State of the Union: Looking at the Sixers' 2012 Season At the All-Star Break

State of the Union: Looking at the Sixers' 2012 Season At the All-Star Break

This is probably going to come off as insincere—because I guess in
reality, it sort of is—but I'm half-glad that the Sixers dropped their
last five games. Or, perhaps to be more accurate, I'm glad that they
dropped their last five games when they did. More specifically,
I'm glad that they did it on this side of the All-Star Break—not only so
that the team can have a chance to recuperate and hopefully return with
a new sense of purpose, but so that the front office can have a chance
to take a good, hard look at this team and properly size up exactly what
they have.

Because, in the spirit of honesty I've already cultivated, let's say
it straight: This is not a championship team. I think we all knew that,
even at the team's high-water mark of beating four playoff teams in
five games, but some of us (myself included) had allowed all the winning
to get us playing the ol' What If game. What if the Magic or Pacers
knocked off the Heat? What if Derrick Rose never got healthy? What if
the Celtics and Knicks never got their act together? Could the Sixers,
41-41 last year and not expected to be notably better this year,
actually be the team to come out of the Eastern Conference?

The answer now to all of that would appear to pretty clearly be
"no."

Not that the Sixers are exactly in free-fall after their five-game
losing streak—they were all tough games against good teams, four of
them were on the road, the Ballers were at least competitive in all of
them, and they all came without starting center Spencer Hawes (and two
of them without starting power forward Elton Brand). But what this
streak has exposed for the Sixers are the team's very real flaws—they
don't have a real paint presence, either to intimidate on defense or get
easy buckets on offense, they don't have a true go-to scorer to bail
out a stagnant offensive set and make plays late in games, and they
don't have the experience to stay composed when things start to go bad.

Moreover, the advantages they had at the beginning of this
lockout-compressed season are starting to dissipate. When the season
kicked off, the Sixers were able to jump out on teams by virtue of
having personnel that stayed consistent from last season, and having
young legs that didn't take as long to play themselves into shape as
some of the older teams. As other teams that experienced player turnover
in the off-season finally start to gel, and the veterans get their legs
back under them, the Sixers can't really do that anymore. And this is
true all across the league, where the experienced, veteran teams
(Mavericks, Spurs, Heat, Lakers to an extent) are really starting to
thrive, while the younger, deeper teams (Sixers, Blazers, Pacers,
Nuggets) are crashing hard back down to earth.

But like I say, this might not be such a terrible thing. If we had
gone into the All-Star Break just a little hotter, say at 23-11 instead
of 20-14, the Sixers' front office might have been so enchanted with the
idea of getting a top seed that they might think a couple cosmetic
trades—trading a young guy and a draft pick for a pricey veteran backup
big man, for instance—could be enough to help put the team over the top,
when in reality it would probably just make the difference between a
second-round loss in five games and a second-round loss in six games, in
all likelihood. The team is still too far away from the ultimate goal
to make such potentially future-mortgaging deals a good bargain, so it's
good that we know that for sure now, rather than after it's too late.

In my opinion, it's better that we continue to let it ride with this
group, and just take whatever post-season success comes or doesn't
come, without reacting too strongly to whatever the results are. That's
not to say that I don't think Rod Thorn should pick up his phone the
next few weeks—if there's a big deal out there, one that could net the
Sixers a superstar or near-superstar player still in his prime, of
course Thorn should at least listen. But opportunities for such deals
are few and far between, and in the meantime, I'd rather see the Sixers
play out the season with the horses they've got then trade for anything
less than a true impact player. (And despite how well he's been playing
this season and despite his first All-Star selection, I'd still be in
favor of the team trading Andre Iguodala, though I acknowledge now that
this is not likely to happen.)

In the meantime, though...man, I hope that Coach Collins starts to
give a little more responsibility to Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner.
Neither of them have necessarily deserved it recently, but that's at
least partly a consequence of the fact that Collins doesn't seem to
trust his young guys at all, cutting Evan's minutes and taking the ball
out of Jrue's hands. There are games where it seems like Dougie would
run every single play through Iguodala, Elton Brand and Lou Williams,
and while those guys might currently be able to shoulder the load a
little better than Evan and Jrue, is it worth failing to develop these
guys to their full potential, and risking alienating them altogether?

