Sixers Season Preview: Ten Relatively Attainable Goals for the 2011-12 Season

Sixers Season Preview: Ten Relatively Attainable Goals for the 2011-12 Season

This post originally went live on Friday, December 23rd, but with the Sixers kicking off their season tonight in Portland, we thought it worth revisiting.

Hey, basketball is starting! Really, free agency and the pre-season have
already happened and everything, and as of Christmas, teams are finally
going to start playing games of meaning. (Yeah, yeah, spare us the
"regular season is meaningless" crap—after over a half-year of no
basketball at all, it's good enough for now, anyway.) Your Philadelphia
76ers can enjoy a Christmas off—the NBA doesn't care enough about the
Sixers just yet to schedule them on their biggest marquee day/night of
hoops—but they get to work the following day, on the road against the
Portland Trail Blazers. From there, the team will play another 65 games
in a condensed regular-season schedule, and hopefully at least a handful
more from there in the post-season.

You don't need me to tell you that the 11th anniversary (the steel
anniversary!!) of the Sixers' last trip to the finals is not likely to
be commemorated with a return trip—the East is too top-heavy, and even
if everything goes right with the Sixers this season, the gap in talent
between them and the best teams is probably too great for the Ballers to
overcome. (If it's any consolation, it's not looking good for the
Lakers showing up in the last round either.) However, there are some
slightly more practical, attainable goals that we'd like to see the team
achieve—hopefully putting them in a position to get closer to playing
for the Larry O'Brien trophy next year. Here we go:

1. Get Above .500 and Stay There. Not since the halcyon days
of 2004-2005 have the Sixers finished with a winning—as in, not losing,
and not even—regular-season record. Last year a crushing home loss to
the Pistons in the final game of the season officially made it a
six-year streak of subpar and exactly par play from the Sixers, and
obviously we'd like it if this year we secured that plus-.500 record
before Game 82. (Err, Game 66. Whatever. Win more games than you lose,
guys.)

Not only do I believe this team to be well capable of getting
there—the consistency between this and last year's lineup, not to
mention the team's ten-man depth, should give them a huge advantage over
more slapdash-assembled, thin-rostered teams over the shortened
schedule—but the Mad Professor of ESPN Hoops, John Hollinger, agrees
with me. In fact, Holly believes the team to be headed for a 37-29 season—which
over 82 games would equate to something like 46-36—and the 5th seed in
the East. I'm not positive they'll get quite that far, but I think it's
possible, and 34 wins (the over-even benchmark) seems well in reach to
me. It's time to embrace winning at the Wells Fargo Center.

2. Stick with Dougie. Traditionally, things don't get really
bad for Doug Collins-coached teams until the third year, and while we'd
love to see Doug stick around even longer than that, for now, we're just
hoping that the team stays the course with him in year two. The rapport
he seemed to have with the team—and the rapport they built amongst
themselves while under his tutelage—was a joy to watch last year, and no
Sixers fan could deny that his influence on the team's on-court play
was a positive one as well. But no young team's patience lasts forever,
and the compressed season will not come without some real tests of
allegiance and character.

The locker room is one of the best things this team has going for
it, and that only lasts as long as the boys are unified under their
coach. If they can continue to improve with Dougie, and he hasn't shown
signs of outwearing his welcome at the end of the season, he just may be
the long-term answer at coach that we never thought he would be upon
his hiring two summers ago. (Until next year, anyway.)

3. Get Evan Turner Into the Starting Lineup By Year's End. I
like Jodie Meeks, and he'll undoubtedly play a part in whatever success
the team has this year, but you gotta believe that the team is still
better suited long term with Evan Turner getting the starting role. The
Extraterrestrial has looked poised and comfortable in the team's
pre-season games—not setting the court ablaze, exactly, but looking
light years ahead of where he was at this time last year. He appears to
have figured what not to do on the court—which may sound like damning with faint praise, but again, do you remember this guy's '10 pre-season?—now he has to actually figure out how to implement his considerable skill to the team's benefit.

