Is This the Worst Sixers Season of the Post-Iverson Era? Comparing '12-'13 to '09-'10

Is This the Worst Sixers Season of the Post-Iverson Era? Comparing '12-'13 to '09-'10

You know this Sixers team has hit its low point when their badness is
getting national media attention. Zach Lowe of Grantland had an excellent column yesterday
calling out the hypocrisy of Coach Collins' recent throwing of his team
under the bus in his conference after the Orlando drubbing, pointing
out how unreasonable it was to complain about personnel moves and
on-court execution when, in fact, Collins has had a large (and some
would say final) say in just about all roster decisions made by the
Sixers in the last few years, and his inefficient offensive gameplan
puts his players in a very poor position to have any kind of sustained
success. (To which, just about every Sixers writer on the internet
responded: "THAT'S WHAT WE'VE BEEN SAYING FOR THE LAST TWO YEARS!!")


It's all fair, and it's pretty clear that even though the Sixers are
still only five games out of the playoffs, and tied for the ninth spot
in the Eastern Conference, their season is already good as over—minus
seeing whether or not The Funny-Looking Kid With the Big Hair makes an
on-court cameo at season's end. Without any expectation of a late surge,
it's officially OK to declare this season a tremendous
disappointment—very possibly the most disappointing Sixers season in
recent memory—and start to wonder: Is this the worst season we've had since AI left?


When considering this question, there's really only one season
to provide competition—2009-10, the Sixers' only season under the
stewardship of ex-Wizards coach Eddie Jordan. That year, the Sixers
finished with one of the worst records in the Eastern Conference, lucked
out in the lottery (though, in retrospect, perhaps not as much as we
thought at the time), and so lost their way as a franchise they needed
to bring in a hard-headed, experienced disciplinarian such as Collins
the next season to get the team back on track.


So which season was more despairing, more miserable, more impossible to see the positive in? Let's break it down.

1. Worse Overall Record.
The '09-'10 Sixers started mediocrely enough, winning five of their
first 11, before the bottom fell out and the team lost 12 in a row. They
showed a little life during a five-game winning streak in February, but
otherwise were consistently subpar for the entire season, ending with a
27-55 record.


Bad as this year's team has played recently, thanks largely to a
fools' gold 10-6 record to start the season, it'll be tough for them to
beat that record, as the team currently sits at 22-33, needing to go
5-22 for the rest of the season to match '09-'10's futility. Not
impossible, but harder than you'd think, especially with two games each
against the Bobcats and Cavaliers coming up.


Edge: 2009-10 (For Now)

2. Loftier Pre-Season Expectations.
Coming off two straight playoff appearances (and two first-round
exits), the Sixers were expected to contend for a playoff spot in the
East in '09-'10, but with point guard (and arguable team MVP for at
least one of the previous two seasons) Andre Miller departed for
Portland and sixth man Lou Williams taking over responsibility at the
point, nobody expected really big things from these Sixers. My old NBA
Preview issue of SI from 2009 (yes, I hold onto those, apparently)
pegged them to finish tenth, and in my own season preview,
I expected them to finish at around .500. They fell short of both of
those, natch, but expectations were never particularly high.


The same can not be said, sadly, for 2012-13. Most of us at least
expected the addition of Andrew Bynum to make the team nationally
relevant again, and thought that if a couple breaks went their way, they
could maybe reach up to first-round home-court advantage in the
playoffs. (Some wondered if they could even dethrone the Heat in the
East, and ridiculous as that kind of speculation always was, the fact
that it was there at all tells you something.) We expected the team to
be good enough to make people care again, and instead, they're more of
an afterthought than ever. That's pretty disappointing.


Edge: 2012-13

3. More Dispiriting Lack of Player Development.
At the end of my aforementioned '09-'10 preview, I predicted that this
would surely be the year that Andre Iguodala would become an All-Star,
and a franchise player. It made sense at the time, Iguodala coming off
his best offensive season in '08-'09, and showing flashes of being a
true big-game, give-me-the-ball player in the team's first-round playoff
series against the Orlando Magic. It didn't work out that way—'Dre's
scoring numbers sagged without Miller, and his ability in clutch
situations would consistently prove to be lacking. Thaddeus Young's
numbers also dipped considerably under Eddie Jordan, and Elton Brand
proved that '08-'09 was no fluke—he just wasn't the guy the Sixers
thought they were spending $80 million on in free agency.


