How'd We Do? Analyzing the Totality of the Sixers' Off-Season Moves

How'd We Do? Analyzing the Totality of the Sixers' Off-Season Moves

Halfway into July, if I had to take an educated guess, I'd say the
Philadelphia 76ers are basically done with their off-season maneuvering.
There's always the chance of the Andre Iguodala trade that we've been
predicting for about two-and-a-half years now, but talks have slowed on
that front, and most of the teams being talked of as possible landing
spots for 'Dre—whether a contending team like the Lakers or a rebuilding
one like the Warriors or Timberwolves—have either locked into their
current roster, and/or already looked elsewhere to fill their small
forward void elsewhere. With the free agent pool drying up and the
Sixers running up on the salary cap, it seems fairly likely that this is
the team the Sixers will take into next year.

So how did the Sixers do in what we here at the Level have been
calling the most pivotal off-season in the franchise's post-AI history?
Well, let's break it down into a series of questions.

Did We Get What We Wanted?

Superficially, the answer here would appear to be yes. If you'd
asked me before the off-season what the three things we needed the most
going into next year, I would have said a perimeter scorer who can
create his own shot, a knockdown three-point shooter, and a proven
interior presence who can anchor a defense. We basically got one of each
of those, in shooting guard Nick Young (17.4 ppg for Washington two
seasons ago), small forward Dorrell Wright (194 threes for the Warriors
two seasons ago) and big man Kwame Brown (starting center for the
Bobcats with decent results
two seasons ago), respectively. Technically speaking, the Sixers
managed to add the two pieces they most needed without needing to give
up anything on the two rosters.


What makes these moves so unsatisfying is that the Sixers basically
nabbed the lowest-cost, lowest-upside versions of the three players they
needed in Young, Wright and Brown. Young can score, but he can't do
anything else, Wright has little value when he's not parked behind the
three-point line, and while Brown has turned into a decent interior
defender and rebounder, he's certainly no Tyson Chandler, and his
offensive game can be charitably described as that of a "Rich Man's Ben
Wallace." Both still add something the team was sorely lacking, but
neither represents any sort of long-term solution for their respective
role. 

What's more, Young and Brown are notoriously low-IQ players with
long, long track records of losing and losing big, with Wright having
little post-season success of his own to speak of. Nick Young's
first-round victory with the Clippers this season was the first time in
any of the 24 combined seasons for the three players that one of them
won a playoff series in which they actually played. If creating a
"winning atmosphere" was one of the primary goals of the team this
off-season, this was an odd way to do it.

So I guess the answer here is yes, we got we wanted. But it turned out we didn't really want it that badly.

Did We Lose Much in the Interim?

No,
not really. Well, that's not totally true—we lost two of the guys that
came to define the team over the last half-decade of Sixers basketball
in overpaid free agent power forward Elton Brand and bench scorer turned
swaggy rapper Lou Williams. But the latter is basically replaced in
role by Nick Young, and while advanced stats still say that Lou was a
far better player than Nick the past few seasons...I'll believe that
when I start yelling at Young on one out of every three possessions as I
eventually was with Sour Patch Lou. And Elton was on his way out soon
anyway—either through a trade deadline deal or walking as a free agent
next summer—so though he was still an effective post defender and
occasional scoring option, you can't bemoan his loss too much.

If anything, you could argue that we should have lost more,
as the decision to retain Spencer Hawes at two years, 13 million was
probably the Sixers' most roundly mocked of the off-season, and
deservedly so—Spencer has still yet to prove that he can be a starter in
this league, and 6.5 a year is an awful lot for a backup. But
ultimately, the Sixers lost little that can't be fairly readily
replaced.

Did We Screw Ourselves For the Future?

Surprisingly,
no. If the Sixers want to claim one victory for the off-season, it's
this: They made absolutely zero moves that we'll be regretting four
years down the line. That, of course, is because the Sixers made no
moves that will imapct the team four years from now—every single thing
they did was for a maximum of two years. No contract signed by a Sixer,
old or new, this off-season, will still be going past the 2014
off-season.

This may not sound like that big of a deal, but it actually is—the
contracts that really end up hamstringing a team are the five-year,
$35-million type you give out to role players who either underperform or
turn out to be not $7-million-a-year important in their role, clogging
up a team's cap space for a half-decade and preventing any kind of big
moves from being made. The fact that Lou Williams and Spencer Hawes were
not given such deals has to be seen as some kind of progress. (Though,
puzzlingly, it seems like Lou was offered one and turned it down.)