Evan's not gonna be a star this year, and he won't shed the
draft-bust tag completely, but we do expect him to be a player in this
league, and more importantly, a real contributor to this team. He needs
to show Coach Collins that he can play 35 minutes a game, hit open
jumpers, create for teammates in the half-court, rebound and push the
ball in transition, and play tough team defense without missing
assignments getting into foul trouble. And once he does, Collins needs
to respond by trusting him in the starting lineup. Hopefully, this will
go hand in hand with goal #4:

4. Listen Carefully to Trade Deadline Deals for Andre Iguodala.
We've been saying it for years, and it never gets less true: Andre
Iguodala is not in this team's long-term plans, and he needs to be moved
sooner rather than later. You've seen it already this year, and though
you hate to read too much into two pre-season games, it's nothing we
didn't already know—despite being the best all-around player on the
Sixers, 'Dre's talents are largely superfluous on this team. Between
Thaddeus Young's scoring touch and Evan's playmaking and versatility,
the only thing we'd really miss of Iguodala's would be his lockdown
defense—and while that's certainly nothing to be sneezed at, it's also
something that can be found elsewhere for less than the nearly $45
million that 'Dre is still owed over the next three years.

Don't get me wrong, losing Iguodala would be a setback to the team
short-term, and might in fact be a direct contradiction to goal #1
should it happen well before season's end. But 'Dre's value will still
be high for certain contenders by the deadline, and hopefully we could
get back some other helpful pieces—draft picks? a young big man?—to make
it one step back, two steps forward in the long-term. And at the very
least, it would almost certainly help us with goal #5:

5. Maintain As Much Cap Flexibility as Possible. It's been a
while since anyone talked about about Philly as a hot free-agent landing
zone, and that probably won't change with the two big free agents next
summer (Deron Williams and Dwight Howard, though damn would the
latter be a nice acquisition), nor would the team be likely to have the
cap space to sign them anyway. But the team is still too far away from
title contention to just add role players and mid-level guys in the
hopes of them putting Philly over the top. So if no real
difference-makers are available, then screw it—keep growing the young
guys, sell off any of the higher-priced old guys you can, and wait until
the room and opportunity is there for the team to make a big splash.
Don't trade for Andray Blatche or Kevin Martin at the deadline just
because we can.

And for those of you who say that no way will Philly ever be a
player again for the big-name free agents—don't forget it was only three
years ago that we basically caught the biggest fish in the pond, even
if he did turn out to be kind of a bust. If the team continues to
improve, if they have the cap space, if they seem young and fun to play
with and the city finally starts to respond to 'em a little—why couldn't
it happen again? Speaking of which

6. Get the City to Show Its Love, For Real this Time. I have
no doubt that this team is going to be fun to watch this year. They're a
good group of guys with great on-court and off-court chemistry, and
they have hilariously dorky Twitter accounts where they talk about girls
and quote Drake and J. Cole lyrics to each other and such. In all
likelihood, this should be the best season the Sixers have had since
Iverson in his prime. Yeah, it might not be Chris Paul throwing
alley-oops to Blake Griffin-level excitement at the WFC, but if you ask
me, this city is running out of excuses not to support this Sixers team.
Though if you guys would rather just spend the next five months
debating What Went Wrong with the Eagles, I suppose that's your
prerogative.

7. Make a Case for Someone's All-Star Candidacy. Back to
Iverson—you know the Sixers haven't had a non-AI rep in the All-Star
Game since Dikembe Mutombo in '02? That's getting a little embarrassing,
and even if this isn't the year the streak is broken, I'd like for
someone to at least be in the discussion for once. The most likely
candidates seem to be Elton Brand, who got the slightest smattering of
honorable mentions last year, and might be discussed further this year
if the team starts out well and he remains their most consistent player,
or Jrue Holiday, who has the most breakout potential on the team. If
the Ballers are something like 22-15 and fighting for the fifth seed in
the East at the time of the break, while Jrue is averaging a 17 and 8 on
47% shooting, why wouldn't he be considered?

