These NBA Finals have been pretty awesome, haven’t they?
The first two games were decided in overtime (first time in NBA history), and LeBron James has put up monster numbers en route to the series being even 2-2 against Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors.
With two former Philadelphia 76ers, Andre Iguodala and Marreese Speights, playing key roles for the Warriors, it reminded me of all the former Sixers who were in the playoffs this year – and how good the Sixers might’ve been had they decided not to hit the reset button.
It was only three years ago when the 76ers reached Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Boston Celtics. Their core group included Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes, Lou Williams, Jodie Meeks, Thaddeus Young, Lavoy Allen, and Iguodala.
Of those nine players, only Meeks and Allen weren’t in this year’s playoffs.
Holiday, when healthy, has been the New Orleans Pelicans’ starting point guard after the Sixers traded him following an All-Star season. Unfortunately, he missed most of the past season with a foot injury before returning in the playoffs. As a teammate of Anthony Davis, he’ll play a key role in the Pelicans’ rise in the Western Conference.
Turner, who split starting duties with Meeks for the Sixers, became a starter and one of the Celtics’ better players in helping them reach the playoffs. Brand, now reduced to a minimal role player after being one of the Sixers’ best players, provided a veteran presence for an Atlanta Hawks team that won 60 games before being eliminated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Williams, the former sixth man for the 76ers, won this year’s Sixth Man of the Year award while helping the Toronto Raptors capture the fourth-best record in the East, and Young, who played a similar role as Williams for Philly, was a starter for the Brooklyn Nets, who lost in the first round to the Hawks.
Spencer Hawes, who had been mostly the Sixers’ starter at center, played more effectively coming off the bench for the Los Angeles Clippers, who lost in the second round to the Houston Rockets.
Iguodala, who became an All-Star in his final season with the 76ers, is coming off the bench for the first time in his career to defend the league’s best wing players and provide timely scoring, both of which he has done admirably in the NBA Finals, despite James’s numbers. Speights, who was traded early in the 2011-12 season due to his inability to defend and play intelligently, has found a home with the Warriors by providing scoring punch off the bench.
So what can we conclude from these observations? Perhaps the Sixers weren’t that far from a championship, considering they had players who ended up serving valuable purposes for playoff teams. Unfortunately, during their time in Philly, many of their roles were bloated because there was no superstar around which to build. Whether we want to believe it or not, the Sixers did have pieces to the championship puzzle; they were just too big to fit. Knowing what they needed and not having the money to sign a superstar, they tried trading for one. And we all know what happened from there.
We can only hope that one of the 76ers’ recent draft picks turns into that elusive solution. They concluded Michael Carter-Williams, last year’s Rookie of the Year, wouldn’t be that player, and as a result, he was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. Naturally, he became another former Sixer who made this year’s playoffs.
Would the Sixers have been better off keeping players such as Carter-Williams, while hoping that their franchise player would arrive before too long to trim the too-big-to-fit puzzle pieces? There’s no way to know right now, but it does make you wonder whether a buy-and-hold strategy for some players would result in a trip to the NBA Finals faster than their current one.