Did the Sixers Show Evidence of Having a Long-Term Plan?

Sort
of, although how sound or noble the plan is is certainly up for debate.
It appears that the front office is basically planning on putting the
team on hold for two years, at which point Iguodala comes off the books
and the team has to have officially decided how much to invest in Jrue
Holiday and Evan Turner. In the meantime, they have the short-term
contracts and financial flexibility to either pursue free agents next
off-season or make a blockbuster trade for a big-name guy should the
opportunity for either arise. And they can use these seasons as sort of a
trial period to see who, along with Holiday and Turner, should be
considered a crucial part of the team's future.

It's a plan, anyway—certainly one better than pretending the team
was actually close to contending last post-season, and keeping the
team's core in place while adding pieces to put them "over the top."
(Team CEO Adam Aron basically admitted the team had maxed out as
currently constituted, which is a healthy realization for him to come
to.) It's not all that sexy of a plan, however, and it's not even one
the team followed through with all the way, as they failed to find a
trade for Andre Iguodala and their draft strategy of Young and Athletic
failed to mesh with their free agent strategy of Middle-Aged and Not
Totally Stiff. An inconsistent, unglamorous plan is probably still
better than no plan at all, but how much better is certainly subject for
debate.

Does Our Roster Make More Sense Than it Did At the End of Last Year?

And
this is where the Sixers really failed this off-season. None of their
signings or draft choices were explicitly terrible, none of the players
they cut bait with were particularly tragic losses, but the combination
thereof has left the Sixers with a roster totally lacking in balance. If
you count Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young (and in my opinion, you
should), the Sixers will be entering next season with a grand total of
five small forwards, all of whom will command some sort of consistent
minutes. Meanwhile, the team totally lacks a backup point guard (unless
you count Xavier Silas or Nick Young, which, no) and appears to be
giving serious consideration towards tipping off 2012-13 with a starting
front line of Spencer Hawes and Kwame Brown—which, really, shouldn't
happen under any circumstances ever.

Can Coach Doug Collins make sense out of the mess? Probably, but not
without some issues of poor roster equilibrium eventually being
exposed, and not without somebody bitching about role and/or
minutes. You'd like to think that a trade or two is still on the way to
help clear up the mess, but such a trade doesn't seem a particular
priority with the Sixers currently—rather, when they trade, it's for a
guy like Wright that has one very valuable skill, but also already has
four other dudes at the same position in front of him.

Ultimately, you might not be able to call this Sixers off-season a
total failure—the fact that Lou Williams was actually allowed to walk to
Atlanta basically disqualifies it from being labeled as such—but you
certainly wouldn't call it a resounding success, either. It was about
100x more active than the last four off-seasons, but ultimately we're
left in the same place—watching a mediocre team that keeps putting off
the decision of whether to rebuild or try to contend. The Sixers could
still be a fun team next year, but it's gonna be hard to be real excited
about the group Rod Thorn and company—whoever's making decisions for
the team these days—have put together.

In 1st game post-Ersan Ilyasova, Dario Saric shines as Sixers' starting PF

In 1st game post-Ersan Ilyasova, Dario Saric shines as Sixers' starting PF

When Ersan Ilyasova was traded to the Hawks on Wednesday, it became Dario Saric's time to shine.

And shine he did in the Sixers' 120-112 win over the Wizards Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center. In the first game coming off the All-Star break, Saric got the starting nod at power forward. He certainly looked the part, posting 20 points (10 of 19 from the field), 11 rebounds and four assists.

Saric, now the only true four on the roster, was proud of his team's performance against one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

"We have a lot of veterans who can share the ball and that's how you're supposed to play," Saric said. "For me I'm not surprised if we [beat the third-best team] in the East, but I believe these guys can play very good basketball."

Saric was excellent in the starting role, but his exceptional play dates back before the All-Star break. Including Friday, he's averaged 20.5 points, eight rebounds and 2.5 assists over his last six games. The Sixers are 4-2 in that span.

Head coach Brett Brown is seeing what he expected to see from the Croatian rookie.

"He's a professional basketball player," Brown said. "He has been that for a while. His love of the game, his passion for the game is contagious. It's a thing that we loved maybe more than anything about him when we did the deal with Orlando, knowing however many years ago with the trade with Elfrid Payton and Saric. That was a calculated move."

Saric played almost 33 minutes Friday night. So what did Brown do to give Saric a breather? He sent out Robert Covington.

Covington has played the position most of his life but has spent his entire Sixers career on the wing. In a time of need, he stepped up for a team still adjusting to roster changes.

