NBA Season Preview: The Philadelphia 76ers

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jrue_holiday_rodrigue_beaubois.jpgLast season: They went 27-55, which is wholly unspectacular. They weren’t as bad as the Nets or the Timberwolves, but the Sixers were in that next group of teams that stand out only for their failure to compete. 

Head Coach: Doug Collins, who’s here to win friends and influence people.

Key Departures: Samuel Dalembert, Allen Iverson, Rodney Carney, more of Elton Brand’s dignity.

Key Additions: Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, Andres Nocioni, lots of weight to put on Turner’s shoulders.

Best case scenario:
Real improvement. The Sixers regressed last season — their offensive efficiency dropped from 107.9 points per 100 possessions in ’08-’09 to 106.1, and their defensive efficiency from 107.8 points allowed per 100 possessions allowed to 110.3 — and obviously they’d like to reverse course. Evan Turner could help in both regards in his first season, as he’s a more versatile offensive weapon and a superior defender in comparison to most of the Sixers’ other options on the wing. Should he take away some of the team’s heavy reliance on Andre Iguodala, it’ll be best everyone.

Iguodala will get into open space more often and more easily. Jrue Holiday will have more breathing room to do his thing. The offense will balance itself, meaning Elton Brand, Marreese Speights, and Spencer Hawes will see real benefit. It probably wouldn’t make the Sixers terribly competitive, but it’d be a step in the right direction.

For that to happen:
Turner needs to show that his Summer League woes were a fluke. He needs to prove that he can thrive against NBA athletes, and that the Sixers were right to use the No. 2 overall pick on him in this year’s draft. Turner will get his chances, but if he doesn’t flat-out impress, the Sixers won’t have much of a shot to improve this season.

Jrue Holiday also needs to take a step forward. Holiday’s rookie year was both remarkable and unheralded, but he’s about to enter a full season as one of his team’s primary options. Holiday is in the scouting report, and you’d better believe that opposing teams will be ready for him.

In addition, Spencer Hawes will need to play stop-gap. Samuel Dalembert didn’t have a tremendous year in ’09-’10, but he still blew Hawes out of the water on defense and especially on the glass. Their rebounding rates aren’t even comparable, and yet Hawes will be asked to provide what Dalembert did and more. Hawes is the superior offensive talent, but at what cost? If he can somehow improve his rebounding and interior defense to hold the center position steady, then he gives the natural growth of the roster a chance to make an impact in the win column. 

More likely the Sixers will: If not, the Sixers will end up treading water or even sinking a bit.

Let’s take Jrue Holiday’s improvement as a given, considering the way he ended his rookie campaign. Andre Iguodala might be slightly better than he was last season, and utilized in a more effective manner.

Yet beyond those two, so many things have to go right for the Sixers to make strides in ’10-’11. Turner needs to launch, Hawes needs to board, Brand needs to show up, Speights needs to share the ball, Nocioni needs to do enough without trying to do too much, and Louis Williams needs to produce without as many opportunities. Someone needs to score more, everyone needs to force their opponents to score less, and Doug Collins needs to find a way to make a bunch of odd pieces work together.

The Sixers were bad last season, and Evan Turner should be good down the line. He just won’t be productive enough this year for Philadelphia to make substantial progress.  

Prediction: 28 wins. Philly has an interesting young core, and if all of the pieces can grow and bend in just the right places, this roster could be a hell of a thing in a few years. For now, their best player is still Andre Iguodala, and though they’ve added three rotation players, the team is still fundamentally the same. Internal improvement will only take the Sixers so far, and in ’10-’11, that ‘so far’ is but a single win ahead of their previous season’s total.

Gordon Hayward’s agent says return this season unlikely

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Wednesday night in Boston Gordon Hayward underwent surgery to repair his dislocated ankle and fractured tibia suffered just five minutes into the season-opening game, a gruesome injury that put a pall over the rest of the night.

There had been hope from some Celtics fans that Hayward could return this season, likely for the playoffs, but now that the surgery is complete Hayward’s agent told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN not to expect him back until next season.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who saw the injury. Hayward is in the first year of a four-year deal with the Celtics, they were always going to choose a cautious path rather than rush him back. Under Danny Ainge Boston has always taken the long view, even with all their moves this summer — specifically bringing in Hayward and Kyrie Irving — the target was to be the team set up for next as LeBron James and the Cavaliers faded. That plan does not change now.

Earlier in the day, Hayward had sent a video message out to Celtics fans thanking them for their support in the past 24 hours.

Without Hayward, the Celtics now will focus more on smaller lineups, rookie Jayson Tatum will get more run, as will Marcus Smart in his contract year. Jaylen Brown will be thrust into a more significant role. Also, Kyrie Irving will be asked to do more as the team’s second-best playmaker is now out for the season.

The Celtics will take a step back this season without Hayward, who was going to be crucial for them on both ends of the floor. That’s evidenced by their 0-2 start, falling to the Cavaliers and Bucks on the first couple nights of the season. Boston should still be a team well above .500 and in the playoffs, but they will not be quite the same this season.

Trail Blazers beat Suns by 48, biggest season-opening rout in NBA history

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Any controversy over C.J. McCollum‘s suspension for the season-opener should be put to rest. The Trail Blazers fared fine without him.

More than fine.

Portland beat the Suns, 124-76, Wednesday. The 48-point margin is the largest ever in a season opener, even as the Trail Blazers let a 58-point fourth-quarter lead dwindle.

Here are the most lopsided season-openers in NBA history (openers for both teams appearing twice):

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The 48-point defeat is also the Suns’ worst lost in franchise history, topping a 44-point loss to the Seattle SuperSonics in 1988. It could be a long year in Phoenix.

Marcus Smart and Matthew Dellavedova scrap (video)

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Marcus Smart and Matthew Dellavedova thrive on aggravating opponents, so when matched up, of course they aggravated each other.

Deduct points from Smart for pulling the hold-me-back charade behind a referee. Plus, Dellavedova’s Bucks beat Smart’s Celtics, 108-100.

Report: ‘Tremendous concern’ for Jeremy Lin’s knee injury

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The Nets’ projected record this season came under greater scrutiny when the Celtics traded Brooklyn’s unprotected first-round pick to the Cavaliers in the Kyrie Irving trade. After finishing third-to-last and last the previous two years, were the Nets poised to take a step forward, or would they convey a very high pick to the Cavs?

Jeremy Lin, who missed 46 games last season, getting healthy was a reason for optimism in Brooklyn and pessimism in Cleveland. But it appears the veteran guard could be out a while.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Billy Reinhardt of Nets Daily:

If the injury is as bad as feared, what a bummer for Lin. He came to Brooklyn expecting to play a leading role on a developing team, and he just can’t stay healthy.

The Nets were probably more focused on developing their younger players, but – especially without their own draft picks – there was no harm in shooting for the playoffs. This appears to a blow to that (already unlikely) dream.

It’s a boon to the Cavaliers, though. And whenever something significantly affects LeBron James‘ team, it has ramifications into the entire power dynamic of the Eastern Conference. For an injury to a player on a team most expect to be bad, the medical developments here will be tracked closely around the league.