The all-star break is over, and the 76ers now enter the second half of the season (actually, it's the final 35.4 percent, but "second half" sounds so much better than "third third") in the delicate position of trying to improve, but not so much as to jeopardize their position in the next draft.
The season's final 29 games will serve as an audition for much of the roster as president and general manager Billy King tries to see who is going to help this team in coming seasons, who is not, and who would fetch the Sixers a good player to help in the rebuilding.
The NBA trade deadline is 3 p.m. tomorrow, and the Sixers aren't expected to make any moves. They may bring in a player or two on a 10-day contract for a tryout, but that's about it.
The off-season, however, should be a different story. With three No. 1 draft picks in his possession, King, along with lieutenants Tony DiLeo and Courtney Witte, will be looking at all angles in his bid to get the Sixers back into playoff contention.
But that's down the road. How does the remainder of the 2006-07 look? Let's examine:
The Sixers will try to get into a rhythm of playing consistently with the guys who will serve as the nucleus for the future: Andre Iguodala, Kyle Korver, Samuel Dalembert and Andre Miller. But more than the offense, the defense and rebounding will tell if the Sixers get to 30 wins for the season.
There's always that chance, but Miller is the stabilizing force of this team, a pure, old-school point guard who knows how to get his teammates in good position for shots, and has the work ethic that will serve as an example to his younger teammates. There's nothing wrong with having him around.
The players have talked about the importance of a stable roster going into next season, but there will be changes. So you could start with Miller, and add Steven Hunter (especially if the Sixers draft a talented big man) and Willie Green. As for Korver, who has been mentioned in some far-flung rumors this season, he is likely to stay unless King gets one of those proverbial offers he can't refuse.
Green and rookie Rodney Carney have shown they are much better starting than coming off the bench. Green has been disappointing - 28.1 percent shooting and a 3.9-point average in nine games, all in a reserve role - since coming back from a sore knee. Carney shows flashes of good play from time to time but can't be so allergic to rebounds (1.8 per game) and assists (0.3).
Iguodala is grasping the chance to be the leader of this team with both hands. But opponents have started paying more attention to him as an offensive player, and his teammates on the floor have to respond when that happens. "I think this team is pretty good with trusting everybody," Iguodala said. "It's about how we're going to adjust when they double-team me, and just making them choose their poison."
It's clear that chairman Ed Snider entrusts the task of rebuilding the Sixers to King, who hasn't exactly endeared himself to a portion of the Sixers' faithful with his moves since the 2001 NBA Finals. At least with Allen Iverson and Chris Webber gone, King can plunge into the task this off-season. With one year left on his contract, he has a chance to put his stamp on the team and show he knows how to build a contender - and, of course, keep his job. But all eyes will be on King to see what he does with the three No. 1 draft choices and shaping the franchise's future. Impatient fans, and Snider, will be watching.
Coach Maurice Cheeks deserves credit this season for keeping his team together with all the distractions over the trials of Iverson and Webber. With those two vocal veterans gone, the Sixers are listening to one voice, that of their coach. Naturally, with Larry Brown drawing a salary from this team, the tendency is to look over your shoulder, but Cheeks hasn't allowed himself to be distracted. Does he deserve the chance to coach for another season? Absolutely. Will he get that chance? We say it's 50-50.
The Sixers (17-36) have 17 home games, including a six-game homestand beginning Monday, and 12 road games remaining. The feeling is that they have a fighting chance to get 13 more wins, which will get them to 30. They haven't quit on Cheeks all season and aren't likely to quit on him for the final two months.
So many people are certain that both Oden and Durant will come out after this, their freshman season. There is no - repeat, no - guarantee that they will. Yes, these two guys are likely to help an NBA franchise for 10 to 12 years after they're drafted, but no one knows for sure when that will be. Two other factors: The Sixers have to develop a winning mentality, because you can't just flip a switch and think it will happen just because a talented rookie joins them, and the team with the worst record doesn't always get the No. 1 pick, anyway. Relax, folks, and let the games play out.