Let's assume Elton Brand really will be out for only a month. What will the team do without him? What should they do? What will this season look like when he comes back? After the jump we'll try our best to answer those questions.
First, let's look at the schedule:
- @ Washington
- @ Boston
- @ Denver
- @ Utah
- @ L.A. Clippers
- @ Dallas
- @ San Antonio
- @ Milwaukee
- @ Atlanta
- San Antonio
- @ NY Knicks
15 games, 10 on the road, 10 against teams with .500 or better records. This Sixers team will be tested. Based on how they've played so far this year, you'd have to predict a 16-24 record when Brand returns, at best.
Personally, I don't think that's going to happen. I think they win their next two (@ Washington and vs. Indiana) then they find a way to win 2 games on the road trip (Clippers and someone else) then they win 3 or 4 more (NYK, Charlotte, MIL and Portland possibly). That would put their record at 19-21 or 18-22, and in the thick of the playoff race.
I truly believe this team will regain their swagger from the end of last season very quickly. There are three likely scenarios for the starting lineup:Option A (my choice)
Option B (second choice)
- Dalembert, Speights, Thad, Iggy, Miller
Option C (third choice, and most-likely, DiLeo's choice)
- Dalembert, Thad, Iggy, Green, Miller
- Dalembert, Speights, Iggy, Green, Miller
Any of those three options will make the Sixers an extremely dangerous team on the break, and an extremely inefficient team in the half-court. Again, just like last year. They're going from a team who everyone thought would be a top 4 team in the East to a team no one will take seriously. The chip will be back on the shoulder. Expect this team to exceed expectations over the next month.
In the long run, I'm not sure what this will mean for the team. If they stay within reach of the playoffs, there probably won't be a sell off. If they lose 10 of the next 12 games, it would be understandable for Ed Stefanski to start looking toward next season. Again, I don't believe that will be the case.
The real question is going to be what happens when he comes back. After a minimum of 15 games without EB in the lineup, this team should know a lot more about themselves. When he comes back, will we see the same problems we've seen to this point of the season? Will the running game be back in their blood to the point that Brand has no choice but to get on board?
I don't see how they're going to be able to spend practice time over the next month figuring out how to space the floor for a post player, so best-case scenario has to be they'll be right where they are right now in terms of half-court philosophy and execution. That's not a good thing.
The ultimate question remains, is the season over? My answer is no (although my hopeless optimism is wearing thin and could be shattered by a disastrous holiday road trip). Without Brand on the roster we're talking about basically the same team as last year with a few modifications. Instead of Jason Smith, we have Marreese Speights. Upgrade. Instead of Rodney Carney we have Kareem Rush. Probably a downgrade. Instead of Kevin Ollie we have Royal Ivey. Upgrade. Instead of Calvin Booth we have Theo Ratliff. Upgrade. Instead of Louis Amundson we have Donyell Marshall. Upgrade. We also have another year of experience for Lou Williams, Thad Young and Andre Iguodala.
As currently constructed, with or without Elton Brand, this team should make the playoffs. If we're talking about a roster that's able to make some noise once they get there, well, that's going to require Brand (and maybe even more). I believe this team will do just fine without him, the real loss from this injury will be the 30 days or so of missed games and lost practice time. They need all the time on the court together they can get to figure out how to make all the pieces fit.