Website: Passion & Pride
Author: Jon Burkett
Last Year’s Record: 38 wins, 44 losses
Key Losses: John Salmons (non-key losses are Michael Bradley and Matt Barnes)
Key Additions: Alan Henderson (via free agency), Rodney Carney & Bobby Jones (via draft)
Training Camp Invitees (non-guaranteed free agents): Rick Brunson, Steven Smith, & Ivan McFarlin
Significant Offseason Moves: The biggest move the Sixers made this offseason was the decision not to break up the core of this team. The much publicized trade rumors of Allen Iverson created an air of uncertainty for the team going into the draft and free agency. General Manager Billy King approached the summer very cautiously. He knew the pressure was on to make good on his word to “change the culture” following the public relations nightmare of “Fan Appreciation Night“. After taking a more active role in the communication, Billy King determined that there were no offers worth pursuing for the 10 year veteran guard and that the standards were going to be raised for next year. It was a draft day or bust situation to begin with, so his attention turned quickly to making things work.
Although I was skeptical at first (especially with Marcus Williams on the board), Rodney Carney will work out as a great addition for the Sixers. He’ll compete for the fifth starter spot and has the right mentality to work hard and do whatever the team needs of him. What the team needs most of all is defensive help (ranked 23rd defense last year) and they were able to address that need in a trade for second round pick, Bobby Jones. Jones is a defensive stopper in the mold of Trenton Hassell, Quinton Ross, and Bruce Bowen. He’ll give Iguodala a lift with defensive support, which will in turn allow Iggy to concentrate more on getting involved offensively. Even though they were not able to add the higher pick that Billy King and fans coveted (namely Randy Foye), I give the Sixers a B+ in the draft.
As for free agency, they didn’t have many options with the maxed out contracts of Iverson & Webber. What they did need was a veteran big man, and they addressed it with the signing of Alan Henderson. They missed the veteran presence of Marc Jackson (and Tyrone Hill before that), so leadership is what they are seeking out of Henderson moreso than production. He’ll provide a steady influence for Dalembert, Hunter, and Randolph (in addition to recently hired assistant coach Moses Malone). No matter how many minutes Henderson plays, he certainly will be an upgrade over Michael Bradley.
Speaking of upgrades, Willie Green resigned as a restricted free agent. He returned late last year to state his case for a new contract, and his determination and attitude were not lost on Billy King. This time though, he’ll be completely healthy and ready to play big minutes. With Kevin Ollie ending up as starter by default last year, Willie Green might win the 5th starting spot or provide a spark off the bench in the role held by John Salmons. Look for him to bounce back strong and contend as a dark horse candidate for the Most Improved Player (he should play around 30 minutes per game).
Finally, it was significant that the Sixers let John Salmons go, because Salmons stuggled to find his role and never gelled with Iverson on the court. Since they had no bench, a lot of responsibility fell to Salmons that forced him to do too much. There were games last year that were lost because of John’s failure to step up big (especially in the clutch). It was Salmons’ blown rotation that gave Stephen Jackson the game winning layup on March 5th. From that moment on, the Sixers had no answers and finished the season on a 9-18 run to miss the playoffs.
Team Strengths: The Sixers had the 7th highest scoring offense last year. Even though Iverson & Webber carried the team (highest scoring duo in the league last year), the Sixers did better as a team when they had more balance. They were undefeated when 3 players scored 20+, and 9-1 in games Iguodala contributed 20 or more. They are very versatile in the offensive attack. With Webber’s post play (mostly high post last year), Korver’s shooting ability, Iverson’s ability to break down defenses, and everyone else’s ability to get in transition – the Sixers can play an uptempo game or work with Webber in the half-court set.
Defensively, they have 2 very good shotblockers in Steven Hunter and Sam Dalembert. They play the passing lanes well, with Iverson always among the leaders in steals and Iguodala not too far behind. Chris Webber is a very good defensive rebounder. Now they have more capable defenders to help Iguodala on the wing, with the additions of Carney and Jones. Also, Willie Green is a very good on-the-ball defender.
Overall, the team’s quickness at center, the veteran presence of Iverson & Webber, the continuity of having the same coach for the first time in 4 years and having the young players play together for a couple years, plus the development of Iguodala to becoming a star are the main advantages the Sixers have going into the season. Others are more intangible – like having the “chip on the shoulder” mentality of proving critics wrong. Iverson had an MVP season and led the Sixers to the playoffs following the trade rumors of 2000. The players are hungrier and more experienced. The rookies are trying to prove they belong. There’s more internal competition for roles & minutes. The ownership is reportedly fielding offers to sell the team (passive interest at the moment) and also helped create a greater sense of urgency. Coupled with the fact that Iverson & Webber’s days are numbered, the TIME IS NOW.
Team Weaknesses: Last year, Coach Cheeks didn’t have much strategizing or game preparation in place, but chose to rely on his veterans to carry the team. The load proved too much for Iverson and Webber. They did all they could, but mental breakdowns late in the game reflected the youth of the supporting cast and the inexperience of Cheeks as coach. He’s vowed to have a better gameplan this year – starting with defense, teamwork, and rebounding. Those were the biggest weaknesses last year.
Defensively, Iverson & Webber were liabilities. Iverson didn’t pressure the ball much, but chose to play the passing lanes instead. Without proper defensive rotations in place, the Sixers didn’t provide good team help when the breakdowns did occur. With Iverson playing off the point guards, the opponents could disect the defense and often penetrate straight to the rim for a dunk or layup. As for Webber, he was limited physically in what he could do, but would compensate with veteran smarts when guarding less-gifted offensive players. He ran into trouble with more athletic big men and small lineups.
Although Kyle Korver is seen as a defensive liability, he improved with hard work as the season wore on. He still lacked the footspeed to stay with the superior athletes at his position, but the lack of defensive help was just as much to blame as Korver’s man-to-man defense. It goes back to coaching to correct these situations, where playing more zones or rotating assignments could have improved things last year.
As for rebounding, the talent is there but consistency was another issue. Guys would show up one game and then disappear for games at a time. This was most evident on the glass. Moses Malone did some consulting work last year that paid immediate dividends, but having him available full-time should correct any issue of effort when it comes to cleaning the boards. With more depth this year, consistency shouldn’t be an issue.
Team Goals: The team’s goal last year started out to win the division, not just make the playoffs. When that goal was out of reach, they turned to making the playoffs. By that time, guys were questioning their desire and the commitment from their teammates and coaches. With a renewed commitment and focus from everyone involved, it’s back to challenging the Nets for the division. Once that is accomplished, we can talk about how far they go in the playoffs or how soon they can contend for a championship.
Bonus Coverage: If there’s anything else you want to know, send me your e-mail! Ryan asked me about fantasy sleepers (he’s got a good one), and I whiffed at it with Willie Green. I’ll admit, I don’t play fantasy leagues! But if I did, look for Sam Dalembert to average 11 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 blocks (with a strong challenge for minutes by Steven Hunter). Also, I expect Iguodala to continue his improvement and all-around game. Some are saying he’ll get around 20 points per game, but I’d look more realistically for him to score 15-18 this year. He’ll fill out a stat sheet quite nicely with all the other things he can do, so he’s a good pick for your team no matter how many points he ends up scoring. But as for Willie, I think he’ll score 13-16 as the fifth starter or sixth man. Rodney Carney would be an all-rookie candidate if he got enough minutes, but he’ll probably get about 18-20 and score about 9 points a game.
Predicted Record: 47-35 – Atlantic Division Champs!