By Chris Murray
For the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
If someone had told you that the Philadelphia 76ers were going to be a playoff team after a 3-13 start and winning just 27 games last season, you might have thought that person was not only crazy, but out of his “bleepin’” mind.
But the Sixers put up a good effort against a much better Miami Heat team in the first round of the NBA Playoffs before succumbing in five games. That playoff series reflected how far the young 76ers have come and also how much further they have to go.
Head coach Doug Collins lead the team to a 41-41 record during the regular season—a 14-game improvement over the previous year. Some might argue he should be Coach of the Year. He has a lot of reasons to be optimistic for next year, but there are some question marks.
To start, the Sixers have a pretty good nucleus of young players like Lou Williams, Thaddeus Young, Jrue Holliday and Evan Turner. With the exception of Turner, those young players scored in double figures and hit key buckets for the Sixers throughout the Heat series.
Power forward Elton Brand, who scored 22 points and pulled down six rebounds, played like a beast during the Miami series, scoring 15 points per game and pulling down eight rebounds per game. This year, he played in 81 games and gave the Sixers some stability in the low post.
If there’s a question mark with this team it’s with veteran forward Andre Iguodala. During the regular season, Iguodala averaged 14 points, 5.8 and 6.3 assists per game. During the playoffs, he averaged 11 points per game.
Beyond his stats, Iguodala didn’t play like the Sixers go-to man when the team needed his scoring in the clutch. It wasn’t until Game 5 of that series that Iguodala started playing with any sense of urgency in the minds of some fans. In the game five loss Iguodala missed a key shot down the stretch. And of course, Iggy’s critics came out of the woodwork saying that he’s not good enough to be the team’s go-to player when the team needs someone to come up big.
Now in Iguodala’s defense, he did have tendinitis in his knee and that may have kept him from aggressively taking the ball to the bucket in the first four games. In game five, Iguodala took the ball to the basket and made things happen. He was 10-of-14 from the field and scored 22 points, had 10 rebounds and added four assists.
Fans are looking for Iggy, who has an $80 million contract, to do that on a regular basis and especially in the playoffs. We are still waiting on him to be to the go-to player that Allen Iverson was sans all the baggage that drove folks crazy when he was here.
If you listen to the general managers on sports talk radio and in the stands, Iguodala must go. I’m inclined to agree with the mob on one level. But who do you get and are other teams willing to take on his salary? I don’t think that Iguodala is going anywhere unless someone makes the Sixers an offer they can’t refuse.
One thing is certain is that the Sixers need a player with the killer instinct of a Kobe Bryant or a Kevin Durant. Whether they pick that player up in the draft, through free agency or via a trade, the need is a pressing one.
Can you see that in Williams, Holliday, Turner, Young, Jodie Meeks or even Iguodala?
Along with some depth at the low post position and some guys who can hit three-pointers, the Sixers need a scorer who can close the show if they want to go beyond the first round in the playoffs. One of these guys has to say this is MY team.
Historically, this franchise has always had that player or players that take over games in the clutch whether you’re talking Julius Erving, Andrew Toney or Iverson. Will be the Sixers version of the Messiah, the Chosen One—be someone currently in that locker room or someone they’ll bring in next year?
Stay tuned. See you in October.