Amid present concerns, Sixers have one eye on future
Sometimes to move forward, it is better to step away a little bit. It appears that is what Doug Collins believes his team needs right now, as the Sixers are mired in a slump that has them losers in 16 of their past 21 games.
After Wednesday's loss in Toronto, the back end of their fifth back-to-back set in a little more than 3 weeks, Collins gave the team off Thursday, the normal routine after two games in a row. Friday, when the team assembled, the practice was called an optional one. Jrue Holiday and Jason Richardson didn't do any on-court work, Thaddeus Young lifted weights, and Kwame Brown remained away from the team while tending to a death in the family. There was some shooting around and minimal drills before the gym fell silent. Collins decided to take a break from talking to the media, also.
Bodies are a bit fragile right now, coming off a 22-day period in which 13 games were played in 12 cities, including those five back-to-backs. And as much as arms, legs, backs and groins are sore, many minds are just as frazzled. Losing streaks and long road trips debilitate the entire body. So the reduced time on the court over the past few days helps heal the whole body.
"We need to start having fun again," Spencer Hawes said. "When you come in on days like today, it's not as fun. Guys don't have as fun a time - on the court or off the court. Everything as a collective mood just worsens. You have to use everything as motivation to get back to winning, get back to having fun again. It's not only physically to get refreshed, but sometimes when you're going through stretches like this, get that mental [rest], get away from it a little bit, and get your mind refreshed as well."
While Collins and his team try to find a winning way right now - aided by 12 of the next 13 games being at home - general manager Tony DiLeo has to keep one eye on now and one toward his team's future. The Sixers find themselves trying to stay around .500 and hoping for a low-seeded playoff spot, an all-too-familiar situation. What is different is that the organization is in a better place than it has been for years, as far as contracts are concerned.
So making some sort of move now, or before the Feb. 21 trading deadline, isn't something that is, or should be, an overriding concern for DiLeo.
Nick Young, Dorell Wright and Damien Wilkins could all come off the books after this season, and that amounts to about $11.3 million. And if Brown decides to opt out of his $3 million for next season (which isn't a stretch), there's even more money. Of course, the most of the money is directly attached to the future of Andrew Bynum. Though he has not played a second for the team yet, he is making $16.5 million this season and then becomes a free agent. Bynum has said he is certain he will be back this year, but at what ability and for how long are the big questions, and they will help DiLeo and company decide the future of this team.
"We have a lot of questions that we want to answer and they still aren't answered," DiLeo said. "We have to be patient and try to get some answers. But for the future, we feel we're in good position, we feel we have a lot of options, so we'll just try to answer those questions and move on. We built this team and we want to see this team on the court [with Bynum] and see how we can play with this team. On the other hand, if there is an opportunity that arises that we think can improve our team, then we'll do that. But we don't want to jeopardize anything for the future."
That is the key sentence, something Sixers fans should feel good about. While in years past, the vision of the franchise was pretty much set on that season, now it is about the future. It is that way because big contracts (Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand) have been replaced by short, cheaper ones that will allow them the luxury of flexibility after the season.
The biggest dilemma will be what to do with Bynum. If he comes back for, say, 30 games and gets himself in good shape after 10 of them and shows glimpses of the player he can be for the final 20, does DiLeo open the bank vault for him? If Bynum shows spurts of being one of the best centers in the NBA, but is still hindered by knee problems here and there, then what? What if the team DiLeo envisioned is all together for the last 25 to 30 games and the players still don't mesh?
Those are all valid questions, and ones that will certainly need answering. Again, at least this time around, they can be answered a variety of ways, with a variety of options at hand for the organization.
"We want to see how our players fit into this team," DiLeo said. "We want to see how Andrew fits in and how the players fit in with him. We're still evaluating every player. We are still looking at Andrew as a long-term solution. We made the trade built around it. But we have different options that we can explore. We wanted to have flexibility going into next year. We do have the 1-year contracts where we can re-sign those players or we can use the cap room.
"We have young players that are getting better and better, who are improving every day. We have different options going into the future. Whether we have this team as it's constituted now or whether we change it around, we feel we have a bright future."