I don't get it. Last year Billy King seemed to finally get that his Sixer squad was going nowhere as built and took the bull by the horns and made the changes necessary to put his team on a new course, anchored by swingman Andre Iguodala. He traded away Allen Iverson. He bought out Chris Webber. He nabbed Thaddeus Young and Jason Smith in the draft. Finally things looked bright in Philadelphia. And then he gave up.
Now, he hasn't given up on the franchise (I don't think), but it was as if he decided that his team was too young and too inexperienced to make any noise this year and he left the team without a starting power forward, figuring it would make no difference either way. Once he lost out on Joe Smtih to Chicago, it was as if no attempt was made to look further down the list.
Now, no one is suggesting that this team should have looked to acquire a star player to man the four spot. Also, no one is suggesting that paying more attention to that spot would have made the season for the Sixers. Barring a huge upset the team will be back in the lottery come next June. However, there is something to be said for giving your team every chance to compete going into a season no matter how bleak the outcome may appear.
The market still has lots of different kinds of power forwards to offer a team like the Sixers on the cheap. There is Michael Sweetney, Lawrence Roberts or Melvin Ely if they want to go young. There is Corliss Williamson, Danny Fortson, Bo Outlaw or Brian Skinner if a veteran like Smtih is more their style. It isn't so much an issue of any of these players putting the team over the top, but it is a gesture that management is still looking out for the team that still has to hit the court while they are rebuilding.
The reason it seems particularly negligent to go the route Billy King has gone is because the Sixers, while young, aren't bad. Iguodala is a budding star, a member of the Team USA Select squad that puts him in the pipeline for the real team down the road. Their point guard is still easily in the top-third of the entire league in Andre Miller, and he is one of the few guys who play that spot who can claim to make players on his team better. Rodney Carney and Thaddeus Young are two explosive players on the wing who need some seasoning but are great pieces to have in one's reservoir. Kyle Korver and Willie Green are two capable scorers who do a good job of complimenting the pieces on the Sixers roster. Then there is newly-Canadian Sam Dalembert, who last season really seemed to his a stride in his development as an NBA centre, bringing more consistent effort on the glass (although his 3.5 fouls per game is still somewhat alarming).
The only spot that appears weak is power forward. Right now they will most likely start Shavlik Randolph who is returning from a broken left ankle that sidelined him for nearly all of last season. Behind him is rookie Jason Smith and journeyman Steven Hunter. Young will most likely see some time here if coach Maurice Cheeks experiments with some smaller, more athletic lineups, but even still that leaves a lot to be desired from such an important position, especially in terms of defense in the Eastern Conference.
Without a doubt the Sixers are better off now than they were a year ago. They now have a direction, they have a future and they have hope. They finished 30-29 after the Allen Iverson trade on December 19th, which is a lot more than a late-season boost losing teams often experience in late-March and early-April. They have a legitimate point guard, something two-thirds of the teams in the NBA can't claim, and they have a stat-stuffer of the highest order in Andre Iguodala, who now just needs to find a way to turn his gaudy numbers into wins on a consistent basis - and it would help if he could get those turnovers down, too (3.4 per game last year).
In a Conference as wacky as the East, there is no reason to assume you are down for the count without playing some games first. Because of their positions of strength on their roster, I feel they are better poised to make noise this year than Atlanta or Indiana. It may not be the kind of noise that has anyone talking Playoffs, but it could be the kind of noise that has people taking them seriously this time next year.
If only they can find a power forward by then.
PROBABLE STARTING LINE-UP
PG - Andre Miller
Miller was a godsend in the Iverson trade last winter. Many thought he was certain to be moved again because of his bloated contract and his desire to play for a winner. However, Miller never complained about his role on the Sixers and management saw him as a key piece to their rebuilding. A point guard of his stature is in high demand in today's NBA that is once again salivating over the position played by passers like Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Chris Paul and Deron Williams. If they ever wanted to move Miller on they would have no shortage of willing takers, but if they know what's best for their future, he'll be around long past the rebuilding phase.
SG - Willie Green
Green is a scorer, pure and simple. He does nothing else on the court, he shoots for a poor percentage and he is too short to play off-guard, but he sure can score. There is no guarantee that he'll be able to keep this spot from going to Rodney Carney this season, which is a good thing because Green needs to find some ways to make himself valuable beyond the games where he has caught fire. Those games are two few and far between and there are other guys on this team who may be better suited down the road to this starting spot, and truth be told, Green probably makes more sense off the bench as an Eddie House-type of player who can come in and change the complexion of the game with his energy and scoring punch.
SF - Andre Iguodala
This is his year. The coaching staff has had all summer to concoct an offensive and defensive approach that will maximize the talents of their new franchise player, and the rest of the NBA will be afforded a front row seat to see if he can justify that investment. Right now Iguodala is a supremely talented player who is only lacking in the star-making intangibles that separate him from the Vince Carter's and Tracy McGrady's of the world. He needs to become that guy who demands the ball at the end of a game and knows what to do with it. He needs to be able to find a way to be the catalyst for this team's fortunes beyond the stat sheet. It's one of the hardest aspects of standing at the precipice he now finds himself at: there is no real definition of what separates the really talented players from the stars. When a player gets there, everyone knows it, but no one is completely sure how it happens. This year we get to see if Iguodala can find the way.
PF - Shavlik Randolph
This role may not even belong to Randolph by the time the season starts. He started in six of the thirteen games he played at the start of last year, and was hardly a standout averaging 4.2 rebounds and 4.5 points per game. This team is going to desperately need someone to deliver some frontcourt scoring, and it is unlikely Randolph is going to be that guy. He's a good hustle guy, but not the kind of high-post threat that they need to compliment Dalembert down low. Steven Hunter, who started most of the games here after Chris Webber left, is another possibility for this spot, as is rookie Jason Smith, but this very uncertainty speaks volumes as to the lack of quality available at this position.
C - Sam Dalembert
Dalembert is in a surprisingly similar situation to his teammate Iguodala. No, he isn't on the cusp of stardom in the league, but he is bordering on joining those elite few frontcourt players who manage to own the low-post without a particularly refined offensive game. Atop this list sits Marcus Camby, followed quickly by Tyson Chandler, Ben Wallace and Emeka Okafor. After those four sit a group of centres like Andris Biedrins, DeSagana Diop and Dalembert. These are all guys who own the boards, both offensive and defensive, can block shots at will and know the limitations of their offensive game well enough to avoid saddling their team with ill-advised shots. The thing separating the upper list from the lower list is rebounding and fouls. The upper list routinely goes well over ten boards per game and manages to play their brand of defense without spending copious time on the bench with foul trouble (no doubt the two areas go hand-in-hand, for if they had more time on the court they could pull down more boards). Dalembert has shown steady improvement as a player the last few years, and now he needs to push that extra bit harder to max out his abilities, or plateau where he is like so many centres before him.