Ten Biggest Questions for the Sixers Off-Season: No. 10. Where Are We Now (And Where Are We Going)?

Ten Biggest Questions for the Sixers Off-Season: No. 10. Where Are We Now (And Where Are We Going)?

Over the rest of the playoffs, while 16 teams compete for the Larry
O'Brien trophy--none of which are the Philadelphia 76ers--I'll be taking
some time to focus on the long off-season that the Sixers have ahead of
themselves, and the many burning questions that face them as they
attempt to recover from the most disastrous season of the post-Iverson
era. I'll be addressing the ten biggest of those questions, counting
down from ten to one, with the most-biggest hopefully coming around the
time that it's actually time for the wheeling and dealing to begin.


Most of the ten questions are specific ones, but for #10, I wanted
to kick off with something more general, a question that will influence
the decisions behind every other question on this list: What's the deal
with the Philadelphia 76ers? This season was so incredibly confusing,
with so many things going unexpectedly wrong (and a rare couple actually
going unexpectedly right) that it's almost impossible to actually gauge
where this team is at right now. And if you can't gauge where the team
is, it's impossible to have a sense of where the team's going, and how
to get them there.


So let's take a minute to assess what the Sixers have going for them
at the moment--which Michael Levin of Liberty Ballers has gone on
record is just saying "Jrue and short-term contracts," but I think that
sells us a tiny bit short. I'd say that our assets, in both a specific
and overarching sense, are as follows, in descending order of worth:


1. Jrue Holiday
2. Cap space (estimated at about $11 million this off-season, assuming free agents walk)
3. Short-term contracts (only Thaddeus Young, Jason Richardson and Jrue Holiday currently last beyond next year)

4. Thaddeus Young
5. High-pedigree players with arguable remaining upside (Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, sorta Arnett Moultrie)
6. A decent pick (#11 if outside the lottery) in the upcoming draft
7. The sign-and-trade rights to Andrew Bynum


It's not a ton, but it's not a terrible place to start from, either.
It's arguably a better situation than the Sixers found themselves in
four years ago, when they had cashed in all their remaining cap space on
signing Elton Brand and extending Andre Iguodala, only to end up as
mediocre as ever. At the very least, the Sixers have options, and can
use some combination of those seven assets (particularly #s 2-7, since
#1 is the most unlikely to be shifted) to move forward in a specific
direction, without finding themselves stuck in the middle with Jrue.


Of course, the question then becomes: What direction do we go in?
The way I see it, teams like the Sixers have three possible answers to
this:

1. Going all in--spending our remaining cap space on the
biggest fishes in free agency, trading our more moveable assets for
firmer core pieces, and attempting to make a run at the Eastern
Conference as soon as next season.

2. Biding time--doing more what we did last off-season, signing
low-cost, low-impact players on short-term deals that help us tread
water in the middle of the pack, keeping our personnel and financial
flexibility as we wait around for another MegaDeal to present itself.

3. Rebuilding completely--stripping down of all but our most essential
player personnel (arguably everyone but Jrue), clearing the books and
hoarding as many young prospects and draft picks as possible, and
looking to be competitive again three or four years down the line.


All three approaches have their advantages and disadvantages, and
none of them are likely to be totally satisfying to the fans, the
players or the front office. And of course, all of it hinges first and
foremost on what the Sixers already know and what they will continue to
find out about the Funny-Looking Kid With the Big Hair, and whether
resigning him is an option that will be a gigantic first domino to fall,
starting an off-season chain reaction that will essentially dictate
every decision the team makes between now and October.


But assuming Bynum's a no-go--and we'll talk about that possibility
more later on, natch--I would hope option #1 is out for the Sixers. You
could say that circumstances were against them this season and they're
not actually as bad as they looked, but I don't think even the most
optimistic of Sixers fans would say that the team could add any one
player likely to be available in free agency besides Bynum (and very
arguably not even Bynum) and instantly become a serious competitor in
the East. They're unlikely to be able to turn any of their low-cost,
medium-upside players into a difference-maker, and very likely, they'd
end up tapping themselves out at the 5th or 6th best team in the East,
while exhausting all their remaining assets to do so. No thanks.


More likely, it seems like the team will either tread water for a
bit or rebuild completely. The latter would be a tough sell to a fanbase
who just last off-season was expecting their team to actually be able
to compete with the Heat, and is already incredible short on good will,
and it's hard to imagine Aron and DiLeo and company quite having the
stomach for it. If I were a betting man, I'd say the team goes with
option #2, eschewing making any long-term commitments, hoping that their
young core either grows into something real or at least ups the trade
value of the respective pieces considerably, and trying to stay
competitive enough to at least be in the playoff hunt for the season.
It's not very sexy, and it might not be the most productive long-term
play, but it's probably the most practical option for this team right
now.


