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

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,, 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.

Union plan to lean on Brian Carroll, who's back in playoffs for 10th time

Union plan to lean on Brian Carroll, who's back in playoffs for 10th time

CHESTER, Pa. — Five years ago, there were few certainties in MLS ... but one of them was Brian Carroll making the playoffs.

From his first season in the league in 2003 all the way through 2011, Carroll’s teams got into the postseason every single year, leading then-Union manager Peter Nowak to quip, on the cusp of Philly’s first-ever postseason game, “That’s why we got him — because he never misses the playoffs.” 

But then things, um, changed.

Carroll himself remained a consistent player for the most part, but all around him, the Union were shook by turbulence, missing out on the playoffs in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, sometimes in crushing fashion, other times by a country mile.

Now, five years later, as the Union prepare to return to the postseason with Wednesday’s knockout round matchup in Toronto (7:30 p.m., ESPN2), Carroll is the only Union player left from the team’s last playoff squad in 2011. And you can be sure his playoff streak followed by his playoff drought makes the return trip that much more gratifying for one of the league’s longest-tenured players.

“I had a great run to start my career qualifying for the playoffs, carrying that through up to here,” the 35-year-old midfielder said. “But it hasn’t been easy of late. It’s a great feeling having accomplished that goal of getting back into the playoffs. Now that’s in the past and it’s already about what we can do and how well we can play and try to get a win, try to keep it going.”

With Maurice Edu officially on the shelf until 2017 and Warren Creavalle also nursing an injury, Brian Carroll will likely start in the defensive midfield, just as he did when the Union were swept out of the playoffs by the Houston Dynamo in the 2011 Eastern Conference Semifinals. And he’ll play a critical role, shielding a young backline matching up against a star-studded attack that features two of the league’s top offensive players in Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore.

Perhaps just as importantly, Carroll will bring a veteran, winning presence to the lineup. During his stretch of making the playoffs in nine straight seasons — three shy of the MLS record — he captured championships with D.C. and Columbus, meaning he’s one of the only players on the team who knows what it’s like to win in the MLS postseason.

“Brian has been a guy who’s done it and won championships and lifted trophies,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “It was a long absence for him. There are a lot of guys in our locker room that have been in the league for a long time that have never been on a team that’s made the playoffs. It’s a new experience for a lot of guys. Brian will fall in the category of a guy I’ll lean on to talk with those guys and tell them what it’s like, what happens when that first whistle blows — and to really embrace the moment because you never know when you’re gonna be back.”

What will Carroll try to tell the young guys based on his past experiences?

“Everything is more intense,” Carroll said. “Everything is heightened. Just go out there and play without any fear. Play as best we can — connect passes, create chances, make defensive plays, play solid, control your emotions, but use the playoff adrenaline in a positive way. Put everything we have and lay it all out there. It’s one game and you never know what can happen, so hopefully we can go out there and play together and get something done.”

While it’s certainly true anything can happen in an elimination game, it’s also true that few people will think the Union can go up to Canada and beat a Toronto team that, despite stumbling to the finish, remains a top contender to win the MLS Cup. And given the Union’s history and the fact that they’re winless in their last seven games, that will make for an even bigger upset if the Union can return with a victory.

But even if just getting to the playoffs is an accomplishment for the franchise, Carroll knows winning the club’s first-ever playoff game would be a far greater one.

“It’s good to be back in the playoffs,” Carroll said. “We have a chance in the second season to come together and do something that maybe nobody is giving us much of a chance to. We’re going to go up there and do the best we can and enjoy the opportunity. Hopefully we’re able to accomplish something that nobody’s expecting right now.”

Once upon a time, everyone expected Carroll to be in the playoffs. But, as he says, sometimes it’s just as much fun doing things nobody expects.

That can happen Wednesday for a team that’s never won a playoff game and for a player who continues to turn back the clock every day as retirement draws closer and closer.

“It’s never a given,” Carroll said. “It’s a lot more difficult to accomplish this feat with more teams and better competition. But I think it’s a real positive step for our club and a good building block to do what we’ve done in accomplishing [making] the playoffs this year. Now it’s about taking the opportunity as best we can.”