The 6-foot-8 Covington held his own against the likes of Philly native Markieff Morris. It didn't seem to faze his offensive game, either. Covington scored 25 points on 9 of 14 from the field (5 of 9 from three). He also added 11 rebounds and three assists.

Covington has also been a catalyst for the Sixers during their recent success. He's averaging 17.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.2 steals in his last six. He's also shot a ridiculous 46 percent from three (19 of 41) in that span.

"We can only control what we're able to control on the court," Covington said. "Everything outside of what they do in management doesn't include us. We can only focus on what we can control on the court, and that's what our main focus was on these last few days."

Saric continues to show that he was worth wait while Covington continues to prove that he's a keeper.

They've certainly had different paths. Saric was a lottery pick and regarded as one the top young players in Europe. Covington went undrafted out of Tennessee State and spent the 2013-14 primarily with the Rockets' D-League affiliate.

Bryan Colangelo has identified Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons as the team's "transformational players." That's likely true, but every NBA team needs guys like Saric and Covington to complement their stars.

Covington is impressed with the progress of Saric in his rookie season.

"Dario's a very special player," Covington said. "He's able to do so much on the court. Tonight, you saw every aspect of his game. He'll guard, defending, rebounding and making plays on the offensive game. That's what Dario does. Now that he's going to play more in the starting lineup, it's really going to help him."

Saric may be the frontrunner to take home the Rookie of the Month for February. He's second only to Joel Embiid in double-doubles (seven) and 20-point games (six) among rookies. Whether it's Saric or Embiid, it appears the Rookie of the Year will be a Sixer.

His promotion to the starting lineup and wins against teams like the Wizards should only help Saric's cause.

"Maybe you see [me start consistently], maybe not," Saric said. "The game first time here I try to find myself. I got a couple rebounds, but still I try to find myself with the new role. I've tried to move around, catch the rhythm of the game, that's the most important thing in basketball."

He appeared to find himself just fine Friday night.

For Shayne Gostisbehere, Dave Hakstol, Stadium Series brings back cherished memories

For Shayne Gostisbehere, Dave Hakstol, Stadium Series brings back cherished memories

PITTSBURGH -- For Flyers coach Dave Hakstol and defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, tonight’s Stadium Series game between the Flyers and Penguins brings back memories.
 
Hakstol coached North Dakota in an outdoor hockey in college, while Gostisbehere participated in one as a freshman at Union College.
 
For Hakstol, however, this whole idea of outdoor hockey began when he was growing up in central Alberta in the small town of Drayton Valley.
 
“I think everybody’s got great memories of growing up outdoors,” Hakstol said. “We had a back creek that we could shovel off. I’m sure everybody could sit back and tell you stories of playing on the outdoor rinks.
 
“For me, most recently, I’ve got two kids growing up playing on outdoor rinks, backyard rinks. It’s pretty cool. It takes you right back to the heart of the game.”
 
Hakstol’s outdoor coaching experience came during a game between Nebraska-Omaha and his North Dakota squad in 2013 at the “Mutual of Omaha Battles on Ice.”
 
“I don’t know how to describe it,” Hakstol said of the event. “It’s just a different feel. It’s an ideal scenario.”
 
He said while tonight's game is special, it’s still about the points, first and foremost.
 
“You are cognizant of everything that surrounds the event and the game,” Hakstol said. “Yet for us, it’s two points. We’re fighting for every point here. That is going to paramount.”

Gostisbehere played at Fenway Park in 2012 for Union in a game against Harvard. That night, Union won, 2-0, to become the first ECAC club to ever win outdoors.
 
“I played at Fenway Park against Harvard and it was fun,” Gostisbehere said. “That was my freshman year and the only one I ever played in.
 
“Good crowd. It wasn’t packed obviously, but it was a night game. The ice was really good. It was really cold, too. It was pretty cool.”
 
As warm as it was Friday here -- a historic 78 degrees -- temperatures will begin in the 40s tonight at Heinz Field and then drop. It rained this morning but has since ceased.
 
“The biggest thing for me was to take a second, look around,” Gostisbehere said, admitting he failed to do that in college and won’t make that mistake again.
 
“Just cherish it a little bit. You are so focused on the game, it’s tough. That was biggest thing for me. It was such a blur. Just being in college and having the opportunity to play at Fenway Park was pretty awesome.”

This will the Flyers first-ever outdoor affair in Pittsburgh.
 
“It’s pretty exciting and I’m glad to be part of it,” Gostisbehere said.