It's cold comfort to say after a season like the one we just had
that things could always be worse, but for the Sixers, they really
could--they're a team with young, reasonably priced talent and
legitimate maneuverability, which is the second-best place you can be in
in the NBA, next to actually having really good players. If they have
to rebuild, they don't have to totally start again from zero, like the
Magic or Bobcats are doing, and if they decide to go for the playoffs,
they're closer than the Kings or Pistons to getting there. But there's
still a long way to go and not a ton of room for error, and if the
Sixers aren't careful, they could end up staring down another four or
five seasons of basketball with results depressingly similar to this
season.

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane scored three goals for his third career hat trick to lead the surging Chicago Blackhawks past the Arizona Coyotes 6-3 on Thursday night for their third straight win and eighth in nine games.

Kane has 23 goals to lead Chicago, which closed within three points behind first-place Minnesota in the Central Division and Western Conference.

Rookies Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman each had a goal and assist. Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival scored his first goal of the season in his first game since Jan. 15.

Chicago captain Jonathan Toews added two assists to extend his points scoring streak to five games and increase his output to 22 points in his past 13.

Jakob Chychrun, Ryan White and Radim Vrbata scored for the Coyotes. Chychrun and Vrbata each scored for the second straight game (see full recap).

Rangers outlast Maple Leafs in shootout
TORONTO -- Mika Zibanejad scored the shootout winner and the New York Rangers continued a strong February with a 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves and J.T. Miller scored the game-tying goal in the third period for the Rangers, who improved to 8-1-1 this month.

New York moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division with 80 points.

Connor Brown scored for Toronto, which fell to 1-7 in shootouts this season. Frederik Andersen had a stellar performance in defeat with 37 saves.

The Leafs hold the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division (68 points), two points back of Ottawa (70) and four back of Montreal (see full recap).

Islanders shut out Canadiens
MONTREAL -- Rookie Anthony Beauvillier scored in the first period, Thomas Greiss made 24 saves, and the New York Islanders beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 Thursday night.

Anders Lee scored in the second period and John Tavares added an empty-netter in the final minute to seal the Islanders' third straight win. New York has won the first two games on a crucial nine-game road swing and improved to 12-4-2 since interim coach Doug Weight replaced the fired Jack Capuano.

Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson each had two assists, and Greiss got his third shutout of the season.

Carey Price finished with 21 saves as the Canadiens lost coach Claude Julien's 1,000th NHL game. Montreal is 1-2-0 since Julien replaced Michel Therrien last week and has totaled just 14 goals while going 2-7-1 in the last 10 games, including four shutouts (see full recap).

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

NEW ORLEANS -- The Boogie-and-Brow era in New Orleans is off to a highly inauspicious start.

The Pelicans' tandem of newly acquired All-Star DeMarcus Cousins and All-Star Game MVP Anthony Davis was no match for the surging Houston Rockets on Thursday night.

Reserve Lou Williams hit seven 3-pointers and scored 27 points in his Rockets debut, and Houston crushed New Orleans, 129-99.

Davis had 29 points, and Cousins finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds. But New Orleans turned the ball over 20 times couldn't keep pace with the firepower of the Rockets, who hit 20 3-pointers.

Eric Gordon scored 19 points and Ryan Anderson added 17 in both players' first game in New Orleans since leaving the Pelicans. James Harden had 13 points and 14 assists (see full recap).

LeBron triple-double powers Cavs past Knicks
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James recorded his 48th career triple-double and Kyrie Irving scored 23 points, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 119-104 victory over the New York Knicks, who hung on to superstar Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose at Thursday's trade deadline.

James scored 18 points and had 13 rebounds with 15 assists for his sixth triple-double of the season.

Anthony, the subject of trade rumors because of a strained relationship with Knicks President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson, scored 20 points, going 9 of 25 from the field.

Kyle Korver scored 20 points for Cleveland, which is 8-1 in February and has beaten New York 10 straight times.

Courtney Lee had 25 points for New York, which has lost six of seven and is 12th in the Eastern Conference playoff race (see full recap).

Pistons rally from 18 down to beat Hornets in OT
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 33 points, including three 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter during a pulsating Detroit rally, and the Pistons outlasted the Charlotte Hornets 114-108 in overtime Thursday night.

Caldwell-Pope scored Detroit's last 11 points of regulation, and his 3-pointer with 18.2 seconds to play tied the game at 100. Kemba Walker scored Charlotte's final nine points of the fourth, but the Pistons forced him to give up the ball on the last possession, and Marco Belinelli missed a 3-pointer that could have won it.

Detroit, which was behind by 18 in the third quarter, never trailed in the overtime. Caldwell-Pope's 3-pointer with 55 seconds remaining put the Pistons up 110-102.

Charlotte led 85-70 at the start of the fourth but missed 14 of its first 15 shots in the period, enabling Detroit to cut into the lead.

Walker scored 34 points. Tobias Harris had 25 for the Pistons (see full recap).