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Philadelphia 76ers Search for Direction (And Hope)

How Years of Poor Decision Making Have Left the 76ers in NBA Purgatory

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | There is a belief in NBA circles that goes something like this: You should either be contending or tanking.

This basically means is that if your team is not in a position to realistically compete for a title, you should pull the cord and embrace the lottery. Some teams (the Atlanta Hawks, for instance) believe in treading water. Not being good enough to compete for a title, but not bad enough to be in the lottery or even miss the playoffs.

Every year these teams have a fairly defined ceiling. Finish with the 5-6 seed, get bounced in the first round, maybe the second if they get the right matchup. These teams justify this existence because the playoffs are great for revenue, I mean the fans, and there is always the chance that injuries can pop up and propel them further along (we saw that in this year's playoffs with the injury to Russell Westbrook). These teams are generally satisfied, though fail to generate much interest or excitement.

And then there's the Philadelphia 76ers.

The team that has laid claim to "NBA Purgatory." A team finds itself in this metaphorical hellscape of ineptitude by not being good enough to make the playoffs, not being bad enough to land a top pick and not having enough money for a splashy free-agent signing. There is pretty much no upside here. Philly is picking 11th in this year's draft and will be faced with a number of big-man prospects that range from intriguing to nauseating. It's unfortunate, though, because this isn't where the 76ers were supposed to be.

Last offseason, they finally decided to shake things up by jumping into the climatic Dwight Howard deal and landing All-Star caliber center Andrew Bynum, who for once finished a season in uniform instead of street clothes. All they really surrendered was their overpaid, All-Star wing Andre Iguodala, rookie Maurice Harkless, and little-used foreigner Nikola Vucevic. This seemed like a worthwhile gamble for a young 7-footer who was poised to contribute 20 points and 10 rebounds a night.

So they surrounded him with shooters, acquiring Jason Richardson and Dorell Wright, and then bolstered their frontcourt by re-signing Spencer Hawes for too much money and taking a one-year flyer on the immortal Kwame Brown. There was finally optimism in Philadelphia about its basketball team. The city was thinking playoffs. And then its hopes collapsed like Andrew Bynum's ligaments. The prized big-man's only contribution to the team was a series of puzzling hairstyles as he failed to appear in a single game due to chronic knee trouble. Jason Richardson blew out his knee after some strong play, Dorell Wright fell out of the rotation, Spencer Hawes regressed horribly, and Kwame Brown did Kwame Brown things.

The only bright spot was the ascension of Jrue Holiday to All-Star status after a strong campaign in a conference where former point guard king Derrick Rose was out with an ACL tear, and Deron Williams was playing his way into an amnesty candidate. There wasn't much else to look forward to. Evan Turner continued to not live up to being the No. 2 overall pick in a draft where he was selected ahead of rising stars like Greg Monroe, Demarcus Cousins and Derrick Favors, all gifted players at positions that the 76ers needed filled at the time a lot more than another tall wing player with no jump shot. On top of that, wingman Paul George, who is currently lightning it up in the Eastern Conference finals, was available and didn't get selected until 8 spots later. He won this season's Most Improved Player Award. Needless to say, he's having a better career than Evan Turner.

To make matters worse, the Sixers had to watch castoffs Maurice Harkless and Nikola Vucevic shine in Orlando. Particularly Vucevic, who strung together a 20-point and 20-rebound game. So now, the 76ers have some decisions to make. Andrew Bynum is an unrestricted free agent and bound to draw interest despite missing the entire year, because this is the NBA. If Darko Milicic can get a big payday, Bynum is in good shape. Jrue Holiday is their point guard of the future and only proven commodity other than the undersized and jump shot-challenged Thaddeus Young.

The rest of the roster is expendable. They'll also be seeking a new coach as Doug Collins has once again failed to make it past a third season with an NBA team. The best thing the 76ers can do is cut their losses and start building a coherent roster and productive culture. No more splurging on mediocre talent, and it would help to have a coach that didn't bury rookies on the bench due to some outdated and irrational principle.

The 76ers need to sign and trade Bynum for some assets, and use what's left of Evan Turner's trade value to find a backcourt mate for Jrue Holiday, or a productive big man without knee problems. These are all steps in the right direction. The new management can't be afraid to take several steps back in the short term if it will improve the team's long-term prospects. Only then will there be reason to hope in Philadelphia.

Ian White lives in Philadelphia, PA and has been following and playing basketball for 20 years. He had is own blog for 3 years called "Singlebloke" which brought in 700 unique viewers per day. Ian White currently is a freelance copy editor. Follow him on Twitter @ATrueCynic.

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