A lot would have to go right, but dammit, one of these years a lot has to go right. Right?

8. Find Out What, If Anything, We Have with Spencer Hawes.
There are really only two key players on the roster right now that the
Sixers will have to make decisions about next off-season—Jodie Meeks and
Spencer Hawes. With Jodie, it seems like we know what we've got—an
athletic, slightly undersized two guard who can hit open threes with the
best of them but doesn't have the best offensive instincts otherwise.
Whatever money we do or don't give him, we'll know what we're getting
for it. With Spencer, though, the promise remains tantalizing but
distant. In a perfect world, he could be an inside-out offensive threat
with a deft passing touch and an imposing (well, tall) defensive
center. In reality, he remains an inconsistent shooter, an erratic paint
presence, and a sloppy defender, both in team and one-on-one
capacities.

This year, his fifth in the league, is put up or shut up time for
Spencer Hawes. Either he starts to show some consistency on both ends of
the court, proving he can be trusted as a core rotation guy, or he's
just not worth the team's time and money. And while we hope it's the
former, we'd rather find out that it's the latter now than five years
and $30 million down the line.

9. Give 'Em Hell in the First Round. I'd love to say "Win a
first-round series," but I'm trying to stay practical here, and unless
we scrap our way to the fifth seed and catch the Celtics or Knicks at a
vulnerable moment, the second round still seems a year or two away for
me. But getting to the playoffs should be well within the team's
capabilities, and I think that once there, they can expand on last
year's good-show series against the Heat with one that actually pushes
the other team to six or seven games and forces the league to take the
Sixers seriously as a team on the rise in the East. If we did somehow
pull off an upset, hey, so much the better, but an improvement from last
year's elimination, however slight, is all that I'm asking for now, as
the team (hopefully) tries to clear the books a little and takes a stab
at the next big deal to take them to the next level.

10. Edge Our Way Into Next Year's Christmas Schedule. The
Sixers actually have six games on ESPN this year—though apparently none
until Mar. 2nd against the Warriors, for whatever reason. But it would
be nice if the league's newfound respect for Philly would extend to them
playing on Christmas next year, for the first time in who knows how
long. It's the only non-electronics-or-novelty-TV-shirt gift I'll ask for next December.

MLB Notes: Rangers' Rougned Odor's suspension reduced to 7 games

052716_mackanin_slide.jpg

MLB Notes: Rangers' Rougned Odor's suspension reduced to 7 games

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor started serving his suspension Friday for punching Toronto's Jose Bautista after the penalty was reduced from eight to seven games.

Odor was out of the lineup for the series opener against Pittsburgh. He will be eligible to return June 4 when Texas is home against Seattle.

Bautista was suspended one game, and he was serving that Friday, when the penalty was upheld a day after his appeal was heard.

The Rangers promoted former top prospect Jurickson Profar from Triple-A Round Rock, and he was in the lineup against the Pirates as the leadoff hitter playing second base. Odor had been leading off.

Odor's penalty was cut by Major League Baseball special assistant John McHale Jr. The appeal over Odor's role in a May 15 brawl between the Rangers and Blue Jays was heard Tuesday. The league disciplined 14 players and staff over the melee in Arlington (see full story).

Red Sox: Struggling RHP Clay Buchholz to bullpen
TORONTO -- Struggling Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz is being moved to the bullpen and left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez will take Buchholz's spot in the rotation, starting Tuesday at Baltimore.

Buchholz is 2-5 with a 6.35 ERA in 10 starts and has allowed five earned runs or more six times. He gave up season-highs of six runs and three home runs in Thursday's 8-2 loss to Colorado.

Rodriguez (right knee) is on the 15-day DL has not pitched for the Red Sox this season. He's 0-3 with a 3.54 ERA in five rehab starts at Triple-A Pawtucket. He went 10-6 with a 3.85 ERA as a rookie in 2015.