If you're looking for a parallel to 'Dre on the '12-'13 season, it'd
have to be Evan Turner, who a couple ESPN pundits actually tagged as a
likely Most Improved Player candidate. They looked smart for a couple
months, but Evan slowed down in a big way in the New Year, his numbers
rebounding to earth so dramatically that you have to wonder if he's even
really evolved from last year at all. It's dispiriting, sure, but most
of our expectations were already fairly tempered with ET going into the
season—we've long since trying to predict anything with Evan—so it
doesn't really stand up to 'Dre proving that he just didn't have it.


Edge: 2009-10
 

4. Most Embarrassing Subplot.
The '09-'10 season, lest we forget, shouldn't technically even be
counted as part of the post-Iverson era, since Iverson was actually on
the team for most of that year. Ed Stefanski signed AI about a month
into the '09-'10 season, when it became quickly clear that the Sixers
didn't have the juice to be a post-season contender as previously
constituted, and he was greeted with the welcome of a returning hero,
hoping his scoring punch (and presumed newfound maturity) would be able
to redeem the Ballers' season. Instead, the slowed, aged Iverson proved
an almost entirely inconsequential presence, never scoring more than 23
in a night and going down for the season after just 25 games. The
signing was revealed to be exactly what it always was—a desperation
move.


Still, as embarrassing as that was, it's nothing compared to Bynum.
The bowling, the hair, the lawsuits...and all without so much as suiting
up for a game for the Sixers, at least not yet. The only way the
situation with TFLKWTBH could be any more humiliating is if he left the
Sixers holding the bag at the end of the year, which he very well may
do. It's some sickening shit.


Edge: 2012-13


5. Most Infuriating Individual Player.
Thank God that '09-'10 was the last season as a Liberty Baller for
center Samuel Dalembert, whose absolute refusal to play within himself
on offense and seeming inability to play smart on defense made him the
hardest-to-watch Sixer of the '07-'10 era. Sammy D did go on an
impressive rebounding tear at the beginning of 2013, but it rarely felt
like he was actually helping the team win games, and going into the '10
off-season, a lot of us were calling for moving Dalembert to be the
team's number-one priority.


Few of us could have guessed that the placer who would be brought in
to replace Dalembert—Spencer Hawes, who the Sacramento Kings
essentially swapped for Sammy D in Summer '10. After a couple years of
promising-but-inconsistent play, Hawes officially wore out his welcome
in Philly with his impossibly soft (or just insufficient, if you don't
want to make it an issue of toughness) play in the '12 post-season,
which has carried over into the '13 regular-season, where he still
refuses to rebound or play interior defense consistently and now also
holds the distinction of being grossly over-payed after signing a
two-year, $13 million contract. For me, I doubt I'll ever hate watching
any player as much as I hated watching Dalembert, but objectively
speaking, I acknowledge this one is anyone's game.


Edge: Even

6. More Demoralizing Coaching Drama.
As badly as the first and only season under Eddie Jordan went for the
Sixers, if you actually asked me to name three things that happened with
Eddie Jordan over the course of '09-'10, I doubt I could. All I have in
my memory is the uninspiring image of a well-dressed Jordan on the
sideline, looking mildly perturbed as the Sixers fumbled around with
their approximation of a Princeton offense that they probably were never
particularly well-equipped to run. Still, in terms of drama, the season
was fairly lacking, at least by 27-55 teams' standards.


You get the sense that Sixers fans will remember this season with
Coach Collins a little bit more clearly, though. The falling out between
team and coach has been an ugly one, and it's not even close to
through, with plenty of time and reason to get worse still before
season's end. Collins might even leave as his lasting legacy the Sixers
becoming the lowest free-throw-shooting team in NBA history, and poetic
as that may be, it's really not what we thought Collins would be
remembered for in this city when he was a Coach of the Year candidate a
couple seasons ago.


Edge: 2012-13

7. Less Excitement for the Future.
It wasn't until the Sixers landed the #2 pick in the lottery that it
seemed like 2009-2010 would be redeemable as a season—with regression
from Iguodala, Young, and even second-year forward Marreese Speights,
the lone real bright spot of the Sixers' long-term outlook that season
was rookie point guard Jrue Holiday, whose stat line was hardly
eye-popping—eight points and four assists on 44% shooting—but still, you
could just tell from his poise and his craftiness at 19 years old that
the kid was gonna be special. It wasn't enough to make us think the team
was gonna be just fine, but it was better than nothing.


