Orlando Magic. It didn't work out that way—'Dre's
scoring numbers sagged without Miller, and his ability in clutch
situations would consistently prove to be lacking. Thaddeus Young's
numbers also dipped considerably under Eddie Jordan, and Elton Brand
proved that '08-'09 was no fluke—he just wasn't the guy the Sixers
thought they were spending $80 million on in free agency.


If you're looking for a parallel to 'Dre on the '12-'13 season, it'd
have to be Evan Turner, who a couple ESPN pundits actually tagged as a
likely Most Improved Player candidate. They looked smart for a couple
months, but Evan slowed down in a big way in the New Year, his numbers
rebounding to earth so dramatically that you have to wonder if he's even
really evolved from last year at all. It's dispiriting, sure, but most
of our expectations were already fairly tempered with ET going into the
season—we've long since trying to predict anything with Evan—so it
doesn't really stand up to 'Dre proving that he just didn't have it.


Edge: 2009-10
 

4. Most Embarrassing Subplot.
The '09-'10 season, lest we forget, shouldn't technically even be
counted as part of the post-Iverson era, since Iverson was actually on
the team for most of that year. Ed Stefanski signed AI about a month
into the '09-'10 season, when it became quickly clear that the Sixers
didn't have the juice to be a post-season contender as previously
constituted, and he was greeted with the welcome of a returning hero,
hoping his scoring punch (and presumed newfound maturity) would be able
to redeem the Ballers' season. Instead, the slowed, aged Iverson proved
an almost entirely inconsequential presence, never scoring more than 23
in a night and going down for the season after just 25 games. The
signing was revealed to be exactly what it always was—a desperation
move.


Still, as embarrassing as that was, it's nothing compared to Bynum.
The bowling, the hair, the lawsuits...and all without so much as suiting
up for a game for the Sixers, at least not yet. The only way the
situation with TFLKWTBH could be any more humiliating is if he left the
Sixers holding the bag at the end of the year, which he very well may
do. It's some sickening shit.


Edge: 2012-13


5. Most Infuriating Individual Player.
Thank God that '09-'10 was the last season as a Liberty Baller for
center Samuel Dalembert, whose absolute refusal to play within himself
on offense and seeming inability to play smart on defense made him the
hardest-to-watch Sixer of the '07-'10 era. Sammy D did go on an
impressive rebounding tear at the beginning of 2013, but it rarely felt
like he was actually helping the team win games, and going into the '10
off-season, a lot of us were calling for moving Dalembert to be the
team's number-one priority.


Few of us could have guessed that the placer who would be brought in
to replace Dalembert—Spencer Hawes, who the Sacramento Kings
essentially swapped for Sammy D in Summer '10. After a couple years of
promising-but-inconsistent play, Hawes officially wore out his welcome
in Philly with his impossibly soft (or just insufficient, if you don't
want to make it an issue of toughness) play in the '12 post-season,
which has carried over into the '13 regular-season, where he still
refuses to rebound or play interior defense consistently and now also
holds the distinction of being grossly over-payed after signing a
two-year, $13 million contract. For me, I doubt I'll ever hate watching
any player as much as I hated watching Dalembert, but objectively
speaking, I acknowledge this one is anyone's game.


Edge: Even

6. More Demoralizing Coaching Drama.
As badly as the first and only season under Eddie Jordan went for the
Sixers, if you actually asked me to name three things that happened with
Eddie Jordan over the course of '09-'10, I doubt I could. All I have in
my memory is the uninspiring image of a well-dressed Jordan on the
sideline, looking mildly perturbed as the Sixers fumbled around with
their approximation of a Princeton offense that they probably were never
particularly well-equipped to run. Still, in terms of drama, the season
was fairly lacking, at least by 27-55 teams' standards.


You get the sense that Sixers fans will remember this season with
Coach Collins a little bit more clearly, though. The falling out between
team and coach has been an ugly one, and it's not even close to
through, with plenty of time and reason to get worse still before
season's end. Collins might even leave as his lasting legacy the Sixers
becoming the lowest free-throw-shooting team in NBA history, and poetic
as that may be, it's really not what we thought Collins would be
remembered for in this city when he was a Coach of the Year candidate a
couple seasons ago.


Edge: 2012-13

7. Less Excitement for the Future.
It wasn't until the Sixers landed the #2 pick in the lottery that it
seemed like 2009-2010 would be redeemable as a season—with regression
from Iguodala, Young, and even second-year forward Marreese Speights,
the lone real bright spot of the Sixers' long-term outlook that season
was rookie point guard Jrue Holiday, whose stat line was hardly
eye-popping—eight points and four assists on 44% shooting—but still, you
could just tell from his poise and his craftiness at 19 years old that
the kid was gonna be special. It wasn't enough to make us think the team
was gonna be just fine, but it was better than nothing.


