Philadelphia won only five games with Allen Iverson last season. He averaged 35 points-per-game in those wins, and before you run off at the mouth crying ball hog, know that he averaged eight assists, too.
|A.I. -- Andre Iguodala -- enjoyed a renaissance last season. (Getty Images)|
Unceremoniously, the A.I. era was over in Philadelphia.
By the time Andre Miller got into the Sixers lineup, they were 5-19 and cruising comfortably towards the NBA's worst record. If you're going to hit rock bottom, you might as well do it in style. They cut Chris Webber and went on their merry way, set on playing their youngsters and preparing for the future.
In the first game after trading Iverson, the affable Steven Hunter, who has since been dealt to Denver, joked that Sixers fans were probably rooting for the team to lose to improve its lottery chances.
"In any other place, I might doubt that statement," Hunter said, "but here, you could be right."
He couldn't have known how right he was.
Thanks to improved chemistry, the Sixers won 30 of 58 games after Miller took over as the team's point guard. They closed the season with a 17-9 run that the squad's more knowledgeable fans couldn't fail to find amusing or inspiring.
While it was nice to see Andre Iguodala finally live up to his vast potential, it came at the expense of potentially being able to draft Kevin Durant or Greg Oden. That's a mistake that should set Philadelphia back a few more years.
Does anyone even remember that the Sixers rallied to finish third in the horrendous Atlantic Division? If they do, they certainly don't care. The end result wound up being fewer ping pong ball combinations in the draft lottery, where they subsequently ended up with the No. 12 draft pick. You could've started printing up t-shirts for disgruntled fans that read, "We lost our franchise player and all we got was this lousy high lottery pick."
By tanking, at least teams like Boston and Memphis were trying to alter their fortunes. It didn't work out as they hoped, but they did wind up picking in the top five. The Grizzlies got themselves a point guard to run their offense. The Celtics turned their pick into Ray Allen, which ultimately helped land Kevin Garnett.
Philadelphia wound up with Thaddeus Young, an excellent athlete who had a strong freshman season at Georgia Tech, but is probably a couple of years away from seriously contributing at this level.
This isn't a case of hindsight being 20-20. While the 76ers were rattling off meaningless wins, many of the Philly faithful were wondering what the heck the team was doing.
Now we know. They were taking a few steps forward to take a quantum leap back.
How good would Durant have looked next to Iguodala on the wing? Even though he's out until 2008, Sixers fans would surely prefer to have Greg Oden waiting in the wings. Considering the vacancy at power forward was recently plugged by career backup Reggie Evans, it sure would've been nice to have a prospect like Al Horford, Brandan Wright, Joakim Noah or Yi Jianlian to throw in the fire and let develop. Instead, the Sixers need Jason Smith, a great value at No. 20, to find a way to surprise. They have to pray that Young, a lefty who carries with him a strong air of confidence, catches on faster than most expect.
In that regard, they have some hope, because last June's draft is considered among the deepest in league history.
Too bad they only took marginal advantage of it.
|Power Ranking Rank: 29th|
|Projected Record: 21-61, 5th Atlantic Division|
|Best case scenario: The lone A.I. left, Andre Iguodala, improves his jumper and becomes unstoppable.|
|Worst case scenario: Samuel Dalembert's foot injury becomes a recurring problem, stunting his growth and compromising Philly's top big man.|
|X-factor: Rodney Carney has the athleticism to be a perfect complement to Iguodala on the wing, but has got to make significant strides in his second season.|
|Early season schedule: After opening the season in Toronto and Chicago, the Sixers return home for four straight games, starting with division rival New Jersey. Allen Iverson's only visit comes March 19.|
|2007-08 NBA Team Previews|
|Boston Celtics||Chicago Bulls||Atlanta Hawks|
|New Jersey Nets||Cleveland Cavaliers||Charlotte Bobcats|
|New York Knicks||Detroit Pistons||Miami Heat|
|Philadelphia 76ers||Indiana Pacers||Orlando Magic|
|Toronto Raptors||Milwaukee Bucks||Washington Wizards|
|Denver Nuggets||Dallas Mavericks||Golden State Warriors|
|Minnesota Timberwolves||Houston Rockets||Los Angeles Clippers|
|Portland Trail Blazers||Memphis Grizzlies||Los Angeles Lakers|
|Seattle Supersonics||New Orleans Hornets||Phoenix Suns|
|Utah Jazz||San Antonio Spurs||Sacramento Kings|