Philadelphia 76ers Season Preview: Where There’s a Bynum, There’s A Way

Team Capsule

The Sixers finally decided that being average wasn’t good enough. They finally decided to (try to) get better.

Originally, it looked as if the Sixers decided to gut themselves and head in the other direction. The series of moves that kicked off their offseason were puzzling at best, flat-out incompetent at worst. Drafting two players late who would not compete for any open positions nor provide the team with things they didn’t already have started what seemed to be a path to tanking. Letting two of their four best players from last season go to sign Nick Young and Kwame Brown, re-sign Lavoy Allen, and trade for Dorell Wright while paying $10 million along the way seemed like a bold strategy that wouldn’t pay off for them.

They also re-signed Spencer Hawes because he was apparently an integral part of this team’s future and decided starting Hawes alongside Kwame Brown was a fantastic idea. Upon learning this, I gave up on the season, especially when Collins indicated that the team may be done making moves this summer.

But then a gigantic, unexpected bomb dropped that salvaged their offseason and moved the team into a new era. Acquiring a good player for Andre Iguodala was going to be difficult, I believed. For one, Iguodala was a very good but expensive player. In order for the team to rebuild, as has been speculated, the Sixers needed either to acquire expiring contracts or sell Iguodala off in a salary dump. Few expected to get another great player. Even fewer expected a player with the youth and star-power of Andrew Bynum. Even in the weeks leading up to the trade, most expected Pau Gasol to be a more likely trade target.

So to get Bynum and cap filler (Jason Richardson) for Iguodala and 3 first rounders (2nd year player Vucevic, rookie Maurice Harkless – HOW COULD YOU TRADE MOE HARKLESS?! – and a future pick), the Sixers did fairly well for themselves. While this could blow up in the franchise’s face if Bynum skips town, the shot at a franchise center was just too much to pass up. And as it turned out, a lot (but not all) of the previous moves make much more sense in the team’s new context.

The new context? One where each core player, and most of the peripheral players, is 24 years old or younger*. One with an established offensive centerpiece. One with a coach who typically burns out in year 3, but with almost an entirely new roster to buffer against that. And one with a significantly brighter future than it had just 5 months ago.

*This includes Thaddeus Young. Sidenote: how is Thaddeus Young only 24?

But with this new context comes new expectations, new roles, and new pressures. Andrew Bynum gets to be “THE” guy, so to speak. His aloof attitude toward pretty much everything in life will be challenged by his abrasive coach. And his team expects him to show up every night, an expectation he never met in Los Angeles. Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner have run out of excuses. The rest of the roster needs to prove they can be more than just highly limited role players. And Collins needs to prove he can put it all together without making the team turn on him.

The new Sixers have a lot of questions waiting to be solved, but they undoubtedly have taken a step in the right direction. Which is as good of a thing that could really be said about this franchise in a while.

Biggest Strength: Andrew Bynum

Having Bynum makes the rest of the squad seem like it fits. The Sixers have a good amount of shooting

Biggest Weakness: The Turner/Hawes alignment

In last year’s playoffs, the Sixers would have made the East finals had it not been for these two playing obnoxious amounts of time together. The results were disastrous: the Celtics starting five routinely built up huge leads for their team before one of Hawes or Turner fell out of the lineup. Because Hawes had exactly one more good playoff game than Turner, ET got most of the blame. But separate, neither was completely awful. Considering Collins plans to start the two together again, I’m not sure he has learned from their playoff crap-dumping.

Specifically, since he plans to play them alongside Bynum, combined they really clog the spacing on the floor. Since Lavoy Allen isn’t mobile enough to really play the 4 full-time, I don’t see a clear solution here. It should be a problem all season.

Player to Watch: Jrue Holiday

Holiday may be entering his fourth year in the league, but he’s only 22 years old. However, if the Sixers want to compete in any way this season, they’ll need him to play much better than he did last season. While his defense improved from “toolsy but below-average” to a bit above average, his offense took a step back. Mainly, whenever he was given significant play-making responsibility, Collins reigned him in because he committed obscene amounts of dumb turnovers. Unfortunately, because the Sixers were going for wins, Holiday hasn’t been afforded the opportunity to make mistakes and test his strengths. His development stalled out, I believe, because of that.

But this year? Collins may have no choice but to let Jrue do Jrue. Royal Ivey is a wonderful guy, but even Collins should know relying on the Chemist means you’re not going anywhere. The oddly spelled Maalik Wayns should have similar problems to Holiday. Evan Turner makes too many dumb plays himself. Thus Jrue should get ample opportunity to be a primary play-maker. While I think he’ll create more for himself than others, this is a prime opportunity to make a leap.

Coach: Doug Collins (408-359 career)

2011-12 record: 35-31

Key Additions: Andrew Bynum, Jason Richardson, Nick Young, Dorell Wright, Kwame Brown

The Sixers had too many changes to count. The key one is obviously Bynum, but the next three on the list all provide something the Sixers desperately need last year: shooting. While none are lights-out shooters, all have historically been above-average. Richardson can really only shoot these days. All Nick Young ever did was call his number. Dorell Wright, meanwhile, is significantly better than both Swaggy and J-Rich and may see time as an undersized 4.

Meanwhile, Kwame Brown got a player option. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Key Subtractions: Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand, Lou Williams, Jodie Meeks

The first three players were three of the four best on the team last year, although somehow everyone missed this during the whole Bynum news thing. Iguodala’s going to scorch the earth in Denver, Brand will surprise in Dallas, and Lou Williams will be Lou Williams in Atlanta. And also, I expect the Lakers will realize sooner rather than later that Jodie Meeks shoots threes from the elbows well but not the corners.

Team Trajectory: Rising

The new context the Sixers have came at a cost. The Sixers lost 3 recent first round draft picks in the Bynum trade, plus they gave one up for Arnett Moutrie. Combined with a lack of cap flexibility, the Sixers have what they can work with for the foreseeable future. Despite that, what they have now puts them in such a strong position going forward that the franchise seriously looks to be moving on up the ranks. After years of stagnation, it’s a refreshing sight, even if the results this year won’t change much.

Projected Record: 45-37

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