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What Happened?

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About 53 weeks ago, Ed Stefanski cashed in all of his chips and went for broke to sign the premiere free agent on the market, at a position of need. He cleared enough cap room to sign Elton Brand, and as one we all praised him. Even the most cynical Sixers fans were uttering the word contender (looking at you, Tray). How does what's happened since that day change the way we view the signing now?

It's pretty easy to sum up what happened. Brand was rusty to begin the season, then lost for the year. Questions about his long-term viability loom. Meanwhile, the team sputtered, Cheeks was fired, DiLeo came in and essentially the same team that went to the playoffs in 2008, rebounded and went to the playoffs again in 2009. The result in the playoffs was the same as well, a spirited series with a tragically disappointing end.

Fast forward to this summer: some Sixers fans are saying Elton Brand was Stefanski's defining mistake. The team is no longer considered to be a contender in the Eastern Conference, people are talking about rebuilding and tanking. Andre Miller's time with the team has probably run out. I don't agree with all of the thoughts floating out there, but it would be folly to dismiss them as completely irrational. I think Brand will bounce back this season, but I don't know that he will. No one does, and truth be told, the quantifiable evidence is pointing in the other direction. I'm leaning on the anecdotal for my hope, which is never a comfortable position.

With a year of perspective, it seems as though this team's future remains bright. They have a young core of four or five players who could grow into something very special. The tanking economy, shrinking salary cap and reluctance to pay the luxury tax seem to have shifted the franchise into a build from within mode. A prudent move, in my opinion, but what does it say about the Brand acquisition?

Shortly after Brand was signed, I called for extending Andre Miller. The window seemed to be set to coincide with Brand's contract, meaning, the team would need Miller's steady hand at the point to continue to move forward, and they'd have to cross their fingers that he didn't hit the wall before the window closed. Now, I can't say that I'm particularly sad to see him go.

Last summer, we thought this summer would be about adding a few final pieces (shooters) to the rotation to gear up for a legit Finals run in 2009-2010. Now they've added one shooter, but are apparently set to hand the PG reins to Lou Williams and Jrue Holiday and hope for the best.

So a couple of questions for you guys which I'm not sure I have the answers to. Say Brand hadn't been injured, he'd returned to form some time in January, and the Sixers had finished with the #4 seed. Maybe they get out of the first round and then get knocked off by the Cavs in the second round. What are we thinking right now? Would a 45-50 win season and a playoff round win have us still believing the Sixers were merely a piece or two away?

On the other hand, what if Brand hadn't been injured, but he never regained his form? What if he muddled through the season averaging 15 and 10, the Sixers won a handful more games, and then got knocked out in the first round again. Would the rebuilding feeling be as strong as it is right now among some fans?

For me, the unanswered questions from last season are lingering and making the near future of this franchise nearly impossible to predict. I think they're going to take a step forward this season, but I don't know. I think Iguodala will thrive at the two, but I don't know. I think Brand will bounce back and be a force, but I don't know.

Thoughts in the comments. How do you feel about the team right now? Do you have the same unanswered questions I do, or do believe you already have the answers? Is the Monday Morning QBing really fair, considering the fact that the Brand signing was universally regarded as a coup at the time?  
by Brian on Jul 15 2009
Tags: Basketball | Elton Brand | Offseason | Sixers |