COMMENTARY | Heading into training camp, the Philadelphia 76ers were considered to be one of the top teams in the league without a one-name player on its roster. In Andrew Bynum, they had a legitimate superstar for the first time in years. Fans were more excited than they'd been since the Pat Croce era. Demands for Allen Iverson to be brought back were finally stifled. And unlike the Knicks, the Sixers didn't owe former coach Larry Brown any more money.
Life was good. And then it unraveled.
The optimism that flew east with Bynum crash-landed when he was diagnosed with what has become a season-long injury. Despite the unexpected shock to their lineup, the Sixers played better than expected in October and November, giving fans hope. But then December rolled around, and Santa obviously remembered once getting booed at an Eagles game and instead of leaving presents under the tree, dumped 10 losses down the Sixers' chimney.
And now, as the team heads into the second half of the season, it's slapped with the reality that even if it sneaks into the playoffs, season-ticket holders need not worry about budgeting for the second round.
Some of the blame has to be placed on fate. The Sixers cannot control injuries and they have been besieged by them this year, starting with Bynum, whose last basket that counted was in another team's uniform. Starters Jrue Holliday, Thaddeus Young and Jason Richardson have all missed significant stretches due to physical ailments. Are the major injuries over for this year?
But there also have been self-inflicted wounds.
Philadelphia has no front court. The absence of Bynum has been crippling, but even his presence would not generate much production from the power forward position. The Sixers rebound poorly and they can't defend, a theory reinforced Wednesday when they gave up 35 points in the first 12 minutes and were then out-scored 65-41 in the first half against Minnesota. This after a full week off resting during the All-Star break. Will the Sixers wake up before it's too late?
Head coach Doug Collins is 61, and the Sixers' recent play is only speeding up his aging process. He's looking for answers, and about the only sure one is that bringing back Allen Iverson is not one. Even if Bynum returns, fans need only look at his previous team to realize that being a superstar in one city doesn't mean it's automatically going to work in another. Will Bynum become a one-name player or become the next Dwight Howard?
Collins would love nothing more than to bring a championship to the City of Brotherly Love. After all, Philly is like a second hometown to the former No. 1 overall draft pick. But the fiery coach has to ask himself: Can he get the Sixers to championship form while he's still in his coaching prime? Or will the call to become a full-time grandfather -- possibly moonlighting as an analyst -- become louder than his bark of "defense"?
Are the Sixers closer to winning a ring or earning more ping-pong balls in the lottery?
There are plenty of questions to be answered in Philadelphia. Questions not even Santa can answer (not that he would).
Jon Buzby lives in Delaware and is an award-winning sportswriter. He has been published in The News Journal and multiple other newspapers, magazines and websites.