Still, if there's one advantage the '12-'13 season really has over
'09-'10, it's the still-lingering feeling of hope. As miserable as the
season has been for the Sixers, at least they're not strapped with the
albatross-type contracts for Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala that the
'09-'10 was saddled with. Indeed, their two best players (Jrue and Thad)
are locked up with very reasonable contracts, and everybody else on the
team besides Jason Richardson sees their contract expire this summer or
the next. The team has legitimate young talent—even a 22-year-old
All-Star with the Damaja—and plenty of flexibility moving forward. As
bad as this season has been, the malaise doesn't have to extend to
future seasons, necessarily.


Edge: 2009-2010

So after evaluating seven categories,
it's 3.5 to 3.5 between '09-'10 and '12-'13. Does that mean the two
seasons are exactly equal in their misery, then? Well, not necessarily,
because there's still one huge variable still in play—The Funny-Looking
Kid With the Big Hair. If he plays at the end of the season, even if its
just in 15 games and he's not close to 100%, it could still be enough
to give this season a belated, underwhelming sense of
purpose—especially, of course, if he re-signs in the summer—that the
'09-'10 season will forever lack. However, if he never does suit up this
season, and never plays a game as a 76er, then the permanent black
cloud of that will make the season easily the most depressing of the
two.


Time will tell. And in the meantime, it's a reason—maybe the only
reason—to keep from writing off this season entirely just yet.

Ryan Howard's miserable May continues as Tigers out-power Phillies

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Ryan Howard's miserable May continues as Tigers out-power Phillies

DETROIT — Back when they were racking up National League East titles and filling Citizens Bank Park night after night, the Phillies could slug with anyone.
 
Those days are gone.
 
So even on a night when they got some power from two young up-and-comers in their lineup, the Phillies still couldn’t get enough to match up with the Detroit Tigers on Monday night.
 
“We don’t have enough pop to go blow for blow with them,” manager Pete Mackanin said.
 
The Tigers belted four home runs, three against starting pitcher Vince Velasquez, in beating the Phillies, 5-4, at Comerica Park (see Instant Replay).
 
Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph both homered for the Phillies, but Ryan Howard, no longer even close to the player he was during those aforementioned title years, slipped deeper into the May quicksand. He went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts to fall to .156 on the season. He is 4 for 48 (.083) in the month of May.
 
“Man, it’s been brutal,” Howard said after the game. “I’m not going to lie. I need some breaks, man. It’s been tough. I’ve hit some balls hard, but they’re not finding any real estate out there.
 
“I have to keep grinding and swinging. Luckily, it’s still early to get it turned around.”
 
Yes, it’s early for some guys.
 
But it might not be that early for Howard. He’s 36 and in the final year of his contract. His slump has coincided with Joseph’s ascension from the minors. Joseph played first base Monday night and looked good at the position. In addition to hitting a game-tying homer in the sixth, he had a double. Half of his six hits in his first seven games in the majors have been for extra bases.
 
Joseph will continue to play first base while Howard serves as the designated hitter in the final two games of the interleague series in Detroit. After that, Joseph is expected to start against lefty Jon Lester in Chicago on Friday. If he keeps hitting — and Howard keeps struggling — the situation could be ripe for Mackanin to continue to play Joseph, even against the right-handers Howard usually sees.
 
“I'm going to look at it a week at a time,” Mackanin said. “We'll see. At some point it might come to that, but I can't say it's imminent.”
 
If Howard starts spending more time on the bench, it will be part of a downhill progression that started in the second half of last season when he became a platoon player. Will a progression to the bench ultimately lead to his being released in the coming weeks? Well, if Joseph keeps hitting and continues to earn playing time, management may have to seriously ponder the move.
 
Even with Franco and Joseph hitting home runs, the Phillies didn’t have enough to match the Tigers’ thunder.
 
Miguel Cabrera belted two home runs and in the seventh inning clubbed his 500th career double. He then came around to score the go-ahead run on a single by Victor Martinez.
 
Entering the game, the Tigers were among the top teams in the American League in batting average (.265), runs per game (4.60), homers (56) and OPS (.758).
 
Meanwhile, the Phillies couldn’t get much lower in offense. They ranked near the bottom in the National League in batting average (.233), runs per game (3.23), homers (32) and OPS (.651).
 
“You look up and down their lineup on the scoreboard and it looks like everybody is hitting .300 with eight or 10 home runs,” Mackanin said. “It can be daunting.
 
