All told, the summer months were a mixed bag. As fans, we had highs (Eddie Jordan's ouster, the draft lottery, Doug Collins and Rod Thorn), and insufferable lows (the Dalembert trade, the preseason). After today, we can put the big picture thinking in the closet for a little while at least and start concentrating on actual basketball. We'll have game threads, stats to devour, x's and o'x to dissect. On the eve of opening night, though, it's time for one last in-depth look at this team.
I've talked at length about the weakness of this roster. I'll cut to the chase as far as predictions go. I'm saying 32-50. 32 wins would actually be an achievement with this roster. The team will feast on teams with shaky perimeter players. Jrue, Igoudala and hopefully Turner should be able to punish teams who are loose with the ball. If those guys are able to disrupt things, the transition game will click and we'll see this team just dominate for stretches.
Unfortunately, you can't rely on perimeter defense alone against too many teams (not to mention the fact that Doug Collins has intentionally negated this strength by inserting Jason Kapono into the starting lineup), so 32 wins it is.
Of course, this season isn't about wins and losses. It really can't be. It's about, well, it's about a handful of things of varying importance. Player development, player evaluation, roster makeup evaluation, creating a "winning" atmosphere and setting the standard for they type and amount of work needed to turn this franchise into a contender down the road.
The order of those priorities is a great concern heading into the first game, but we'll finish with that thought. First, let's go through some key issues on a player-by-player basis:
Evan Turner - On the eve of the first game, my concern isn't whether Turner is a bust, I'm nearly certain he is not. My concern is that he simply isn't going to play enough. Don't get me wrong, his passivity on the offensive end concerns me, greatly. Here's the thing about Turner, though. Even when he isn't scoring, hell, even when he isn't shooting, he's still helping the team. He's grabbing rebounds, he's initiating the break. He's playing defense, he's handing out assists. He's doing enough to warrant being on the floor, probably more than enough when you consider the alternatives. I don't think playing him limited minutes is a good way to bring the rest of his game around, I don't think it's how you build his confidence.
Andre Iguodala - The only strong concern I have with Iguodala is that he won't be here after the trade deadline. He's a veteran now, he's going to listen to Collins and he'll probably be better for it. We know what we're going to get out of him on a night-to-night basis. Obviously, there's some room for improvement, and I believe Collins has the right ideas for how to get more out of him.
Jrue Holiday - Jrue will be the best player on this team, if not this year then next. That's not a knock on Iguodala, you all know how good I believe he is, I just think Jrue has it in him to be better, and he won't have to dig that deep to get there. The key is for Collins to find a way to let the game come to him naturally. After a slow start to the preseason, we saw his game emerge. Two things to keep an eye on with Jrue: (1) His three-point shot wasn't reliable in the preseason, it needs to be for him to be a top-level PG, especially on this team; (2) He can't have lapses on defense. We need to see the guy who made Russell Westbrook and Mo Williams look like D-league scrubs last season to show up consistently.
Spencer Hawes - Hawes was injured early in the preseason, which unfortunately meant he didn't get the opportunity to play his way out of the starting center position. The injury apparently gave him a free pass to start the season with the A group. Hawes looked out of shape early in the preseason and I can only imagine what he's going to look like tomorrow night. When we first traded for him, I was worried about a contract year bump from Hawes. A mirage of improvement from a guy motivated to get a lucrative extension. I don't think that's very likely at this point, I'm just hoping he doesn't take too many possessions away from the guys who matter.
Marreese Speights - What to say about Speights. Seems like he's already in the dog house. In the span of a week or so he went from rave reviews about his time in the mile to another coach saying he's out of shape and can only play limited minutes. Then the leg injury. I'd love to see how he could do running with the first team, I think he'd be able to feast off the opportunities Jrue and Iguodala can create for him, I'm just not sure we're going to see it. It's a shame, too, because the opportunity is there for him to take the job from Hawes.
Thad Young - Three years later, Thad is more lost than he was as a rookie. Bouncing from position to position certainly doesn't help, but at some point, you have to look at the player and stop blaming the situation. I'd love to see him put into a role and allowed to grow with it, but at the same time, if he can't handle any given role, maybe it's just not meant to be. Make or break year for Thad, and it's not looking like it'll be a make right now.
Lou Williams - Lou's quiet production continues. He's the engine that powers the second team, a role that would be essential if the first team wasn't so god awful. I also think Lou thrives on low-pressure situations, of which there will be plenty this season.
Doug Collins - And finally we get to the man. I'm still extremely confident in Collins' basketball mind. He's going to poke, prod and tinker with this team to figure out what works and what doesn't against which kinds of opponents. He's probably going to squeeze a couple of extra wins out of them. The one thing I'm not sure of is whether he's going to be able to reach the point where maybe it makes some sense to sacrifice the present for the future.
If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know by now I'm a firm believer that winning begets winning. I don't need to see a legitimate title contender on the floor to be pleased with a season. There is tangible value to making the playoffs, even as a low seed. I thoroughly enjoyed this team's back-to-back trips to the playoffs a few years back and more of you than care to admit it enjoyed those years as well. The Sixers were 10 minutes of bad basketball away from a 3-1 lead against a Pistons' team that went to the conference finals the first year, and a Turkoglu three at the buzzer away from a 3-1 lead over the Orlando team that eventually went to the finals the following year.
Unfortunately, I don't see this current roster's ceiling as being even that high. This team needs a rebuild, maybe they don't need to be torn down to the ground and built from scratch, but they do need to take the pieces they have and figure out which ones are stable enough to form a foundation. The sooner Collins can either realize, or maybe admit that this team simply isn't good enough to make one of those miracle runs to the playoffs, the sooner he can get around to answering the only question that really matters for the long term success of the franchise. Can Iguodala, Holiday and Turner co-exist, and even thrive, on the floor together?
So Kapono in the staring lineup? Yeah, I'm not a fan.
Take a deep breath, gather your thoughts and fire away in the comments. Now is the time for the long view. Get it all out and let's get ready for number one of eighty-two tomorrow night. Poor LeBron is coming to town, don't forget to feel sorry for him.