Your Philadelphia Seventy-Tricksters

By T. Williams

Horrendous, appalling, awful, dreadful, abominable, frightful, ghastly, horrible, and shocking. These are the adjectives that I use to describe the shameful way that the Philadelphia 76ers underwhelming season concluded in Game 6 of the 1st round of the NBA Playoffs against the Orlando Magic. Listen, despite the fact that at the start of the season I had Philly winning 50-55 games, it’s not like I am upset with the Sixers because they didn’t advance to the second round. As a matter of a fact, quite the contrary, I was actually proud of the fact that they were taking it to the higher seeded Orlando Magic and were actually in a good position to advance to the second round or at the very least, push things to a game 7.

Then Orlando’s superstar and quite possibly the best big man playing in the NBA today, Dwight Howard, gets suspended for game 6 because of a blatant elbow to the head of Philadelphia straw man Sam Dalembert. Add to that, Howard and his wild style of play also knocks out his own starting SG Courtney Lee for the playoffs! At this point, the stage seems to be set for the Philadelphia 76ers to take game 6 and some momentum into Orlando for game 7, to decide who would make it out of the first round. Unfortunately for us, game 7 never happened, and judging by the effort shown by the Sixers neither did game 6.

It’s amazing to see how much people’s perceptions can change within a 48 hour period. Before game 6, the 76ers were a young team with upset potential written all over them in the first round of the 2009 playoffs. Sure they got off to a slow start at the beginning of the season, but that was all Mo Cheeks fault right? I’ve said it once and I will say it again. I believe that Mo Cheeks got absolutely hosed when he was fired as the Sixers head coach at the start of the season, and here is where I believe the problem begins.

At the time Mo Cheeks was fired, the Philadelphia 76ers were 5 games below .500 at 9-14. The Sixers were also struggling with several issues such as finding a way to force Andre Iguodala to become a shooting guard, when he is a natural small forward who has ZERO consistency in his mid range game; trying to find a proper place and time to fit emerging star Thaddeus Young into the lineup; a center who’s more concerned with playing soccer in some field off in Haiti or Canada than he is with playing professional basketball in the NBA, and most importantly how to mesh Elton Brand’s half court game into the fast break young, run and gun Sixers style of play.

Listen, I can understand the frustration by Ed Stefanski and the Sixers front office. Like I said, at the start of the season the Sixers were a team with extremely high hopes of making it deep into the playoffs, since acquiring the low post presence that was desperately lacking the previous year in Elton Brand. But, to fire your coach 23 games into the season, when he was only 5 games below .500, then to replace him with your Senior Vice President and Asst. GM Tony Dileo, whom by the way has zero NBA coaching experience, after you just gave Cheeks a contract extension the previous summer, absolutely reeks of a lack of vision, direction and management skills on the part of Ed Stefanksi.

Let's face it guys, Tony Dileo is NOT an NBA head coach. Hell, until Ed Stefanski decided to hand over the head position in Philadelphia to him, Dileo wasn’t even an assistant coach on the NBA level! So, should it have even been a surprise to any of us, when the favored 76ers at home in the Wachovia Center, in game 6 of the NBA Playoffs, lose to the Magic who are minus the most dominating inside force playing in the league today? Of course he couldn’t hold the team together and stop them from underestimating the wounded Magic. Tony Dileo is a personnel guy, not a coach, and it couldn’t have been anymore evident than it was in game 6. Add to that, it’s obvious that this team wasn’t on the same page before game 6, because the second the buzzer sounded in the fourth quarter, effectively bringing the Sixers season to a close, this is when you begin to hear all of the clubhouse dissension that had previously gone unnoticed.

Please, save me the time of hearing the argument that Dileo started off 18-10 after Cheeks was fired, ok? First of all, two of his first three wins came against the Washington Wizards, one of the worst teams in all of the NBA and the third was against the Milwaukee Bucks, another team that also didn’t make it to the post season. And if you take a look at the time that he actually had Brand on the roster and not on injured reserved, the Sixers went 4-6, suggesting that maybe it wasn’t Mo Cheeks fault for being 5 games under .500. Fortunately for Dileo, Elton Brand hangs it up for the remainder of the season, leaving the Sixers with the same team that made it to the playoffs last season, and now suddenly without the burden of attempting to work Brand into the offense, meanwhile allowing Iggy to go back to his natural position at small forward and giving Thaddeus Young the playing time he deserves.

If Tony Dileo was such a good coach, what exactly is it that he did different than Cheeks? Is anyone actually trying to suggest to me that the Sixers couldn’t have the same EXACT outcome at the end of their season if they kept Mo Cheeks, minus the game 6 implosion? When Theo Ratliff, a 13 year pro who by all accounts is a true professional and rarely rocks the boat, criticizes your lack of ability to manage substitutions and control the game in pressure situations, that should be the ultimate of red flags to the Sixers management.

In my opinion, Ed Stefanski is already skating on thin ice with 3 major strikes against him, one of which being the mismanagement of the coaching situation. The next couple of problems were the wasteful signings this past offseason of Andre Iguadala and Elton Brand which have now totally handcuffed the Sixers cap space for the foreseeable future. I’m sorry, but I like Iggy and Brand but not for the price tags that they were both signed for. Was there any reason that we had to resign Iggy to the largest restricted free agent contract of the year? And as far as Elton Brand is concerned, I like the guy just fine. I believe he was a superb player in his prime three years ago. But personally I believed the Sixers should have gone after the Atlanta Hawks restricted free agent Josh Smith. Yes, I understand that the Hawks had threatened to match any deal that any team threw out there but seriously, when was the last time you remember the Atlanta Hawks breaking the bank on any player, EVER? And I always hear the argument “well if we went after Josh Smith, we might have missed out on Elton Brand!” and to that I say, SO WHAT?!?!? Better off to miss out on a player that fits your offense and style of play, than to go “All In” on a player who isn’t nearly as athletic and apparently healthy enough to be able to help the Sixers win any games.