A Non-Joel Embiid 2016-17 Philadelphia 76ers FAQ

A Non-Joel Embiid 2016-17 Philadelphia 76ers FAQ

To be honest, you don't need this 76ers season preview. For all the trivialities we will busy ourselves with over the next six months as Sixers fans, none of them really matter. What matters is Joel Embiid, and whether or not he stays healthy, and we already covered that in our true 76ers preview, which you absolutely should read. But, if you can't spare the extra Firefox tab, I'll summarize: 

1. Joel Embiid is already amazing, and we haven't even come close to scratching the surface of what could happen if and when he goes Full Lucy
2. If Joel Embiid plays 65 games this year, he will win the Rookie of the Year, lead the Sixers to 20 wins, justify the entire Process beyond a Howard Eskin 5 o'clock shadow of a doubt, and generally make our wildest dreams come true. 
3. If Joel Embiid goes down again, all is lost, everything is garbage, and we may as well get really into professional canasta. 

So, that's what's actually at stake with this 76ers season. What's at pretend-stake? Well, the season starts tomorrow, we have our 15-man roster (so long, Elton, Cat, James, Shawn and Brandon), and a high-placed source within the Sixers organization tells me that Embiid is being confined to a moon bounce made out of twinkies from now until tip-off. So fine, let's humor ourselves. Here are ten (mostly) non-Embiid-related questions whose answers will otherwise define the 2016-17 76ers -- much like how the 28 teams that aren't the Cavaliers or Warriors will define this NBA season. 

Will either Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel will still be on the roster by the trade deadline?

Somehow, this situation just keeps getting worse. Much as we hate to question the infinite wisdom of Our Once and Always Dark Lord, it seems pretty clear now that Sam Hinkie made a gross miscalculation in drafting and keeping Jahlil Okafor, and now it seems the Colangelos may have exacerbated the situation by holding out for too much in trade talks for either player. Not that either decision was an objectively awful decision in a vacuum -- by the way, when do we actually get to operate a basketball team inside one of those things, it sounds much easier? — but the end result of them is that Jah's trade value is tanked, Nerlens' feelings (and knees) are hurt, and we might just have to trade one of them for a backup T-shirt gun to avoid this getting any messier. 

Sadly, it seems likely at this point that Nerlens, despite being a young defensive anchor of virtually peerless skill, athleticism and versatility, will end up going. Whether or not you smell fishiness with his self-reported knee soreness and subsequent plica (??) surgery, the fact is that he's understandably pissed at the situation in Philly, and he's also one year away from being a Restricted Free Agent, at which point he'll become very expensive for a disgruntled backup center. Trading Nerlens at this point won't get us the home-run package we should receive for such a blue-chip 22-year-old, but he'll still get us something, and since it's starting to look like this guy just doesn't fit into our future plans, it might soon be time to admit we screwed up and take our late-fist-round lumps for it. 

To be honest, though, I wouldn't be shocked to see Jah gone before long too. It's worth seeing what happens if we just let Oak feast on backup bigs for 15 minutes a night and hope he doesn't give it all back at the other end, but he just doesn't give the Sixers any of the floor balance we need -- and no matter what Brett Brown tries to sell us, I'm unconvinced that Okafor and Embiid will ever successfully play together. I'm not one of these TTPers who believes Richaun Holmes is the key to all earthly frontcourt delights for Philly, but it's hard to deny that his springiness and motor give him greater versatility (and maybe even higher upside) for the 2016-'17 NBA than Jahlil's plodding post moves. It's possible Noel could be traded and Okafor could end up third on the Sixers' center depth chart anyway. 

Of course, this is all strictly If Joel Embiid Stays Healthy (IJESH), and one stubbed toe to our Franchise Processer could change this entire equation significantly. But failing that, I'm not sure either guy is still here in a year's time. 

What can we expect from Dario Saric this year?

A lot of bricks, and a lot of fun. Super Dario's predictably uneven preseason play ultimately leveled out to a respectable 10 points and 4.5 boards on 45% shooting (31% from deep) in 21 minutes a night, all of which seemed about right for Saric. Boost those counting numbers about 20% to account for some more minutes — he'll likely play 25-30 a night, especially with Ben Simmons on the sidelines — and you'll know about what to expect from our rookie forward this season. He'll get hot some nights, hitting threes, making beautiful drop-off passes and generally looking like a future superstar, and then he'll go 2-14 with five turnovers and you'll wonder if he didn't come over to the NBA about a half-decade too early. 