“The middle of their lineup hurt us with the long ball. We knew they were swinging the bats well lately. They weren’t earlier. Now they’re swinging well and we couldn’t contain them.
 
“We got 12 hits of our own. But they’ve got a lot of power on that team.”
 
The Phillies are at the start of a challenging trip — three in Detroit followed by three against the Cubs in Wrigley Field. The Cubs have the majors’ best record. The Phillies, a surprising four games over .500, will be tested on this trip.
 
They did not pass the first test. Velasquez had trouble commanding his pitches and for the second straight start ran a high pitch count. He took a 3-1 lead to the mound in the fifth, but it evaporated quickly under the weight of homers by J.D. Martinez and Cabrera. Reliever Colton Murray also gave up a homer in the inning. He also allowed the go-ahead run in the seventh as Mackanin held David Hernandez back in case the Phils got a lead.
 
“Velasquez didn’t have any command of his secondary pitches, pretty basic stuff, and he left some fastballs over the plate,” Mackanin said. “You have to throw quality pitches to a lineup like this. If you make mistakes against them, they don’t miss. If you don’t command your secondary pitches against good hitters, they become like sharks and smell blood and hit the fastball.”
 
Velasquez said he should have gotten the loss, not Murray.
 
“You can’t shy away from hitters and I did that,” he said. “You’ve got to pitch inside. I pitched around them.
 
“I’ve got to do something about this. I’ve got to challenge hitters.”

With game on the line, Pete Mackanin benches his best player for lack of hustle

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With game on the line, Pete Mackanin benches his best player for lack of hustle

BOX SCORE

DETROIT — Phillies manager Pete Mackanin made a strong statement Monday night when he benched his best hitter in the seventh inning of a tie game.
 
With Odubel Herrera on the bench for the final innings, the Phillies went on to lose, 5-4, to the Detroit Tigers (see Instant Replay).
 
Mackanin did not regret his decision to yank Herrera and his team-high .335 batting average from the game.
 
“It’s important to me to set that tone,” Mackanin said. “When you don’t hustle, I’ve got a problem.”
 
Herrera had singled in each of his first three at-bats. He drove in the Phillies’ first run with a hit in the third inning.
 
But when he bounced back to the pitcher and took his time getting to first base in the seventh, Mackanin abruptly pulled him. Even Ryan Howard said something to Herrera in the dugout.
 
“He didn’t run,” Mackanin said. “One of the ingredients to our success to this point is the fact that guys play with energy and they play hard. We’re training them to play the game the right way and not running is not the right way.”
 
Herrera said he did not run because he was “frustrated” and “angry” with the at-bat. He said Tigers reliever Justin Wilson “got in his head” by varying his delivery times. Herrera even mentioned that Wilson quick-pitched him.
 
“The pitcher was playing with me,” he said. “I have to learn from it. I didn’t think [Mackanin] was going to bench me, but I understand why. I can’t argue. I was frustrated. I respect the decision. I know that I did wrong. I have to learn from my mistakes and it won’t happen again.”
 
Mackanin is a huge fan of Herrera. He has predicted the 24-year-old Venezuelan will someday win a batting title.
 
But Mackanin indicated after Monday night’s game that Herrera might be developing some bad habits — at least when it comes to the hustle that Mackanin values. The front office values it, too. Playing with “energy” is something the front office frequently says it wants to see, and the ability to get his players to play with energy is one of Mackanin’s strengths.
 
“I’ve seen it in the past and it’s been trickling in,” Mackanin said of Herrera’s occasional lapses in hustle. “I didn’t like it and I made the decision. He knows he should have run.”
 
Jonathan Papelbon put a chokehold on Bryce Harper’s neck last year in Washington for a similar transgression.
 
In the Phillies’ dugout Monday night, Herrera got a little talking-to from Howard.
 
“That was great to see,” Mackanin said.
 
Said Howard: “Doobie's got a lot of promise. He’s going to be around this game for a long time. He makes things happen. He brings energy to the game.
 
“The pitcher lost the grip and had to double-pump. If you’re running hard, maybe he makes a bad throw and you’re on base.
 
“I just told him, ‘You’ve got to keep going. I know it’s not the at-bat you wanted, but look at me, bro, I’m still out there grinding.’ If he’s running there, the pitcher could throw it away and he could be on second and we could squeeze a run out.”
 
Howard went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts to fall to .156 on the season. He is 4 for 48 (.083) in the month of May (see story).
 
Mackanin said his message to Herrera was complete. Herrera will be back in the starting lineup on Tuesday night.

