Thursday, March 01, 2007

Addition By Subtraction

Break Up The Sixers!

Since Allen Iverson, the very model of a modern major ballhog, was thankfully shipped out out to Denver in December, and after cutting ties with F Chris Webber a short time later, the new-look Philadelphia 76ers simply look like more of a whole team night in and night out. You see it in little things like passing the ball, playing solid defense, hustling for loose balls... And you know what else: their fans are noticing, even if most of them would probably admit they're biding their time until the NBA draft lottery gets shaken out and the team finds out what their treasured cache of 3 #1 picks will net them in June.

They've still got a prominent A.I. on the roster, only this one, Andre Iguodola, possesses one of the most unselfish, fundamentally sound, all-around games in the league. They've got a center, Samuel Dalembert, who can rebound and block shots; a solid point guard in Andre Miller; a jump shooting white guy in Kyle Korver who can heat it up from the 3-point line; an instant offense generator in Willie Green at the shooting guard; and then a bunch of role players. But what if you combine the talent already on the roster with a key free agent signing and then one of the two freshman phenoms who are supposed to leave college early and become the next prized franchise players in the NBA--Texas A&M's Kevin Durant and Ohio State's Will Oden, who are said to be equipped to immediately excel at the next level?

And what if Oden turns out to be the next David Robinson, the next Tim Duncan, maybe even the next Hakeem Olajuwon? What if Durant is the next Kevin Garnett, or Scottie Pippen with a better jumper? Sixer fans starved for a winner would take either player in a heartbeat and hope he develops into that true franchise building block. For the 76ers, currently holding the NBA's third-worst record (20-38), after playing a significant chunk of the year shorthanded while management entertained a slew of trade offers for Iverson (who played only 15 games for Philly this season), there has been a steady improvement in their overall team play that hasn't always showed up in the win column or even the box score. Last night's signature victory over the 44-14 Suns showed what they're capable of when firing on all cylinders, even if Phoenix played without one of its key cogs, the underrated Shawn Marion (averaging 18.4 point and 10.1 rebounds per game). Phoenix was riding an incredible 14-game road winning streak against Eastern Conference clubs, with the 76ers win ending their bid to become the first team in NBA history to go undefeated on the road against teams from the other conference.

Samuel Dalembert has always been intriguing in terms of his athletic ability and potential upside. For the 6-11 Dalembert, a native of Port-au-Prince who played his college ball at Seton Hall, it was a case of injuries and constant foul trouble combining to hinder his development throughout his first three to four years in the league. But in 2006-07 he's been averaging career highs of 10.6 points and over 9 rebounds to go along with his 2.1 blocks per game, and the "Haitian Sensation"--who didn't even pick up a basketball until age 15--still hasn't even turned 26.

The other jewel the 76ers are building around is 6-6 Andre Iguodola, the third-year G-F who just turned 23. Averaging 17.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists, his game has really blossomed since the more well-known A.I. left town, and his thunderous dunks have started to electrify Philly crowds who are warming up to the post-Iverson Sixers.

It's a good sign that the 76ers have not packed it in for the year, have not mailed it in night after night. Simply put, losing breeds a culture of incipient defeatism in sports, so even if having the worst record increases their chances of getting the first or second pick in the draft, it's a slippery slope to go down. There's no guarantee and even less of an historical precedent that the team with the worst record gets the first overall pick. In fact, it's staggering to consider that just three times in the last 17 years has that occurred. Better to play as hard as possible and let the chips fall and the ping-pong balls bounce where they may. If it's meant to happen, then Philly will get their big man and automatically be one of the teams to beat, at least in the East. Even without benefit of the first or second pick, this NBA draft class is widely considered the best in several decades. And now that a re-inspired Larry Brown is back with the 76ers, "advising" on personnel and other related matters, it's only a matter of time before this proud, storied NBA franchise resumes its rightful place atop the league standings.

Keep in mind that Philly now owns two Denver #1 picks as well as their own. Denver has gone only 12-17 since the much ballyhooed trade sent Iverson west in exchange for Miller, F Joe Smith and those picks. Of course, Carmelo Anthony missed a significant portion of those games due to being suspended for his prominent role in an ugly court-side fight with the Knicks. But with both scorers in the lineup, the Nuggets are only 2-5. Sixers fan's won't necessarily be rooting against Iverson once the playoffs begin, but few will be heartbroken seeing his Denver Nuggets team bounced out along the way.

Philadelphia 99, Phoenix 94

3 comments:

jimithegreek said...

YEAH BUT DALEMBERT IS SOFT!

Wardens World said...

I don't know about soft, Greek, but his Gumby-like body is likely better suited for the power forward spot. He could be a devastating shot blocker from that position, like a younger Marcus Camby. Who knows: Maybe Isiah will trade us a few more #1's for Dalembert and the rights to Julius Erving's old Converse sneakers!

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