Still, if there's one advantage the '12-'13 season really has over
'09-'10, it's the still-lingering feeling of hope. As miserable as the
season has been for the Sixers, at least they're not strapped with the
albatross-type contracts for Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala that the
'09-'10 was saddled with. Indeed, their two best players (Jrue and Thad)
are locked up with very reasonable contracts, and everybody else on the
team besides Jason Richardson sees their contract expire this summer or
the next. The team has legitimate young talent—even a 22-year-old
All-Star with the Damaja—and plenty of flexibility moving forward. As
bad as this season has been, the malaise doesn't have to extend to
future seasons, necessarily.


Edge: 2009-2010

So after evaluating seven categories,
it's 3.5 to 3.5 between '09-'10 and '12-'13. Does that mean the two
seasons are exactly equal in their misery, then? Well, not necessarily,
because there's still one huge variable still in play—The Funny-Looking
Kid With the Big Hair. If he plays at the end of the season, even if its
just in 15 games and he's not close to 100%, it could still be enough
to give this season a belated, underwhelming sense of
purpose—especially, of course, if he re-signs in the summer—that the
'09-'10 season will forever lack. However, if he never does suit up this
season, and never plays a game as a 76er, then the permanent black
cloud of that will make the season easily the most depressing of the
two.


Time will tell. And in the meantime, it's a reason—maybe the only
reason—to keep from writing off this season entirely just yet.

Versatile Brock Stassi making his pitch to win a spot on the Phillies’ roster

Versatile Brock Stassi making his pitch to win a spot on the Phillies’ roster

TAMPA -- When Phillies camp opened earlier this month, Brock Stassi was considering mentioning his ability to play the outfield to manager Pete Mackanin.

Though he’s played mostly first base during his six seasons in the Phillies' system, Stassi has been used occasionally in left field. He’s also played the position in winter ball in Latin America. Even going back to high school, Stassi played center field.

As it turned out, Stassi didn’t need to have that conversation with Mackanin. The manager actually approached the player early in camp and told him he planned to get him some time in the outfield as well as at first base.

Mackanin and the Phillies' front office value versatility and they want to have it on their bench. Stassi has come to his second big-league camp as a serious candidate to win a job on the bench. His left-handed bat -- which he showed off with a solo homer in Friday’s 9-4 Grapefruit League loss to the Yankees -- would be attractive to the Phils. So would his versatility.

And if the ability to play first base and outfield isn’t enough versatility, Stassi can actually offer something else.

He can pitch.

In fact, the Cleveland Indians drafted him as a pitcher after his junior year at the University of Nevada in 2010.

Stassi returned to school for his senior year in 2011 and was a two-way player. The Phillies selected him in the 33rd round of the draft that year as a hitter, even though on draft day there was some confusion.

“Initially, I was announced as a left-handed pitcher then they changed it to outfielder,” Stassi said. “Then I got to Williamsport (the Phillies’ New York-Penn League team) and had a first baseman’s mitt in my bag, and I was like, ‘All right, let’s go. You’re going to be playing first.’”

Stassi’s minor-league managers in the Phillies' system have always been aware of his pitching background. He has made nine pitching appearances during his time in pro ball, including four with Triple A Lehigh Valley last year. All were in relief in long extra-innings games.

“I got a win and a loss,” Stassi said.

He recalled the loss with a big laugh.

“I shook off Logan,” he said, referring to catcher Logan Moore, another candidate pushing for a spot on the Phillies’ bench. “I shook to the fastball against a lefty. It wasn’t the right move and Logan won’t let me forget that. The guy hit a triple. Then I got hit with a comeback one-hopper right on the butt. It was like a 14-inning game.”

Stassi throws a fastball, curveball and changeup.

“My fastball is like 84,” he said with a laugh.

Many position players in a big-league clubhouse were pitchers at some point in the baseball journey. Roman Quinn, who broke into pro ball as a shortstop and is now a centerfielder, was used as a closer in high school and hit 94 mph on the radar gun.

“I believe it,” Stassi said. “That guy’s got a cannon. I had to catch him when he was playing shortstop. He’d come charging in on a close play and he’d let one loose and I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ And even from the outfield he’s got a cannon.”

Stassi’s arm doesn’t bounce back the way it used to when he pitched in college.

“Every time I have to pitch now I’m hanging for like two weeks,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t grab the baseball and gut out an inning if Mackanin ever needed it.

“Hey, if that’s what it takes,” he said.

Figuring out the Phillies’ bench at this point of camp is a little like solving a Rubik’s Cube. There are many possible combinations. Infielder Andres Blanco is a sure thing and outfielder Aaron Altherr seems like a good bet. So does outfielder Chris Coghlan.