It would be a shame of near-catastrophic proportions if we had to
trade one or both of these guys because they just couldn't get along
with Collins, and it would be nearly as bad if we had to get rid of
Collins to placate the young guys. I really hope some sort of compromise
between playing for the present and playing for the future can be
reached here, where Collins can look to increase the duo's role with the
team without sacrificing their chances in too many (if any) actual
games. It's important, dammit.

Meanwhile, there should be another priority for the team
post-All-Star Break that has little to do with their final record:
Getting Spencer Hawes back 100% healthy. I've wondered if the minor
silver lining to Spencer's extended injury woes since starting the
season like an MIP candidate is that he might have hurt his contract
value to the point where the Sixers can sign him in the off-season
without totally blowing their cap space, but that just presents another
problem—we still don't know just how good this guy is.

Were the numbers Spencer put up the first few weeks of the season
what we can expect from him year-round, or was it just the result of a
small sample size and some poor scouting reports? And even if he is for
real, will his persistent back and knee issues make it a moot point? We
need to at least get some kind of read on this before season's end, so
we have an idea of just how much Spence is worth spending for when he
becomes a free agent in the off-season. Otherwise, we might end up
letting him walk and having him burn us elsewhere, or over-committing to
him and paying a limping stiff eight digits a year for the next
half-decade. I'm not sure which is worse, and obviously I'd prefer to
avoid either.

Even with the recent losing streak, it's been a fun season so
far—and should be a fun All-Star weekend, with Turner playing in the
Rising Stars game (Go Team Chuck!) and Iguodala of course repping the
East in the Game proper. But when the season kicks off again next
Tuesday against the Pistons, it'll be critical that the team stays the
course, playing for the present but keeping one eye towards the future,
and not letting their emotions get the better of them in one direction
or the other. We still have the chance to make this season a real
success for the 76ers, whether it be through a playoff series win,
another year of solid player development, or a legitimately team
re-shaping new acquisition. And hey—we could still get that new mascot
by year end. You never know.

NHL Notes: Red Wings sign Danny DeKeyser to 6-year contract

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USA Today Images

NHL Notes: Red Wings sign Danny DeKeyser to 6-year contract

DETROIT -- The Detroit Red Wings have avoided arbitration and signed defenseman Danny DeKeyser to a $30 million, six-year contract.

DeKeyser will count $5 million against the salary cap throughout the length of the deal. Agent Don Meehan confirmed the terms of the contract Tuesday, including modified no-trade protection beginning in the 2017-18 season.

The restricted free agent and the club were scheduled to have their arbitration hearing on Thursday in Toronto.

Instead, the 26-year-old has a long-term deal. The Western Michigan product has 14 goals and 61 assists in 234 regular-season NHL games and has averaged over 21 minutes of ice time.

Rangers: Zborovskiy inked to entry-level contract
NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers have signed defenseman Sergey Zborovskiy on an entry-level contract.

General manager Jeff Gorton announced the signing of the team's third-round draft pick in 2015 on Tuesday.

Zborovskiy skated in 64 games with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League this past season, collecting eight goals and 17 assists along with a plus-15 rating. The 19-year-old established WHL career-highs in goals, assists, points, and power play goals (two), and he tied his WHL career-high in plus/minus rating.

The 6-foot-4, 200-pounder skated in 12 playoff games and had five assists this past season.

Zborovskiy has skated in 135 career WHL games over two seasons with Regina, registering 11 goals and 33 assists.

Flyers re-sign RFA Brandon Manning to 2-year deal

Flyers re-sign RFA Brandon Manning to 2-year deal

One day after avoiding arbitration with Brayden Schenn, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall dodged another meeting with his final restricted free agent.

The Flyers on Tuesday signed defenseman Brandon Manning to a two-year, $1.95 million contract, a source confirmed to CSNPhilly.com Flyers Insider Tim Panaccio.

Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman first reported the signing.

With Manning's contract, Hextall has now taken care of all of his restricted free agents and successfully avoided arbitration with both Schenn and Manning.

Manning had an arbitration meeting scheduled for Aug. 2. Schenn had his meeting scheduled for Monday, but agreed to a four-year contract at the last minute.

The 26-year-old defenseman scored one goal and seven points in 56 games last season, his first full campaign up with the orange and black.

