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That very well could be the biggest problem with the 76ers these days, as they limp to the midway point of the season with a 16-23 record. They just dont have the players.
Sure, Jrue Holiday is having an All-Star caliber season and is poised to lead the Sixers in scoring and assists. Thad Young is consistently producing, routinely notching double-doubles after taking over a spot in the starting lineup. Likewise, Evan Turner has shown glimpses of turning into top-notch NBA player for stretches this season.
The Sixers arent bad. They just arent great.
We were a .500 team the last two years, coach Doug Collins said. We gave up a lot to get a guy who is not playing. I dont want that to get lost.
Its difficult to miss the fact that the Sixers best player, Andrew Bynum, is just now gearing up for game action. After Thursdays practice session at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, the All-Star center worked on his shooting on one end of the floor while the rest of the team stretched and took foul shots at the other.
It was a perfect metaphor for Bynums season: Even when he can finally get on the court, he still cant join his team.
It also begs the question of how much of a difference the big man will make when he joins the Sixers. According to Collins, it will make a big difference.
He sees us and knows where we are and hes sitting there thinking that if he was playing that wed have seven or eight more wins, Collins said.
Eight more wins puts the Sixers in first place in the Atlantic Division.
Then again, Collins and the Sixers arent the first team in the history of the NBA to play without a star for a long stretch. Some might even suggest that the Sixers have been playing without a game-changing star since Allen Iverson was traded to Denver. Nevertheless, Collins likens Bynums inability to play to the times that other great teams lost their main guy.
I was looking the other day and saw that Pat Riley lost Dwyane Wade one year and went 15-67. The San Antonio Spurs lost David Robinson and went from a 60-win team to 20-62 when Gregg Popovich took over the team. Thats the impact of star players on the game, Collins said. Great coaches have had moments in their lifetime where they have lost key people and had to take on tough stretches. Thats the essence of this business.
So Collins has tried to make do with Holiday, Young and Turner as the main players he can typically count on until he gets his star. Those three have had to pile on the minutes. That also takes its toll, especially during a long road trip through the Western Conference loaded with four back-to-backs.
After those three, the Sixers dont really know what they are going to get. Sometimes it might be enough to win them a game, but in most cases this season, it hasnt been good enough.
Often, just figuring out which players can fill out the spots in the rotation is a battle, Collins said.
For the past two years, we basically knew from night to night the nine guys who were going to play. Thats the one challenge Ive had this year, Collins said.
Its the inconsistencyJason Richardson got hurt and he was out, Nick Young was out and Jrue was out. Weve had guys come in and out. I think today was the one day where we were able to practice and really practice. Ironically, one was before Memphis, when we won, and the other was before LA, when we won.
In the past, Collins also could count on his bench to contribute 30-plus points a night. This year, his best bench player, Thaddeus Young, is in the starting five. Worse, he said, the starters dont really have to look over their shoulders much.
Starting center Lavoy Allen, for example, has 27 points and 17 rebounds in his last five games. He's attempted just four foul shots in his last nine games.
That, to me, is not a picture of aggression, Collins said.
Collins best center hasnt worn a uniform since media day, and the coach has no one to sub in for Allen.
The last two years was that our bench was so good, it put incredible pressure on our starters to play well. And there is nothing like competition, nothing, Collins said. At the end of the day, longtime Olympic coach Hank Iba used to say, Son, if you dont want to play, your substitute does. Thats the beauty of sports.
Theres beauty in a new day and a new opportunity, too. The Sixers will have that on Friday night when the Toronto Raptors come to town. Still, the longer the team goes without an anchor, those beautiful opportunities will begin to dwindle and fade away.
We have a great opportunity for our guys to battle back and win some games, Collins said. Friday is going to be an interesting night. Well see how we handle that game.
Veteran guard Jason Richardson missed practice on Thursday in order to have 20 cc of fluid drained from his left knee. He is a game-time decision for Fridays tilt against the Raptors.