With playoffs nearing, Sixers can only reminisce

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With playoffs nearing, Sixers can only reminisce

The Sixers took their team picture on Wednesday. Their were plenty of new faces in this year's photo, but two in particular were absent (see story).

Can you imagine being the poor photographer who drew that assignment? Had to be tougher than doing a family portrait at the mall with a bunch of unhappy children. You could shake a stuffed animal above the camera and remind them all to say cheese and it probably still wouldn’t make the Sixers smile. It’s been that kind of season.

The annual exercise made Doug Collins wistful. The Sixers head coach said he spent some time thinking about this year and how the team is in a very different spot now than it was when it took its team picture last season.

When I told Spencer Hawes that picture day prompted Collins to reflect on this year and how it contrasted with last season, the center responded with two words: “Uh oh.”

So you didn’t do the same thing?

“No,” Hawes said before the Atlanta Hawks smacked the Sixers, 124-101, at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay). “I haven’t reflected on this year too much. I’d like to reflect on taking the positive and leaving the rest behind.”

The season is almost over. Only four games remain. If taking the positive and leaving the rest behind is like cleaning out your desk when you leave a job, then the Sixers should be able to fit all the cheery stuff into a single cardboard box. (Jrue Holiday becoming an All-Star. Thad Young becoming a consistent frontcourt option. That's about it.) Again, it’s been that kind of season.

The Sixers are 31-47. That’s four fewer wins in full season than they had last year in a 66-game lockout-shortened campaign. That says so much, none of which is good. How quickly things change.

“A year ago, we played Indiana on our team photo [day], lost, and played five straight road games to get into the playoffs and won four of them,” Collins said. “It’s just interesting where you are from this year to last year. And just the thoughts you have when you take that picture.”

Thoughts. Yes. He had a few. Even as he admitted what everyone already knows -- that this season has been “disappointing” -- Collins reminisced about last year’s Sixers, how they slipped into the playoffs and came within one win of the Eastern Conference Finals. It was a good run, and it all began with that Indiana game toward the end of the regular season.

“I’ll never forget,” Collins said. “We had our picture that night. Lost the game. Tough game. We fought back against Indy. I remember Lou [Williams] had a three late in that game. I don’t remember if it put us up, but it at least tied it. But we lost that game. I remember Julius [Erving] talking to our guys after the game. And we had to go out on the road and we had five games staring at us out on the road.

“That’s what I thought about. And I thought about how that team was really able to gather themselves. We had such tremendous leadership on that team. We had guys that had been around. I don’t think people really realize -- guys like Elton Brand and [Andre Iguodala] and Lou and Jodie [Meeks] and guys we’ve really missed this year as we’ve changed our team and our injuries and all.”

He’s right. They have missed Brand and Iguodala and Williams (Meeks was a memory too far) -- not just their leadership but also their production. Looking back on all that has to be bittersweet. Because that team accomplished more than anyone expected -- and then that team was dismantled by Collins and the rest of the Sixers power brokers.

That isn’t second-guessing. Along with lots of other people, I endorsed the decision to jettison those players and bring in new personnel. It obviously hasn’t worked out. Injuries and awful basketball have conspired to render the Sixers irrelevant this year -- which is why reflecting on last season has to be particularly painful. That’s as close as these Sixers will come to the playoffs -- leftover recollections from a year ago. How sad.

Back to photo day. It was the 11th time in his coaching career that Collins took part in one. Someone wondered whether -- since he’s the nostalgic sort -- Collins has kept all those pictures from all those teams over all those years. Collins smirked before responding.

“No,” he said.

Everyone laughed. Gallows humor is hard to beat.

Sixers Mailbag: Joel Embiid's return, signing Kyle Lowry?

Sixers Mailbag: Joel Embiid's return, signing Kyle Lowry?

This week I tweeted asking for questions for a Sixers mailbag, and the replies came pouring in. (Thanks, everyone!)

So we changed it up and in addition to answering the questions in these articles, we also discussed some of the topics on PST Extra. Read below and watch the video for the responses.

If you tweeted a question with #CSNSixersMailbag and don't see it on here, there will be plenty more answered leading up to the draft and free agency.

Both players are planning to return to the court during the offseason.

Joel Embiid recently said he intends to be ready for opening night and to play all 82 games next season. That would mean he has a lot of work to do before then. Embiid, who underwent knee surgery in March, has been pleased with his rehab and is scheduled for another scan. He has not been jumping and plans to be cleared for 5-on-5 this summer.