Andrew Knapp, Ryan Hanigan, Bryan Holaday and Moore are the candidates for backup catcher. Knapp can also play first base. And it’s not out of the question that the Phils would carry three catchers.

They could fill the perceived final spot on the bench with an infielder such as Pedro Florimon or another outfielder such as Daniel Nava, Andrew Pullin or Cameron Perkins. Or it could be Stassi, whose versatility is a plus.

“There’s a lot I like about Stassi,” Mackanin said.

Stassi comes from a baseball family. His brother, Max, is a catcher with the Houston Astros. They played for their dad, Jim, at Yuba City High School near Sacramento, California. Jim was a catcher who reached Triple A during his playing days in the Giants system.

“My dad always talked about the value of versatility in high school,” Brock said. “He preached it to the whole team. You might have two second basemen and they’re pretty equal, but you want both bats in the lineup so you might have to play outfield. It’s good to be able to do it. Don’t take it as a knock that you’re not at your normal position -- you’re in the lineup.”

In addition to wearing several different gloves, Stassi can swing the bat. He was Eastern League MVP in 2015 when he hit .300 with 15 homers, 90 RBIs and a .863 OPS for Double A Reading. He hit .267 with 12 homers, 58 RBIs and a .806 OPS at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season.

Stassi has been described as “a grinder” by members of the Phillies’ player-development staff, and that’s a compliment. More than one thousand players were selected ahead of him in the 2011 draft. His signing bonus was just $1,000. He’s never appeared on one of those Top 10 prospect lists and never been on a 40-man roster, never mind appeared in a big-league game. But he’s continually moved up the ladder and now, at age 27, is under serious consideration to win a spot on the Phillies’ bench.

And maybe -- if needed in a pinch -- in the bullpen, too.

“Oh, man, it would be a dream come true,” Stassi said. “Ever since I was a kid I dreamed of playing in the big leagues. Just the path that I’ve taken -- I've had to earn everything, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It would be really awesome to make this team.”

Yankees 9, Phillies 4: Cameron Perkins comes out swinging

Yankees 9, Phillies 4: Cameron Perkins comes out swinging

TAMPA -- The Phillies’ bats were slow getting started in the Grapefruit League opener Friday afternoon. The Phils did not have a baserunner through the first six innings in a 9-4 loss to the New York Yankees at Steinbrenner Field.

“First game, I’m just happy we got at-bats because the pitching is always ahead of the hitting this early,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said afterward.

Outfielder Cameron Perkins had the Phillies’ first hit, a single up the middle in the seventh inning. He added a solo homer in the ninth inning.

Perkins, 26, was the Phillies’ sixth-round pick in the 2012 draft out of Purdue University. He graduated from Southport High School in Indianapolis, the same school that produced Phillies great and Hall of Famer Chuck Klein.

A right-hander hitter who eschews batting gloves, Perkins hit .292 with eight homers and 47 RBIs at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season. He is not on the 40-man roster but was invited to camp for a look-see. He is considered a longshot to win a spot on the Phillies’ bench, but will certainly improve his chances if he keeps swinging it like he did Friday.

“I don’t think about it,” Perkins said of his bid to make the club. “All I can do is what I did today -- get my opportunity and make the most of it.”

Brock Stassi, another candidate for a job on the Phillies’ bench, also homered.

On the pitching side
Right-hander Alec Asher, who projects to open in the Triple A rotation, started for the Phils. He pitched two innings, allowed a home run to Didi Gregorius and struck out two.

Asher made big strides with his sinker last season. He’s added a cutter now.

Right-hander Nick Pivetta debuted with two scoreless innings. He gave up a hit, walked one and struck out three. The Phillies acquired Pivetta from Washington from Jonathan Papelbon in July 2015. He projects to open in the Triple A rotation, but first will pitch for Team Canada in the WBC in March.

“It’s a lifelong dream for me, right up there with whenever it is that I get my first start with the Phillies,” Pivetta said.

The bullpen
Mackanin has said he’d like to have two left-handed relievers in his bullpen. The Phillies have just one -- Joely Rodriguez -- on their 40-man roster, although it’s possible that Adam Morgan could be shifted from starter to reliever later in camp.

The Phils have brought two veteran lefties -- Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos -- into camp on minor-league deals to compete for a job. Burnett made his debut Friday and gave up a triple, a sacrifice fly and a home run in his inning of work.

Luis Garcia was tagged for four hits and three runs in his spring debut.

Up next
The Phillies host the Yankees in Clearwater on Saturday afternoon. Morgan will start for the Phils against right-hander Adam Warren.