Buchholz has made two career relief appearances, one in his rookie season in 2007 and another in 2008.

Manager John Farrell said Buchholz will make multi-inning appearances in order to remain stretched out and could return to the rotation later in the season.

NBA Playoffs: Cavs blow out Raptors for second straight Finals appearance

052716_okafor_noel_slide.jpg

NBA Playoffs: Cavs blow out Raptors for second straight Finals appearance

BOX SCORE

TORONTO -- LeBron James scored 33 points, Kevin Love had 20 points and 12 rebounds, and the Cleveland Cavaliers advanced to their second straight NBA Finals by beating the Toronto Raptors 113-87 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday night.

It's the third finals appearance in team history for the Cavaliers. Cleveland lost to Golden State in six games last year and got swept by San Antonio in 2007.

For James, it's his sixth straight trip to the finals, including four with Miami. He broke the 30-point barrier for the first time this postseason and finished with 11 rebounds and six assists.

"We needed LeBron to set the tone for us early and I thought he did that," coach Tyronn Lue said.

James will be the eighth player in NBA history to appear in six consecutive finals and the first who didn't play for the Boston Celtics.

"He's just a great player," Lue said. "He's a proven winner. He's always won over the course of his career. To go to six straight finals is unbelievable."

James got there by taking down a Toronto team that set a franchise record with 56 wins and reached the conference finals for the first time in 21 seasons.

After a second-quarter dunk, James shared some verbal barbs with rapper Drake, the Raptors' global ambassador and the man who popularized the nickname `6ix' for Toronto.

Kyrie Irving had 30 points and J.R. Smith added 15 for the Cavaliers, who will face the winner of the Golden State-Oklahoma City series on Thursday.

Cleveland would open at home against the Thunder but would be on the road against the 73-win Warriors, who trail 3-2 against Oklahoma City heading into Saturday's Game 6.

The Cavs will be seeking to end Cleveland's 52-year championship drought, the longest by any city with at least three professional teams. No Cleveland team has won it all since the Browns blanked Baltimore 27-0 to win the NFL championship in 1964.

"This city has been craving a championship," Lue said. "We have the right team and we have the right talent."

Kyle Lowry scored 35 points and DeMar DeRozan had 20 as the deepest playoff run in Raptors team history ended, much to the disappointment of a sellout crowd of 20,605 dressed in red and white T-shirts that formed a maple leaf pattern on either side of the court. Fans stood and cheered "Let's go, Raptors! Let's go, Raptors!" throughout most of the final three minutes.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey said reaching the conference finals was "a tremendous learning experience" for his young team, one that's "a step ahead" in its process of becoming a championship contender.

"We're learning," Casey said. "We're not where (the Cavaliers) are right now. We're going to be."

A dejected Lowry said it was hard to see the positive side of Toronto's best season ever.

"Of course you're going to look back at some point but right now I'm disappointed," he said. "Simple as that, I'm disappointed."

Toronto prolonged the series with back-to-back home wins in Games 3 and 4 but never mounted much of a challenge to the conference champions in Game 6, falling behind by 21 in the third quarter.

The Cavaliers came in 0-4 at Air Canada Centre counting the regular season and playoffs, but looked much more like the team that handed the Raptors a trio of lopsided losses in Cleveland this series.

The Raptors trailed 88-78 on a jumper by DeRozan with 10:23 remaining but James scored six points in a 14-3 run that gave the Cavs a 102-81 lead with about 6 minutes left.

James scored 14 in the first and five of Cleveland's nine field goals were from long range as the Cavaliers led 31-25 after one.

After video review, the officials waved off a basket by Biyombo with 3:18 left in the period and gave him a flagrant foul for knocking down Love.

Tempers flared again early in the second when Richard Jefferson reacted angrily to catching an elbow from Jonas Valanciunas as the two battled for a rebound. Patrick Patterson came over and shoved Jefferson out of the way. Both Patterson and Jefferson were given technical fouls.