NBA Playoffs: Raptors hold off Cavs to even East Finals 2-2

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NBA Playoffs: Raptors hold off Cavs to even East Finals 2-2

BOX SCORE

TORONTO -- A series that once looked lopsided is now even.

Kyle Lowry scored 35 points, including a driving layup in the final minute, and DeMar DeRozan had 32 as the Toronto Raptors evened the Eastern Conference Finals by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 105-99 in Game 4 on Monday night.

DeMarre Carroll scored 11 points and Bismack Biyombo had 14 rebounds as Toronto improved to 8-2 at home this postseason and got back on level terms after big losses in Games 1 and 2.

"We've been counted out, and we like that challenge," DeRozan said.

The next challenge for Toronto? Game 5 on Wednesday night in Cleveland, where the Raptors are 0-3 this season, losing by a combined 72 points.

"We have to continue to make sure that when they punch, we punch back," Lowry said. "And if they punch three times, we punch four times."

The Raptors are 2-6 on the road in the playoffs.

After a 10-0 start to these playoffs, the Cavaliers are counting on home court advantage to help them reach their second straight Finals.

"Going back home we have to play a lot better and I think we will," LeBron James said.

Cleveland lost consecutive playoff games to an Eastern Conference opponent for the first time since dropping the final three games of the conference semifinals to Boston in 2010.

"We had a few defensive breakdowns that you can't have down the stretch of a game, especially in the playoffs," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. "They executed every time we made a mistake."

James scored 29 points and Kyrie Irving had 26 for the Cavaliers, who trailed by as many as 18 points. Channing Frye scored nine of his 12 points in the fourth quarter.

Lowry scored nine in the fourth and DeRozan had 12, connecting on five of six shots.

"It's a cakewalk for me when (Lowry) gets going," DeRozan said. "It opens up everything."

The Raptors led 78-69 to begin the fourth but Frye made consecutive 3-pointers as Cleveland opened the final quarter with an 8-0 run, cutting it to 78-77. The Cavaliers made their first 11 shots of the fourth quarter.

"It wasn't enough because we got off to a horrible first half once again in this building and you're playing catch up the whole game," James said.

Frye's errant 3-point attempt at 4:12 was Cleveland's first miss of the fourth. DeRozan made two free throws at the other end and, after another miss by Frye, Carroll made one of two to put Toronto up 99-96 with 3:23 to go.

A long 3 by Irving made it 101-99 with 2:00 left, but DeRozan answered with a driving bank shot at 1:33. Toronto got the ball back after Biyombo blocked J.R. Smith's 3, and Biyombo kept the offensive possession alive by rebounding Lowry's missed shot. After a timeout, Lowry let the shot clock wind down before driving for the decisive layup, making it 105-99 with 22 seconds to go.

Toronto jumped out to a 13-5 lead as Cleveland missed eight of its first 10 shots. Following a timeout, the Cavs made five of their next six to cut the deficit but the Raptors led 27-24 after one quarter.

Lowry scored 15 points in the second, making three of Toronto's four 3-pointers, as the Raptors opened a 57-41 halftime lead despite not shooting a single free throw in the first two quarters. It marked the first time a team led by 15 or more at halftime in a conference finals game without shooting a free throw since Game 2 of the 2001 East Finals between Milwaukee and Philadelphia. The Bucks made two of six from the line, the fewest ever made in an NBA playoff game at the time.

DeRozan shot Toronto's first free throws at 6:13 of the third after being tackled by Smith on a drive. The foul drought came after Raptors coach Dwane Casey was fined $25,000 for criticizing the officials following Toronto's Game 3 win.

Fans cheered derisively when Matthew Dellavedova was called for Cleveland's first foul of the game at 8:56 of the second.

Not much to Love
After shooting 3 for 19 in Game 3, Kevin Love shot 4 for 14 in Game 4. He finished with 10 points. Love did not play in the fourth after appearing to injure his left ankle when he stepped on referee David Guthrie late in the third. "It didn't feel too great," Love said. Lue said Love's health was "no concern."

Fair and foul
Cleveland didn't shoot any free throws in the third quarter and had just two in the fourth. Twelve of Toronto's 19 free throws came in the fourth.

Tip-ins
Cavaliers: James and Irving each had six assists. ... Cleveland shot 3 for 23 from 3-point range in the first half. The finished 13 for 41. . Cleveland's Dahntay Jones served a one-game suspension for hitting Biyombo in the groin in Game 3.

Raptors: Raptors C Jonas Valanciunas was active but did not play. He's been out since spraining his right ankle in the third quarter of Game 3 against Miami on May 7. ... Toronto is 10-1 in the playoffs when holding opponents below 100 points.