So we are now left with one fundamental question. Who are the Philadelphia 76ers? What direction is this team headed? Is this a young, up and coming team flooded with raw talent, that’s just waiting for the right time to peak? Or is this a mismatch team of athletes, and not basketball players, who at best will remain a .500 ball club? Well let me help you out a bit Mr. Stefanski since you seem to be having a little trouble with this. The first thing you need to do is to find a direction for the Sixers, any direction. Find a coach and commit to him. Make up your mind as to what kind of team you want to have and then hire a new coach accordingly. Do you want to have a half court offense or do you want to remain a run and gun style team? Do you want a coach who is a teacher and a nurturer or do you want a hard nose, take no excuses disciplinary type of a coach? Will your emphasis be on offense or defense? These are the questions you need to be asking yourself before you can begin to make any player personnel moves this off season.

Next thing you need to do is to get all of the garbage and dead weight, or soon to be dead weight off of the team. First person in my cross hairs is Samuel Dalembert. Let me just say this, the reason Sammy D has not improved at all is because he doesn’t care! Newsflash, he will never care because he doesn’t care about basketball. He is a soccer player!!!! And I’m not talking about someone like Steve Nash, who has a competitive edge regardless as to what sport he’s playing, Dalembert a soccer player that was told one day “You’re playing the wrong sport. If you want to make money, you should play basketball.” He is a joke and needs to be off this team one way or another. I don’t care if you trade him, cut him, or just pay him to stay away from the team like Stephon Marbury and the Knicks. His lackadaisical attitude is infectious and needs to be weeded out before the younger players are affected. Willie Green is not a starting shooting guard and Lou Williams is not a point guard. Andre Miller is a nice player but is getting old, do not resign him! And most of all, you absolutely must figure out what to do with Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand and Thaddeus Young. You have 3 forwards on your team that all deserve starter minutes, therefore you cannot keep all three on the same team and expect it to work.

There is a lot of potential here, and I don’t believe that all hope is lost for this team, but at the end of the day, some crucial moves need to be made if this franchise wants to take another step forward instead of being a stagnant .500 club or worse. Find a way to get rid of both Dileo and Dalembert and either trade Thadd Young, Iggy or Brand for some other pieces that fit whatever direction you choose to take the franchise in. Good luck Ed, because you already know, Philly will be watching…


Crosby vs Ovechkin

When something in sports is hyped as much as this series, it usually does not live up to it. Through the first two games, Crosby and Ovechkin have stepped up to the plate and delivered for their respective teams. This may in fact go down as the best playoff series of all-time.

Game 1 was played last Saturday on NBC in front of a sold out Verizon Center in Washington with Caps fans "rocking the red" wearing red shirts. It did not take long as Crosby struck first scoring just 4 minutes into the game. The Caps would respond with a goal of their own by David Steckel and then followed it up with a tallie by Ovechkin. The Caps ended up winning the game 3-2, but the individual score was Crosby-1 Ovechkin-1.

Game 2 tonight was a game that will go down in Stanley Cup Playoff history. It will be called the "Crosby/Ovechkin Show." The Caps won the game 4-3, but the remarkable thing was that Crosby and Ovechkin combined to score 6 of the 7 goals. Each tallied a hat trick, with the Caps getting one other by David Steckel. Ovechkin had a highlight reel goal for his third, just to have Crosby follow it up with a highlight reel goal of his own with under a minute to play in the third period.

Being overlooked in this series is the goaltending. The average age of the goalies starting for their respective teams is 23. Simeon Varlamov recently turned 21 years old and only started six NHL games in his career before the playoffs. He came in relief in Washington's first round series and led them over the Rangers in 7 games. Since, he leads all playoff goalies with a 1.51 GAA and is second with a .945 save percentage while picking up 2 shutouts along the way. In Game 1, he robbed Sidney Crosby on what might go down as the "save of the playoffs" by stopping the shot with just his stick as Crosby had a wide open net to shoot at. In the other net is Marc-Andre Fleury, the 24-year-old Penguins netminder. Fleury has been unbeatable at points in the playoffs, but has also been exposed at times. The key here is that even though all the hype is around Crosby and Ovechkin, the series can be won by spectacular goaltending by Varlamov and Fleury.

Even though the Caps are up 2-0 in the series, it now shifts back to Pittsburgh where the Penguins are not just going to roll over. Games 3 and 4 will be played Wednesday and Friday nights at the Igloo in Pittsburgh. Game 5, if necessary, is back in Washington Saturday night. Game 6 and 7, if necessary, will be played in Pittsburgh and Washington respectively on Monday 5/11 and Wednesday 5/13. Unfortunately all remaining games in the series will be shown on Versus Network. Only Game 1 was shown on NBC. It is just typical of the NHL that they would have the ideal series of Crosby/Ovechkin and only have one game on NBC. For those of us with Versus, we are being treated to something special, and hopefully it will continue throughout the rest of the series.

Many hockey fans in Philadelphia may not like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. Say what you want about both of them, they are the best two players in the NHL today. Both players are carrying their teams right now. There is no denying it. Flyers' fans do not have to cheer for either player, but after watching what these two superstars are doing in this series, fans of the orange and black should at least have respect for them. They are the current faces of the NHL.