During his infamous press conference meltdown after the home loss to the
Magic in late February, Doug Collins offered a fairly simple
explanation for downturn the Sixers had taken in the '12-'13 season. "We
made a huge deal and we have nobody playing a part of that deal,"
claimed Collins. "How many teams can give up Andre Iguodala,
Moe Harkless and Nikola Vucevic and have nothing in return playing?
That’s tough to overcome. That’s just the facts. I’m not looking for any
outs. That’s a fact."
This remark of Collins rubbed some people
the wrong way--especially as he went on to isolate Spencer Hawes'
production that night versus Nikola Vucevic, who grabbed 19 rebounds to
Spence's one--and some of those claimed that blaming injuries was a
cheap excuse for a coach who had simply lost his team. But really,
Collins was just stating the facts--the team had traded away its
most important player and its two best prospects, and also parted with
key players like Lou Williams and Elton Brand at least partly in
anticipation of making such a trade, and as of January 18th
(Richardson's last game as a Sixer before his season-ending knee
surgery), they were getting absolutely nothing in return. No coach,
regardless of command over his team, could overcome that without it
taking its toll on the team's win-loss record.
The Sixers dropped to six back of the Milwaukee Bucks Saturday night
with their loss to the Miami Heat, with only six games to go and the
Bucks owning the tiebreaker between the teams--meaning that, officially,
the Sixers will be lottery-bound for the first time in Doug Collins'
three seasons in Philadelphia. It's a sad, but unsurprising way for the
season to end--despite residing in the #9 spot in the East standings for
most of the season, the Sixers haven't really been within striking
distance of the playoff picture since the All-Star break, and for a
while there it seemed a near-certainty the team would drop to the bottom
third of the standings.
One word is likely to appear in just about every story about the
Sixers' soon-ending season: Disappointing. This was supposed to be the
year we took the great leap forward, with an exciting, developing young
core (led by the recently acquired star big man Bynum) pushing the team
into the upper strata of the Eastern Conference, maybe getting a playoff
series win that wasn't injury-assisted, and maybe even winning a game
or two against those damn Miami Heat at some point. It didn't happen,
obviously, and now a team that once seemed like one of the rising teams
in the league goes into the off-season with far more questions than
Injuries are obviously the primary culprit here, since Richardson
missed more than half season after starting off the year very
promisingly, and of course Bynum never played a minute for the Liberty
Ballers. But even with the injuries, should we still be disappointed
that the team didn't at least make the playoffs? After all, we still
have much of the same core that pushed the Celtics to seven games in the
Conference Semi-Finals last year. We signed veterans that were supposed
to patch some of the holes left by Lou Williams and Elton Brand. And we
did benefit this year from a next-level jump from Jrue Holiday and a
big step up from Thaddeus Young, So could this team have pushed for the
playoffs, even without Bynum and J-Rich contributing anything?
My gut reaction is to say no. We knew we'd miss Andre Iguodala on
defense, but I wasn't really prepared for the way losing him and Lou
Williams would affect our offense as well--without their athleticism and
transition play, we lost a lot of the running element that had made up
our offensive identity the last few years, as the team dropped out of
the top ten in fast break points for the first time since 2006. And of
course, there was the lack of free-throw shooting--Sweet Lou and 'Dre
were far and away #1 and #2 on our team last year at getting to the
line, for a team that already was getting there at a historically low
rate. Without them, only this year's Orlando Magic are saving us from
holding the all-time record for fewest free throws shot in a season.
Without those easy points on the break and at the line, the team has
been a bottom-five offense pretty much all season.
Inconsistency was probably always going to get this team in the end,
as well. Only Thad and maybe Jrue---and you could probably throw J-Rich
in there when he was healthy at season's start--could be relied upon
night-in, night-out to produce for the team, with players like Evan
Turner, Spencer Hawes, Nick Young and even Dorell Wright alternating
extended hot streaks with long, long stretches of going in the tank.
Your team can survive having one or two key guys like that, but when
your team consists of too many of them, it can lead to disaster when a
couple of them start slumping for weeks at the same time, as happened to
the Sixers in early 2013, when they lost 10 of their first 14 games of
the year and basically fell out of post-season consideration.
And of course, let's not forget that we didn't exactly have a huge
margin for error last season. The team's surprisingly hot start and even
more surprising (though hardly unqualified) playoff success last year
belied their final regular season record, which was a middling
35-31--they finished as the #8 seed, and looked for a couple of weeks
like they might drop out of the playoffs altogether in favor of an
improving Bucks team that eventually finished four games out. When you
consider that all the front office basically did with that roster was to
subtract from it--of the newcomers on the team, only Dorell Wright has
had any kind of sustained positive impact, and he's not exactly a huge
difference-maker--it's hardly a shock that the team isn't making the
post-season this year.
So no, when you assume the massive losses to injury, I don't think
you can really call it a disappointment that the Sixers aren't making
the playoffs this year. But that said, the real disappointment for
Sixers fans isn't even about this season--it's about the next five, and
beyond. We believed, possibly naively, that Andrew Bynum could become a
foundation piece for this team for the next half-decade, someone for the
Sixers to build around, but now it looks entirely likely that he'll
never play a game for the Sixers, leaving the team confused,
directionless, and just kind of stuck. That's a far bitterer pill to
swallow than not being able to watch this Sixers team play basketball in
There's a ton of important decisions to be made with this team in
the off-season that will dictate the path of this team for seasons to
come, and we'll talk a lot about them in the weeks to come--for better
or worse, it's all we're going to have to talk about soon enough.
But for 2012-13, it was basically over for the Sixers before it even
began. This season was one long succumbing to the inevitable, and as
depressing as that is, it's hard to really call it all that