Which, of course, is all totally fine. We don't need Dario Saric to be anything this season but entertaining, and he will undoubtedly be that regardless, with his ambitious full-court passes, nifty moves around the basket, and teen-movie-villain swagger and handsomeness. If he can be a consistent outside threat from the four position while not getting completely toasted on the defensive end, that would also be a plus. But I'm keeping my expectations reasonable for Our Friend Dario's productivity in his first season against the greatest athletes in the world, on a team that isn't going to give him the benefit of a ton of spacing or ball-movement to work with. 

Is this the year that Nik Stauskas makes the leap?

Considering he had a dreadful preseason and was on the bubble of losing his roster spot to Brandon Paul and/or a retired Elton Brand -- and once again starts the season with his buddy T.J. McConnell as the team's best drive-and-kick playmaker -- I can't say I'm overly optimistic. 

The best Nik can hope for is an early hot streak that buys him enough good will to keep him on the roster until Ben Simmons (hopefully) shows up to make his life easier. Actually, that's only second-best: The best Nik can hope for is a trade to the Hawks or Spurs, who'll slot him neatly into a system that gets him open shots and capitalizes on his secondary play-making skills, inflating his open-market value to the point where we're debating if it's worth offering him $60 million for four years two summers from now. Just don't forget to send me my 15% of all merch sales, Sauce. 

How much slack will Brett Brown get this season?

Maybe not as much as you'd think. Yes, there are excuses, and good ones: Brett Brown was given a roster that was never going to be good even at its best, and is now missing both its nominal starting point guard and its true starting point guard, the latter of whom also happens to have been the No. 1 overall pick (and our anointed franchise savior). But the Colangelos promised change, this Sixers roster is likely to start off the season a whole lot like the last two did, and the Hink's not around to scapegoat anymore. If the Ballers start 3-27 and a sacrifice must be made to the NBA's karma gods (and/or our own few remaining season-ticket holders), it's probably gonna be Brett. 

Of course, by that point, he might just quit anyway. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a result with fewer lower-body injuries, so this team has undoubtedly made Brett Brown the nuttiest goddamn coach in NBA history. If we do let him go partway through a fourth season of ceaseless misery, he might simply be grateful that he can escape while he still has a few remaining championship memories from his days as a Spurs assistant -- ones that haven't yet been swallowed by an avalanche of careless backcourt turnovers and missed technical free throws. 

Can Jerami Grant show enough range to be a convincing stretch four?

If you want to dig for a subplot of stealthy importance to the Sixers season (IJESH), I think this might be your best bet. Jerami Grant is very possibly one of the three or four most important players on this roster right now -- a combo forward with unbelievable athleticism and relentless attacking instincts on both sides of the ball. Paired in a frontcourt with You Know Who, the Sixers could have a defensive backbone of devastating versatility, one that could tag-team to both play goalie at the net and unleash the neutral-zone trap on the perimeter. Sounds fun. 

But, of course, it'd be strychnine to our offensive spacing if Jerami can't hit a jump shot. He hit a couple threes this preseason, but missed a whole lot after those, and that thing still looks UGLY when it bricks. Grant's only reliable offensive game remains hurtling toward the basket and playing wallball with himself off the backboard until he gets fouled or one of 'em actually drops. It's proven surprisingly effective -- indeed, Grant led the Sixers in preseason scoring with 13 a game, and averaged nearly five made free throws a contest. But that's not how you sustain a coherent team offense, and until Jerami can flash enough of a jumper to command more than Andrew Bogut-like respect away from the hoop, he might not be able to help us enough there to make him playable for starters' minutes. 

How many games will it take me to hate Gerald Henderson (if I don't already)?

Not many and possibly zero. It's not totally his fault, he's just my least-favorite type of player: the shooting guard who specializes in the long two, and makes a couple passes a game that are absolutely terrible. Yes, that also sort of describes Kobe Bryant, but Gerald ain't Kobe -- even when he's cooking, which probably won't be very often on this team where he somehow may end up our most proven source of offensive potency. He'll play good defense, he'll get us a couple tough buckets a night, and he will make me tear out my hair until I am as bald as he is. 

Who will be our starting point guard to begin the season?