Dion Waiters signed elsewhere, Sixers fans almost out of bullets to dodge

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USA Today Sports photo

Dion Waiters signed elsewhere, Sixers fans almost out of bullets to dodge

Ah, was it only a month ago that we feared signing up for $60-$80 million worth of Dion Waiters, a player who has barely (and rarely) scraped the surface of "good" over his four-year NBA career? A classic "Philly Guy" — which really makes you hope for an eventual reevaluation of our home city's cultural priorities — the perennially over-confident Syracuse swingman had been regularly (if erroneously) linked to the Sixers for the majority of his pro career, and the rumor mill began churning again this offseason, with the Sixers one of several teams linked to the free agent. Chances seemed at least decent that we would wake up to an Instagram of Waiters at Geno's signing his new contract in cheese wiz — one of those four-year, $70 million-type deals NBA teams seem to be giving out to middling players like complementary after-dinner mints this summer. 

Well, turns out the Sixers didn't have any interest in giving Dion Waiters that kind of money, and neither did anybody else. Neon Dion ended up signing with the Miami Heat for a blockbusting two years and $6 million dollars, and Sixers nation breathed a collective typhoon of relief. Short of trading Jahlil Okafor for every Boston Celtic under the age of 25, this was just about the best news the Colangelos could offer us at this point in the offseason. 

And speaking of: It might — might — now finally be safe to say that the Colangelos aren't as dumb as we feared. With Dion off the board, there just aren't any free agents left to worry about the Sixers overpaying. Well, J.R. Smith technically, but the chances of him leaving Cleveland for Philadelphia under any circumstances are even worse than him being the starting two-guard on a championship team to begin with. (And technically of technicalliest, LeBron James too, but we could give him all our remaining cap space and half the Liberty Bell to boot and he'd still be dramatically underpaid.) 

Anyway, point is: We've worried since the Colangelo clan took over that they would make one dramatically dumb move to hamstring this team in the name of Winning Now-ish, and it would look silly in the short term and be absolutely befuddling in the long-term. The Sixers have even been attached to a couple such deals in reports from NBA experts, deals that had them offering Nerlens Noel and further bounty for the No. 5 pick, or offering absurd free-agent dollars to Jamal Crawford, or being in the mix for ol' DW. Maybe there was truth to some or all of it, but the more rumored deals that sizzle-then-fizzle, the less likely it seems that any of them were ever actually going to come to fruition. 

Dion may represent the smoking gun. Here's a player, that as final evidence would suggest, the Sixers could have had virtually uncontested at any point this offseason — a player that ended up signing a two-year make-good deal for what essentially amounts to the veteran's minimum. Forget four years, $80 million, the Sixers could've offered eight mil for one and Dion probably woulda lunged at the opportunity. (Sure, there are market benefits that might've given Miami a competitive edge, but South Beach ain't what it used to be: With Dwyane Wade gone to Chicago and Chris Bosh unsure to ever even play again, the Heat are only predicted by ESPN to finish two spots ahead of Philly in the East next season.) There's really no conclusion to be reached except that the Sixers were never actually that interested in signing Waiters in the first place. 

So, offseason crisis averted, time to rest easy as we count the days to most exciting Sixers training camp in franchise history? Perhaps, but there is still one shoe left to drop: The Sixers are all but pot-committed to trading one of Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor before the season proper finally tips off. It's mostly encouraging that the Colangelos have waited this long; they said that they weren't going to jump at an early deal that wasn't the right deal, and so far their patience has borne their words out. But as the summer begins to peter out and teams begin talking themselves into the roster they already have — while urgency increases for Philly to make a deal before their opening-night lineup is bottlenecked with blue-chip bigs — a desperation trade certainly isn't out of the question just yet. 

Still, after a month of respectable draft choices, measured free-agent signings, and zero totally thoughtless panic moves (even if they tried unsuccessfully to make one or two) it's getting on time to start giving the Sixers' new front office the benefit of the doubt. It'll never feel quite as safe as we did with Our Once and Future Dark Lord — and the overflow of assets Hinkie equipped Jerry and Bryan with will be all the body armor they really need anyway — but we need no longer fear for our lives with every passing Woj Bomb, and we just might be able to root for the Sons of Sam next year without being constantly interrupted by pangs of crippling regret. Not having to watch Dion Waiters jump and shout for the ball so he can jack a contested 20-foot fadeaway is a pretty good start.