August is a tough month for NBA fans as there’s usually not much going on in terms of game action or player transactions. Whereas June has the Finals, July has free agency, September has training camp, and October has preseason, August is left with the nocturnally-appealing FIBA World Championships in Turkey. Thus, with the roster complete (thanks Tony Battie), I think it’s a good time to look ahead at key issues that will face the 76ers this upcoming season.
5. Who will be the 5th starter?
We know that Holiday (PG), Turner (SG), and Iguodala (SF) are locked in as starters. Elton Brand is also set to be a starter albeit we don’t know if it will be at power forward or center. The fifth starter will either be Thaddeus Young, who would shift Brand to center, or Spencer Hawes, who would start at center and put Brand at PF. Although none of the 76ers’ brass has explicitly said who will start, you can read in between the lines with the fact that the team asked Young to bulk up for this upcoming season to play PF. Still, for a defensive-minded coach like Doug Collins, I have a hard time believing that he will trot out Young against the likes of Carlos Boozer and Amare Stoudemire until I actually see it come the start of the season.
4. Can Jrue Holiday run the team despite being its youngest player?
Holiday just turned 20 years old and a year after being the youngest player in the NBA, there are only 10 rookies from the 2010 class that are younger than Holiday. Prior to 2009, there were only seven 20 year olds who were their team’s starting point guard for the majority of the season. Two went on to become Hall of Famers (Magic and Isiah), four became All-Stars (Marbury, Rondo, Tony Parker, and Chris Paul), and the other is/was a pretty good player in Mike Bibby. The bar is set high but Holiday has good enough teammates so he doesn’t have to put the load on his back à la another 20 year old PG from last season, Tyreke Evans. Collins will stress to Holiday to not worry about his points and instead just get the ball to his teammates, not turn it over too often, and play hard defense. And with a 20 year old, isn’t that all you can really ask for?
3. Will Andre Iguodala get "The Rub" from playing with the national team at the FIBA Games?
By "The Rub" I mean that simply being in the presence of other great players with the national team will make Iguodala a better player. (Think of it as a less scientific form of osmosis). LeBron was great before the 2008 Olympics but he didn’t become a MVP until he saw how hard Kobe was working before, during, and after practice with the national team. On the other hand, some players get the opposite of The Rub (I’m not sure what the name for that is) in that they realize that they are not quite as good as they thought they were once they see how their teammates play. Their play and their stats go down as they lose some of the confidence they once had. Think of Drexler in ’92, Penny Hardaway in ’96, or *sigh* Elton Brand in ’06. Let’s hope Iggy doesn’t follow in the footsteps of his teammate.
2. Will the Sixers make any trades before the February trading deadline?
Currently they are shopping sharpshooter Jason Kapono and his $6.6 million expiring contract. Considering that similarly skilled, albeit better, players Mike Miller, Kyle Korver, and J.J. Redick all signed new contracts, it’s a smart move by Philly to shop a proven commodity when its demand is at its peak. It’s not that Kapono is a bad player as he certainly feels a need on this team or any team for that matter. It’s just that he’s the Sixers fourth highest paid player even though he’s not among their top 8 players. At some point around the All-Star break, I think some team(s) will inquire about Kapono as they look to clear cap space for 2011 free agency. Andres Nocioni is another candidate to get traded as he also will free up over $6 million in cap space though he’s signed through 2012. Good luck with that Elton Brand trade though, Mr. Stefanski.
1. Will the Sixers make the playoffs?
In my first column, and prior to the start of free agency, on June 23, I predicted that the Sixers would make the playoffs. Then "The Decision" happened, Doc Rivers returned to Boston, and half of the Utah Jazz ended up in Chicago. What these moves and others created was a top-heavy Eastern Conference reminiscent of the 1980s. I think it’s fairly safe to say that the top 5 seeds will be in some order: Miami, Orlando, Boston, Chicago, and Atlanta. Charlotte and Milwaukee are both young teams who have a round of playoff experience under their belts and should return this season. If you’re counting, that’s 7 teams with just one spot remaining. That leaves us to battle with New York, Detroit, and Indiana for the 8th spot (sorry to Cleveland, Toronto, Washington, and New Jersey). Of course many things can happen between now and April 2011 but it appears that those teams will be our chief competition. Have we made enough improvements to reach that goal? It will be tough but toughness is a word that’s synonymous with Philadelphia.