Falling in Love with .500

Did you see Lou Williams’ dunk last night? Sure, the Sixers lost. But this group has quietly become relevant in Philadelphia again.

After starting the season 3-13, the Philadelphia 76ers are on the cusp of .500, currently finding themselves 7th in the Eastern Conference at 26-29. The Sixers have a chance to equal last season’s win total tonight at Houston, the last game before the All-star break.

The future is brighter in Philadelphia today than it was last season when Eddie Jordan shoved his Princeton offense down the throats of a youthful Sixers team ill-equipped to handle its many decisions, actions and reactions.

This season, Elton Brand is healthy, Andre Iguodola is making and creating plays, Lou Williams has become the perfect combination of 6th man/4th quarter closer and Jrue Holiday is rounding out nicely as the team’s point guard of the future.

With the team playing well, .500 seems likely. But where will they settle? Will they fly past mediocrity as they become more familiar with Collins’ offensive system and defensive identity or will they do what the Sixers have done since trading Allen Iverson – hover around it?

Since the Iverson trade, finishing ther season at or near.500 has been reason to celebrate for Sixers fans. In 2007-08, the Sixers started slow, found an identity in their uptempo style, caught fire and made the playoffs with a 40-42 record before losing in six games to the Detroit Pistons. This season has that same feel. Like the 07-08 team, this Sixers squad had zero expectations coming into the season. Head coach Doug Collins took advantage by tinkering with lineups and styles until discovering a successful team identity as the season progressed. This year’s team plays hard for coach Collins on every possession, takes pride in their defense (currently 9th in defensive efficiency giving up 102.3 points per 100 possessions ) and boast the highest scoring bench in the NBA.

I actually see similarities between the Sixers and the team they are currently chasing in the standings, the New York Knicks. Both have young talent that are performing beyond expectations right now. The difference between the Sixers and the Knicks is N.Y. has a defined superstar in Amare Stoudemire and they are willing to deal their young talent to partner Amare with another superstar (Carmelo Anthony this season or Chris Paul in 2012).

The Sixers do not have the luxury of relying on a superstar, nor are they willing to part with their core. One of the keys to the Sixers’ recent success, is that on any given night, any Sixer can be the go-to-guy. They have five guys who average double figures, none more than Elton Brand’s 15.3 pts a game, and two of the five come off the bench. It’s more difficult to gameplan against seven guys than simply saying “Let’s stop Amare tonight.”

So how can the Sixers avoid the same ending as the 07-08 team? Don’t fall in love with .500. Make a move and improve!

But Chad Ford of ESPN.com said in a chat today that most coaches do not like in-season trades and Doug Collins would likely ask management to wait and see how his team shapes up as they head toward the post-season.

Power forward Troy Murphy will likely be bought out by the New Jersey Nets if he is not traded before the February 24th trade deadline. If I’m team president Rod Thorn, I would consider adding Murphy to the fold. He’s a left handed four with fresh legs, who can rebound and shoot the basketball.

The only somewhat attractive piece the Sixers can offer is Jason Kapono’s expiring contract. Still, Thorn knows the Nets better than just about anyone in the NBA. He needs to at least make a trade offer. If Murphy is bought out, he will likely only sign with a finals contender.

Collins’ job at the start of the season was to make sense of this hodgepodge of talent that was filled with redundancy and horrid contracts. Well, the wins are adding up and the contracts are looking less horrendous. I just hope the Sixers aren’t satisfied.

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