Michael Conroy is a freelance sportswriter and Flyers fan, and a guest writer for Spike Eskin Dot Com. You can find him on Twitter @MichaelConroyPM.
They get money. Don’t be mad, now. Stop, hatin’ is bad. The Philadelphia 76ers did exactly what we wanted them to last year. They won a playoff round and played a tough second series against the Celtics. That was the goal that had been established earlier in the season by the most optimistic Sixers fans. Yet somehow, through the ups and downs of the season, we still found a way to be a bit disappointed in them.
That’s the beauty of sports; the ability of the many twists and turns of a season to pull us all out of our analytical, logical way of thinking. It injects some emotion into our dull lives, and that’s a good thing; in most cases. Still, I feel like we owe it to the team and ourselves, this time around, to pay a little more attention to those realistic expectations as this season moves forward.
Last week, in New Orleans, I could already feel the rage boiling up inside as the Sixers bricked seventeen 3’s against the Hornets. Then I found myself all excited again following a damn fun win in Boston. After Monday night’s fourth quarter collapse against Milwaukee, I felt enough was enough. It may be necessary to step back for a moment and evaluate my own expectations before I go insane.
Is this team a contender for a championship? Do we really need them to make the playoffs? Where does Swaggy-P’s irrational confidence end? Did Jrue Holiday just do another point-guardy thing? All of this and more comin’ atcha!
Are the Philadelphia 76ers championship contenders this season?
(Having a healthy chortle to myself) Absolutely not, but that doesn’t mean they are the most horrible thing in the world either.
This week, the 76ers gave all Philly sports fans something new to freak out about when they announced that Andrew Bynum will most likely not be playing basketball until January (at the earliest). As devastating as that may feel, it actually isn’t that big a deal for two reasons.
First, it’s unclear whether or not Andrew Bynum actually exists. Think about it, have you ever seen him play?
Second, this isn’t a championship roster with the big man in the lineup anyway.This season is about development and as ugly as the Philadelphia 76ers have looked in their first three losses of the 2012-2013 season, there are some very positive things developing in Andrew Bynum’s absence.
Jrue Holiday looks very promising at point-guard. He’s not Chris Paul, but he certainly looks like he plays the same position on the court – which was absolutely not the case in the eyes of basketball dummies like myself last season.
Another positive, for me is that Spencer Hawes doesn’t look awful. If you sort of squint and catch him in your peripherals, he actually looks pretty darn good at basketball. Also, that whole Doug Collins “power forward” idea looks like it might be nothing more than a pipe dream, which is good news for most reasonable Sixers fans. I, however, still hold out hope for this. I mean, is Spencer Hawes really that different from Pau Gasol? They’re both white. They’re both tall and can shoot sometimes.
The next positive is that Nick Young’s contract is a one-year deal. I don’t think there’s ever been a player more consistently likely to make it onto Sportscenter without playing well. When he retires, the Not-Top-10 Hall of Fame is going to be calling about that jersey.
To circle back, it is not realistic to expect this team to contend for a championship this season.
What are some “realistic” goals for this team, then?
That’s a great question. You have a lot of great questions.
Well, as I’ve mentioned before, seeing Jrue Holiday develop as a true point guard is seminal to the long-term success of the team. Next, it is important that Doug Collins proves emphatically, that Evan Turner can’t play. Mere embers remain of the once vibrant flame that was “Team Evan.” If we’re going to move forward as a fan base, he needs as much playing time as possible in order to stamp that out.
Finally, and most importantly, Andrew Bynum needs to get healthy and feel good about playing for Sixers; good enough to re-sign in the off-season. Bynum is the reason a total rebuild wasn’t necessary for this team and without that component, it’s back to the drawing board. In order to keep him here, the organization needs to show him that they care about his health and success. In being so careful with the big fella, they have been attempting to do just that. The next step in that process is making him feel comfortable with the long-term players on this team. It’s on Doug Collins to make sure that, once Andrew Bynum is able to play, he finds success.
You may have noticed that I did not include a specific number of “wins” required for this season to be considered a success. That’s because, in this case, the win total for this year’s 76ers is almost completely irrelevant. I know that’s not what most people want to hear, but if you’ve been paying attention, you know that there is plenty to root for regarding this team aside from victory on the scoreboard. The 76ers are building something here. The walls aren’t painted, there’s no electricity and the carpet guy hasn’t been out yet, but there’s a definite plan here; which is more than we could say for the past twelve years.
If all goes well, what will it take to finally make this team a title contender?
The way things work in the NBA, even if everything the 76ers need to happen does this year, the team is going to need to find a second “star” player; an effective scoring option to pair with Andrew Bynum. This is much easier said than done, but if Bynum proves to be what we all hope he will for the Sixers, Philly will certainly be a more attractive destination for free agents than it has been. Still, regarding the second “star” player, it’s better to take the long view and plan for that at least two years from now. I conferred with an expert analyst on the matter and this year’s options don’t seem viable to him.
Me: Hey Spike, do you think Chris Paul would be somebody the 76ers are interested in this off-season?
Me: (heartbroken but still defiantly hopeful) Hmm…well then how about a more realistic option? Maybe somebody like Josh Smith? He’s looked pretty good lately right?
Me: Oh…well okay… =(
The underlying point to all of this micro-managing of expectations is to avoid a trap that Philadelphia fans seem to fall into more often, and with greater ease than anyone else. That trap is thinking that a team that loses; that has no shot to win a championship isn’t worth your time. As I’ve said, there will be a TON to root for regarding the 2012-2013 Philadelphia 76ers. At times, they will even be fun to watch (maybe). They will have their ups and downs, but through it all, we can keep our eyes fixed on the light at the end of the tunnel — just like a college student. It’s like we’re in 76ers college and when we graduate, instead of a degree, we get a good basketball team…or something.