Cleveland made five more 3-pointers in the second and outscored Toronto 9-3 over the final 71 seconds to lead 55-41 at halftime. The Cavaliers made 10 of 15 3-point attempts in the first half, while Toronto was 2 of 12.

The Cavs led 78-57 after a 3 by Love at 3:53 of the third but Lowry scored 15 points as Toronto closed the quarter with a 17-8 run, cutting it to 86-74.

Tip-ins
Cavaliers: Shot 17 for 31 from 3-point range. ... Outscored Toronto 17-5 in fast break points.

Raptors: Finished their playoff run by playing every other day from April 29 onward, a 15-game run that started with Game 6 of the first round against Indiana.

NFL Notes: Jets' offer to QB Ryan Fitzpatrick stands at 3 years

052716_wentz_slide.jpg

NFL Notes: Jets' offer to QB Ryan Fitzpatrick stands at 3 years

NEW YORK -- A person familiar with the negotiations says the New York Jets made a three-year offer to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in March that includes $12 million guaranteed in the first year.

That offer has remained on the table for Fitzpatrick, according to the person who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because neither side is commenting publicly on the negotiations.

The New York Post first reported the terms of the offer Friday.

Fitzpatrick and the Jets have been locked in a contract stalemate. The 33-year-old quarterback is a free agent and coming off a season in which he threw a Jets-record 31 touchdown passes and led New York within a victory of the playoffs.

Both the Jets and Fitzpatrick have said they would like a reunion, but have unable to agree on a deal.

Bears: First-round pick Leonard Floyd agrees to deal
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears and first-round draft pick Leonard Floyd have agreed to a four-year contract with an option for a fifth year.

The Bears drafted the outside linebacker from Georgia with the ninth pick after trading up two spots in a deal with Tampa Bay. Chicago hopes he will add some athleticism to a team trying to build on a 6-10 season. The 6-foot-6, 244-pound Floyd led the Bulldogs in sacks for the third straight year with 4 , and tied for the team lead with 10 1/2 tackles for loss last season.

With the announcement Friday, the Bears have agreed to contracts with eight of their nine picks. Defensive end Jonathan Bullard, a third-rounder, is the exception.

NFL: Navy's Reynolds, Carter can defer military service
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Keenan Reynolds will get his chance to play in the NFL this season.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced Friday that the record-setting Navy quarterback Reynolds and fullback Chris Swain can defer their military service to play in the NFL.

Carter made the announcement during his graduation speech to the academy in Annapolis. As students cheered the news about their graduating classmates, Carter said: "Go get 'em."

Reynolds was drafted in the sixth round by the Baltimore Ravens. He is the NCAA's career leader in touchdowns with 88. He had 31 touchdown passes while leading Navy's triple-option offense. The Ravens plan to use him as a running back, receiver and kick returner.

Swain has signed with the San Diego Chargers (see full story).

Redskins: Activists criticize poll on team name
WASHINGTON -- Native American leaders and activists have criticized a recent US national poll that found nine of 10 Native Americans aren't offended by the Washington Redskins' name.

On a conference call held Friday by the National Congress of American Indians and "Change the Mascot" campaign, panelists voiced opposition to a Washington Post poll that surveyed 504 Native Americans, 90 percent of whom said the name doesn't bother them.

James Fenelon, a California State San Bernardino sociology professor, called the poll "immoral," adding it was not representative of Native American communities. Amanda Blackhorse, lead plaintiff in the trademark case against the Redskins, said the "misguided" poll will not affect attempts to change the name.

National Congress of American Indians Executive Director Jackie Pata said: "This issue is not about polling. This issue is about human rights."

D.C. council member David Grosso said he hadn't been swayed and that the government would not support the team moving back into the District unless the name was changed.

The team currently plays its home games in Maryland, with its headquarters and training facility in Virginia.