GOING AGAINST THE GRAIN

As Ice-T famously coined in the late 80’s, “Pimpin’ ain’t easy”.  Well, neither is winning in the NBA.  As the 7-6 faithful know full well, the road out of the depths of David Stern’s armpit and personal torture chamber to an Eastern Conference sleeper is lengthy, rotten, disturbing, inauspicious, infuriating, and any other negative adjective you can think of.

Most times teams try to buy their way out; adding a big free agent here and a mid-level free agent there.  Sometimes it’s successful, and other times it burns and fades faster thanDallas’ chances at repeating as NBA Champions. 

Even before Shaq teamed up with Kobe, championship teams were built by “buying” superstars, only to then pair them with a home grown talent; the likes of which were more times than not, threatening to leave without proper additions that would shed the teams previous losing ways. 

Today, even your regular run of the mill and early exit playoff teams are built on this very philosophy.  All of them pray that a few All-Stars mixed with the Matt Barnes’ of the world equate to the raising of a banner.

So often though, these teams spend much of their vital salary cap on guys unworthy of the status quo of being a highly touted/highly paid free agent.

Simply put, they fall victims to a thin market and their individual basketball habitat.  

When you take a look at the current NBA landscape, what do you see?

 

You see more teams trying to resemble the Heat than you do the Bulls and Thunder.  You see more teams emptying their rosters of high ceiling/low risk players for more cap room.  You see teams looking three, four, five years ahead at free agent extravaganzas, hoping to recruit one of those big named ballers to their city. 

Victims to a pipe dream. 

There are those that are going against the NBA grain and pursuing other options in creating contenders.  That ideology is the best and most exciting part about being a fan of the Sixers right now.  Even despite not having the “build with superstar(s)” philosophy, they are still winning.  Winning by absolute monstrous margins, might I add.  

Even after their most recent, heartbreaking loss to the Nuggets, the Sixers are still leading the League in points per game differential (+13.57) and they’re ahead of the second ranked Bulls in that category by +4.26 points per game.  

To add to that, the 7-6 are first in turnovers forced per game, first in opponents points per game, first in opponent field goal percentage,  third in assist to turnover ratio, fourth in rebounds per game, fourth in blocks per game,  sixth in points per game, seventh in points per shot, seventh in steals, and twelfth in assists.

Not bad for a team without a superstar.

It’s obvious to see that the Sixers (along with teams like the Pacers, Nuggets, Jazz and even the Thunder and Bulls) are building their rosters with high IQ players that fill certain roles well; all the while developing them into their very own superstars of the future.   

Instead of dropping everything of value to create cap room in hopes of signing two giant egos with even bigger binding contracts (which winds up leaving teams destined to fill their rosters with a bunch of D-League talent, whom fans never truly identify with), the Sixers have gone the road less traveled.  Down a road that more NBA teams are going to have to take if they want to stay in their cities (yes, I’m looking at you New Orleans, Sacramento, and Charlotte).

The Sixers, though it took quite some time, developed what I think are two basketball teams in one.  A team filled with quintessential and on the rise players.  Two units, working together at one goal.  Two units that blend well.  Two units that offer two different styles of basketball.  Two units that feature high energy specialists that fit Doug Collins personality to a “T”.  Two units that feature players built, not bought.

The Sixers are breaking the mold, building on the sporting world’s favorite word, “continuity”, rather than free agent recruiting.  New management has made it a point to build against the grain of the NBA standards, and it has paid off well… so far. 

What seems to be the linchpin to the Sixers recent successes can truly be attributed to finally having a coach that demands maximum effort, maximum energy, and maximum play, every game.  A coach that knows what he’s got in a player.  A coach that knows what to look for in a draft pick. 

They have a coach that can take a team of what some would qualify as “no names” and turn them into their own brand of All-Stars.  They have a coach that finally knows what he’s doing and who expects them to win…NOW.  They have a coach that preaches defense, defense, and more defense, while committing to a younger, more entertaining brand of offense.

The perfect mixture for today’s youthful ball players.  The perfect person to head the new look Sixers.

Fresh legs.  Fresh minds.  Can’t Lose?

This is what will win the Atlantic Division for the Sixers.  While those superstar teams will be getting nights off to rest, Collins will be playing his guys; each and every one of them.  No player is above the team.  No player deserves a night off unless your bones hanging out of your leg, or you can’t physically move (a la Spencer Hawes). 

It’s not to beef up the record or standings.  It’s for these kids to get a giant serving of experience; something that may seem redundant now or even idiotec, but always pays off in the playoffs. 

Though they might not have the most talent among other teams in the Eastern Conference, right now, the Sixers are right behind the Bulls and the Heat for conference supremacy.  Something nobody predicted besides maybe Wilbon and Skip Bayless (being that he predicts everything, even when he doesn’t). 

We will soon see if this experiment and stubbornness to prove that superstars don’t guarantee a ring will work out or not.  For now, it’s flourishing in this shortened season. 

Right place, right time? 

We hope so.

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