Tomorrow night, it sounds like Sergio Rodriguez is expected to get the nod. But ultimately, between Sergio and T.J., I expect this season at the point to work a lot like last year: Ride one guy until we get sick of him, then switch to the other guy until we get sick of him, and repeat until we get so sick of both guys that we have to add a third guy, until we get sick of him, and then... you get the idea. Luckily for us, that fabled Third Guy is already on the roster in Jerryd Bayless, and hopefully by the time we get irritated enough with Sergio's lack of penetration and T.J.'s lack of shooting to call on a third starter, he'll have recovered from his mysterious wrist ailment and be ready to lace up for us. 

Of course, this season is volatile enough that there might even be Fourth Guy or Fifth Guy options at our disposal, depending on Ben Simmons' health and the potential trade return for a future Noel and/or Okafor trade. Get ready for a season of talking ourselves into a whole lot of empty "well, once [point guard] is around and running the team, our offense will look a lot smoother" guarantees.

Does Robert Covington still like basketball?

Hard to tell. Watching RoCo this preseason was a largely dispiriting experience, as our oft-trumpeted steal of a cheap three-and-D wing continued on his end-of-last-season contentedness to chuck up threes with only the lightest of discrimination, largely uninterested in contributing further on offense. The urgency has been missing from Covington's game for a little while now, and while it's hard to really blame him for sagging interest, it's also hard to continue to pump him up as a vital contributor for the Sixers when he shoots a mediocre percentage from deep and barely ever gets to the line: He shot far more triples (36) than he did combined two-pointers and free-throws (25) this preseason, and only made a quarter of 'em. 

We may need a early-year surge to re-energize Robert and make him care about hooping hard again. Another losing streak to start this season, and Lord Covington might just decide he'd be happier giving up basketball altogether for a career in fly fishing or calligraphy. 

Will Ben Simmons come back this season?

Despite my initial calls for cautious optimism, the Ben Simmons foot injury ended up being what we most feared -- a Jones fracture with a highly indeterminate time-table for return. Brett Brown tried to reassure us that he was on track to be back in January, then someone screamed in his earpiece and our coach had to clarify that it was mostly just wishful thinking. Now, it seems like smart people are split about 50-50 over whether or not we should expect B. Simmons Dogg to play at all this season.

If I had to guess, I would say he does come back this season. As much nervousness as it'll cause people, the experts say he won't actually benefit more from extra rest once he's done healing -- he'll risk re-injuring the foot, but so will he pretty much whenever he plays from now on, whoopee. There's a difference between not rushing him back and locking him in the basement to protect from the cruel outside world, and while Hinkie might've still leaned toward the latter approach, the Colangelos are motivated enough to cultivate good feelings in the Sixers fanbase that they probably won't be able to resist debuting their prized No. 1 pick this season.

Not definitely, though. The sad thing about the Process-era Sixers is that the Colangelos could come out and announce "There's no real reason to keep Simmons out any longer, but we're superstitious and this team's history is terrifying, so we're gonna keep him in bubble wrap forever anyway," and we couldn't possibly argue with the logic. The only saving grace here is that (IJESH) this won't even be the primary focus of Sixers fans this season. 

How many games are we gonna win?

Covered this already in our real season preview, but again, IJESH-willing, I do think we can scare up 20 this season, mostly just due to That Dude. If the worst happens and we're left with Dario Saric as our star rookie (best player?), getting anywhere near ten might be an achievement, especially if Jah takes till 2017 to play himself back into NBA shape and Nerlens stays sulking on the sideline. In either event, the Sixers don't get a ton of cupcake games to start the season -- game #13, at home to the Suns, might be the first contest where they're favored -- so we should be able to see pretty early just how long a season this is gonna be for our Ballers. 

The good news is that the Sixers can still do a little scoreboard-watching over the course of the season, as well. The Lakers still owe us that top-three-protected pick, and it seems likely that this is the year we finally get it — their roster has improved just enough (through free agency, development, and a much-needed coaching change) for them to slide into a seventh-or-eighth-worst-overall record. Conversely, the Kings are (as usual) one setback away from all-out catastrophe, with starting point guard Darren Collison suspended to start the season, starting small forward Rudy Gay an open malcontent, and perpetually inflammable star center DeMarcus Cousins likely to go nuclear at the next misguided management decision. We still have a pickswap option from them for this summer, so if the Sixers somehow win a bunch of games this season, the Kings may end up doing our tanking for us. 

Still, when it comes to the Sixers' own 2016-17 season, the process remains simple. Here's a helpful flow chart, in case you need the visual aid:

See you all at the not-WFC tomorrow night. Process Forever, but hopefully not forever.