The first real post of the 2011-2012 season

This post is going to read very much like something that should have been written in July, or maybe August. Such is the damage of a five-month lockout. But as the league's "tentative settlement agreement" gradually becomes the league's next "collective bargaining agreement," we must quickly get up to speed on what will be this year's 66-game season.

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I know everyone is clamoring to know the details of the new 2011-12 schedule, but the NBA has not yet released the schedules to each team. Perhaps that will come as early as today, but it's possible that the schedules wont be released until the CBA is ratified. The NBA has released the outline for how the 66-game schedules will work. The NBA will launch on Dec. 25 (some teams, like the Sixers, will launch on Dec. 26) and the regular season will end on April 26. Each team will play 48 conference games, 18 out-of-conference games, which means the Sixers won't necessarily visit every city during the abbreviated schedule. The playoffs will start on April 28 and run no later than June 26. There will be back-to-back-to-backs during the regular season and back-to-backs during the playoffs, neither of which exist during a full season. There will still be a four-day break for the All-Star Game, set this year for Orlando.

The Sixers' reconfigured schedule might look very much like the existing remainder of their schedule (with the league just plugging in the extra 8-10 games to balance out the home-and-away). We know for sure that the Sixers will open on the road. And that they won't make their debut at the Wells Fargo Center until early January.

Both training camp and free agency are scheduled to begin on Dec. 9. Expect that the Sixers will play two pre-season games (usually they play six) in advance of the start of the regular season.

Now onto ... basketball. What? Actual basketball talk?

Yes. Basketball.

Doug Collins has been in Philly for a while now, preparing for the possibility that the NBA and the union would finally end the lockout. The rest of the coaching staff -- Michael Curry, Aaron McKie, Brian James, and Jeff Capel -- were scheduled to return to the team's practice facility, the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, today. It's very likely the entire coaching staff is, at this very moment, meeting about a slew of topics: game plan for the shortened training camp, goals for free agency, and strategy with the current roster. Which, of course, brings as to all of these topics.

1. Goals for free agency/trading period: At this very moment, the Sixers have 11 players under contract for the season: Jrue Holiday, Lou Williams, Jodie Meeks, Evan Turner, Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, Andres Nocioni, Craig Brackins, Marreese Speights, Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes. During the 2011 NBA Draft, they selected center Nikola Vucevic, who will soon become the 12th player under contract. They also selected power forward Lavoy Allen, who will attempt to make the roster at training camp, but who is not guaranteed a spot on the team. The current payroll (before Vucevic's rookie contract) is $55 million for the season. This year's salary cap is expected to be $58 million. So, to be clear, the Sixers have very little room to sign free agents. But here will be the main goals during the odd period of trainging camp/free agency, which will begin Dec. 9:

*Re-sign restricted free agents Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes. The Sixers have extended qualifying offers to both, meaning that if they don't sign an offer sheet with another team, they are under contract with the Sixers for this season and become unrestricted free agents next summer. If any of the other 29 teams sign either player to an offer sheet, the Sixers will have exactly three days (down from one week under the old CBA) to match the offer. As I've written repeatedly, expect the Sixers to match any reasonable offer for either of these players.

*Add a solid option at the center position. Although Hawes can, at times, pass for a starting center in this league, he has not yet proven himself an everyday starter. Expect the Sixers to sign a solid option to compete for the starting center spot (translation: not Marc Gasol, but somebody like Erick Dampier or Kwame Brown). It's also possible that they'll look to re-sign last year's veteran presence, Tony Battie, just to add depth and stability in the frontcourt.

*Make a decision about swingman Andre Iguodala. It's been five months and an ownership change since the Sixers fielded trade offers for their starting small forward. Will he go back on the market? Or has the team's position changed during this extended down period. I don't yet have this answer; I can say that Iguodala has been involved with his teammates this off-season. Although Evan Turner has spent much of his off-season time in Philly (and some in Columbus, Ohio) working on his jumper, he's also spent time in his hometown of Chicago. Turner was expecting to get in a few workouts with Iguodala in Chicago after news broke that the league had reached a settlement. Iguodala was also part of the team's mid-summer gathering in Los Angeles.

The Sixers have always been irrationally averse to trading Iguodala. It's known throughout the league that, while the team will occasionally reach out to teams to test the waters, they very often pull back and slam shut the door. I believe that now that general manager Ed Stefanski, who signed Iguodala to his long-term deal, is no longer in the front office, the possibility increases that the Sixers truly and really loosen their hold on Iguodala. Because he's the best player on the team, and a very valuable player overall, the Sixers will need to receive a key piece in return: a top-10 shooting guard, or someone very close to that status.

*Trade power forward Marreese Speights. There are plenty of teams who are willing to take a chance on a young big guy who can shoot. They'll see his upside. Even after a five month lockout, he still doesn't work in Collins' system.

Collins and the staff will also be looking at how to run this training camp, and this season, under such a compressed schedule. Keep in mind that all coaches have a certain rhythm to their season-long plan -- when to take off days, when to go hard, when to go light -- but with this new animal that will be the abbreviated NBA season, that rhythm must be completely different. With the existence of back-to-back-to-backs, the key guys are going to need more down time than they otherwise would.

Expect players to start trickling into Philly. And as soon as the lockout is lifted, they'll begin getting in some workouts with the coaching staff in advance of the beginning of camp on Dec. 9. 

It's really strange writing about basketball -- even if it's not really about basketball just yet, but the trades and tactics before basketball. Much easier than writing about lawyers and lawsuits.


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