"Every day I go in and do some rehab on my knee, on my whole body basically," Embiid said last week at the draft lottery. "Then [I] get on the court, shoot a little bit flat-footed, and then lift. After lifting, I go in the pool and [on the] treadmill and then start running in the pool. Usually, I'm there for about four, five hours every day."

Covington underwent surgery for a right meniscus tear in mid-April. He actually began his rehab before the procedure, which doctors told him could cut down on his recovery time. Following the surgery, the Sixers announced Covington was expected to "resume basketball activities" this summer.

Training camp is still months away. The players will be closely watched during that period before their availability and minutes are determined for the start of the season.

Rye.

And for the non-question, I'll give that a reply too. I see this point of view: draft a young small forward and bring in an experienced guard. I could envision an opposite scenario, though.

The Sixers could bolster their perimeter play through free agency or a trade. They lacked depth at small forward last season. A player with years on his résumé could fill that void faster than a rookie who will need time to develop into an NBA player.

As for Lowry, there's no question he can improve any NBA team. As I noted a few weeks ago, he is at a different stage in his career than the Sixers are in their progress. The Sixers also have Jerryd Bayless on the books to provide that veteran leadership to Ben Simmons as he learns how to play the one spot.

If I had to go with adding experience at one position or the other, I'd lean toward small forward over point guard.

NBA Notes: Cavs-Warriors III joins past championship trilogies

NBA Notes: Cavs-Warriors III joins past championship trilogies

It never happened between Magic Johnson's Lakers and Larry Bird's Celtics. Same for Michael Jordan and Karl Malone or Jerry West and Bill Russell.

While there have been 14 rematches in NBA Finals history, this year's meeting between LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers and Stephen Curry's Golden State Warriors will be the first trilogy in league history.

After the Warriors beat the Cavs for their first title in 40 years in 2015, Cleveland got revenge last season with a comeback from 3-1 down to give the city its first major championship since 1964. Now they meet for the rubber match starting June 1 in Oakland.

While this may be unprecedented in the NBA, it has happened once before in the NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball with matchups that included some of those sports' biggest stars.

There was Babe Ruth vs. Frankie Frisch in the 1920s and then a pair of memorable three-peat matchups in the 1950s featuring Otto Graham against Bobby Layne in the NFL and Gordie Howe against Maurice Richard in the NHL.

Warriors: Durant once team’s 2nd choice
Truth be told, Golden State's former coach wasn't sure the Warriors needed Kevin Durant.

The Warriors were already small-ball sensations, capable of piling up the points with their daring drives and sizzling shooting. So rather than add another scorer, Don Nelson figured Golden State might be better off getting a dominant man in the middle to shore up the defense in the 2007 NBA draft.

Nelson thought the Warriors needed Greg Oden.

That was 10 years ago, leading up to the heavily hyped draft in which the Oden-Durant debate raged throughout basketball. And now, as Durant leads the league's most potent team into the NBA Finals while Oden is long gone from the NBA spotlight, it's easy to forget that a lot of people agreed with Nelson.

"I think everyone felt that there were two players there that were going to be prominent players, but one thing you can't count on is injuries," Warriors executive Jerry West said. "So Greg really never had a chance to have a career, where Kevin's obviously been more than advertised."

Celtics: Thomas unsure if he’ll need surgery
Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas wanted to keep playing in the Eastern Conference finals, but team doctors and officials convinced him he needed to shut down his season for his long-term health.

"They had multiple people come in and talk to me about what's more important," Thomas said Friday, a day after the Celtics were eliminated by the Cleveland Cavaliers. "But I definitely wasn't trying to hear that at that point in time."

Thomas injured the hip in March and aggravated it in the second-round series against Washington. He played three halves against the Cavaliers before limping off the court in the middle of Game 2.

The Celtics lost that game by 44 points to fall behind 0-2 in the best-of-seven series, then announced the next day that Thomas was done for the season. Still, they beat the Cavaliers in Cleveland the next game before falling easily in Games 4 and 5.

"Eastern Conference finals, that's the biggest stage I've ever been on," Thomas said at the team's practice facility in Waltham, Massachusetts. "To not be able to go back out there in that second half and continue that series was painful. Like it hurt me."

Speaking for the first time since the end of his season, Thomas said he might need surgery but it's "not the No. 1 option right now." He will have to wait for more tests until the swelling goes down, he said (see full story).