Will Iguodala leave, will he stay? Can the Sixers find some way to leverage their position on the fringe of the rumor miller into some kind of worthwhile package for their best player? Can they worm their way into a deal that sends both Brand and Iguodala out of Philly? These questions are probably paramount for most fans at this point, but there are still games to be played, starting with Miami later tonight.
Allen Iverson returned to practice yesterday, and according to Eddie Jordan, he probably won't be starting when the Sixers take the floor tonight. That's all well and good, but as we've become painfully aware, starting for the Sixers doesn't necessarily mean you're going to be playing major minutes. It doesn't even mean you're going to start the second half.
The Sixers played their best ball of the season in Iverson's absence, whether it was as a result of Iverson's absence is up for debate. Personally, I think Iverson does some very good things for the team on the floor, and some very bad things, but that's neither here nor there. If he's healthy, he's going to play, and he should play if he's on the team. Whether he starts or not is immaterial to me, but I guess it's an issue we're probably going to have to discuss at some point, just not right now.
Tonight's game against Miami is the last game on the schedule before the trade deadline, possibly the last time we're going to see this roster play as a team. If you're a tanking advocate, all games are basically created equal. If you're still of the mind that a trip to the playoffs is worthwhile, no matter what the circumstances, or you just can't buy in on the whole "losing is good" thing, then this is an important game.
Philly enters the nominal second half trailing Miami and Chicago by 5.5 games for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Tonight, they play Miami, on Saturday they play Chicago. If the playoffs truly remain a goal for the franchise, they need start winning games against teams they're trailing.
If the playoffs are the barometer for Eddie Jordan, what does that mean on the court? If past history is any indication, he's going to fall back on the basic principles he believes in to grind out wins. As far as I can tell, these principles fall under two basic categories: (1) Experience over youth. (2) Offense over defense.
The ironic thing here is that Eddie Jordan coaching like his life depends on it is probably the best way to guarantee the Sixers will miss the playoffs. But if you're part of the tanking contingent, this isn't necessarily a good thing.
Here's my best guess for how tonight's game and the remainder of the season will play out, assuming the roster remains the same and Jordan is not fired.
- Jrue continues to start (I firmly believe this is a mandate from Ed Stefanski)
- Iverson is the first guard off the bench, for Jrue, Lou Williams follows shortly thereafter for Willie. The backcourt duo we're going to see the most of is Lou/AI3. My guess is Jrue gets about 12-15 minutes/game and never sees the floor in the fourth quarter.
- We're going to see the three-headed monster lineup of Lou, AI3 and Willie on the floor at the same time.
- Speights is the wild card here. His minutes should increase with the injury to Jason Smith, but I think the odds are probably more in favor of Eddie using Smith's injury to force feed the super-small lineup mentioned above onto the floor at least once per half.
What type of results do I expect from all this tinkering? Well, probably horribly uneven play. On some nights, the talent will win out over the coach. On others it won't. And with increasing regularity, the players will just get sick of the whole mess and mail one in. Whatever momentum was built up over that five-game winning streak was completely blown by Jordan's buffoonery in the Toronto game. The somewhat tightened rotations now have to include Iverson, so they'll expand and continue to mystify.
The question is, which team shows up tonight? If there's a bump in spirits from Iverson's return, maybe we see the team rise above it all and pull off a win, inching their way up in the standings in doing so and perhaps putting a final nail in the "trade Iguodala" coffin.
Or maybe Jordan spent the off days dreaming up new and exciting ways to screw with this team and tonight's game will be an abject disaster, providing the straw that breaks the camel's back and leading to a last-minute trade. Honestly, 52 games into the season I have absolutely no idea what to expect. The only thing I know for sure is I'll be watching the game with one eye tonight and the rumor mongers with the other.