This season for the 76ers, the buzz-word is “continuity” — which is an interesting word to galvanize your fan base around. Much less exciting certainly than “talent” or “excitement” or “greatness.” It’s also an interesting word choice because it’s contingent.
Continuity relative to what? If I’m coming off a 60 win season, continuity sounds pretty appealing. 25 wins? Not so much. If I won 41 games last season, have scant cap room, bad contracts, and no clear sight line to contention? Well, you could probably pick a better angle to pitch me on than continuity.
At the Sixers Wednesday afternoon Media Day at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine though, the players themselves didn’t seem to think bringing back the same team was so bad.
(Granted, there’s not really any upside whatsoever to saying otherwise at Media Day. Reporter: “How do you feel about your team’s basic offseason philosophy?” Player: “I think it’s indefensibly stupid.” How well would that go over? People say they want honesty from players–what we really want is for them to say what we want to hear convincingly and with gusto.)
“It’s pretty good because we’ve had the same group now for two years. We made the playoffs last year, now let’s see what we can do this year,” said Mo Speights, for whom individual continuity of performance would probably lead to unemployment. “It helps you a lot. It’s gonna be pretty good this year to play with the same guys.”
Craig Brackins, who’s adjusting to a new position, added he expects playing with the same group will be a boon to his development.
“I think we were building something from last year, and we just go up from here. A lot of teams are scrambling to grab other players, but we’re just gonna run the same stuff, same coach–everybody knows each other–and we just keep getting better,” the sophomore said.
“If everybody’s on the same page, it’s like a good book. You’ve got a good story.”
Clever turn of phrase aside, Brackins might be on to something. In the shortened off-season, there might be an advantage to keeping the same guys around, especially if they’re going to be in the same system. The Sixers won’t have to scramble to generate chemistry, they already have it.
Tony Battie is emblematic of the continuity approach. He is very old, no longer very good, and doesn’t really have any reason to be on the Sixers anymore–especially given the glut of talented free-agent centers who were available this offseason. So the Sixers resigned him.
“Teams can always use an experienced big man — you can’t teach height — so I knew I would end up somewhere,” he said when asked if he was surprised to be doing Media Day interviews in a Sixers uniform.
He added that the team values him, aside from his height, for his leadership abilities.
“I’m here to try and help the younger guys develop. I’m here to show them what I can about the game,” he said, adding that he leads by example, but also with more explicit instruction: pointing things out on tape, sharing tips, opposing player tendencies, etc.
“I’ll do whatever I can do,” he admitted.
(What Tony Battie can do, according to his 2010-11 performance: nothing)
Elton Brand is another of the Sixers who really shouldn’t be a Sixer anymore. He had an unbelievable season last year–leading the team in points and rebounds, putting them on his shoulders at points in carrying them to the playoffs. He played so well in fact that he was almost worth what the Sixers pay him. Almost. But instead of trading him on the strength of his renewed value, or using the new amnesty clause to clear his bad contract from their books, they kept him.
He seems surprised by this too.
“I wasn’t sure [I’d be back]. I’m definitely glad to be back and lead this young team though. Be a part of the playoff push, lead the team in points and rebounds. Just get to get that part of my game back,” he said.
Brand added that the condensed 66-game schedule will be a challenge for his (creaky) knees, but he has a plan.
“I’ve got some secrets. Ice and stim and rest. I’m definitely going to be off my feet as much as possible. Coaches are already talking to me asking ‘What do you need practice wise. Do you need to sit out, or do you need to rest?’ I haven’t needed to rest yet, but if I do, it’ll be there. Orthotics, anything I can do to give me an edge I’m gonna do ’cause this is a lot of games.”
That Spencer Hawes is back is even more puzzling. Hawes is young, intelligent, and multi talented. Unfortunately none of his talents are of the sort you need to play center well in the NBA.
“After last year, after the run were able to make, I wasn’t surprised to be brought back,” he said, “I was excited to come back to a good team that’s headed in a great direction.”
“And the familiar faces will really help us hit the ground running in what is a very condensed preseason and a condensed regular season where we’re not going to have a lot of time to practice.”
Spence, as his friends call him (and I like to think we’re friends), went on to say that he hopes to be more of an enforcer and paint presence on both sides of the floor, but admitted that he embraces his role as a “skilled center.”
“I think with a finesse center they look at you like you’re soft. I describe it as skilled. If you have that ability, you don’t have to beat people up on every play. You can just out think them and out skill them.”
It’s much harder to say critical things about people after you’ve made extended eye contact with them, but Spencer Hawes hasn’t out-skilled anyone since he was in the PAC-10. There were 26 free agent centers this offseason. Hawes was the 16th most productive on a per minute basis.
(Battie, in case you were wondering, was the 19th.)
Jrue Holiday, conversely, is very productive now and should continue to be so for the foreseeable future. So are Thad Young and Evan Turner.
The young trio, for what it’s worth, each seem comfortable with and within the team’s direction.
“The continuity definitely will help…especially in the start of the season, when guys have new coaches, and there are older guys who take longer to warm up,” the young point guard said.
Holiday added that the fans will see a “very alive team. A team that flows and plays well together. A team that plays up-tempo.”
(“The 2011-12 Sixers: They’re Alive!”)
Newly rich Thad Young — “A lot of teams wanted to start talks, but I wanted to be here,” he told Philadunkia — said the team will hang its hat on aggressive and opportunistic defense and the transition game.
“You’re going to see a lot of highlight reels, a lot of dunks,” he said.
Evan Turner, who seemed to have a swagger that was often absent last year, said he expects to make a leap.
“I feel really confident about my game, and confident in my teammates,” he told us.
In one area at least, the continuity is not wrongheaded: Andre Iguodala is, thank god, back. Though he, to an extent, blocks Turner’s development by dint of their similar skill sets (Iggy said he would describe their relationship as a cross between mentor-student, and competitor-competitor), Iggy is also the best perimeter defender in the NBA and the Sixers best player by an enormous margin.
He does seem ambivalent about being back though. He admitted that he doesn’t get driven by the toxic nonsense people say about him on the radio, as much as he just tries to tune it out. Tries being the operative word.
“I don’t know, I don’t really think about it too much. We’re all human, so thoughts go through your mind, but I don’t really have any control over it. I just kind of roll with the punches,” he said.
The Sixers had a mediocre ’10-11 season; they won 41 games, but alienated their best player, and failed to unload any of the bad contracts or players their roster is larded with. This year their plan is to do more or less the same thing. They’ve embraced “continuity.”
Here’s a prediction for the season: The 7-6 were 25th in the NBA in attendance last year, and last in attendance as a percentage of seats filled. I’m guessing they’ll see some continuity in that area too.