Game Seven losses can be moments of realization of the work left to be done and the future that lies ahead, or they can be moments of realization of just how far you still have left to go and the hopelessness of the future.
Philadelphia is in a weird place. Typically a young team like the 76ers might view a Game Seven loss at Boston as a stepping stone to bigger and better things. This iteration of the Sixers though has been lost in the wilderness for some time. With the way Philadelphia was able to compete with Boston, you might have forgotten that Philadelphia was the 8-seed in the East and took a nose dive in the second half of the shortened season after getting out to a 20-9 start.
The 76ers have been at this crossroads since missing the 2010 Playoffs and have long been dissatisfied with their spot in the middle of the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia seems determined this summer to make a move to make the team significantly better or in a better position to get there.
Before the holiday weekend, we discussed briefly that the 76ers seem likely to be shopping reluctant superstar Andre Iguodala again. Iguodala was an All Star for the first time this year despite his worst individual statistics of his career. He was always a good player but not a great player and one probably forced into a role he was not capable of ever filling -- that of the first option superstar.
If the "star player" is on the trading block (and you have to ask what Philadelphia might be able to get for him), it seems the franchise is preparing to start over and put an end to this recent, yet unimpressive run of three postseason appearances in four years. Philadelphia was not much to look at in that run, but at least the team was in the Playoffs for the most part.
Factoring into that decision might also be how difficult it was to assess where this team was following its postseason run. Philadelphia defeated an injury depleted -- no Derrick Rose, no Joakim Noah -- Chicago team in the first round. The 76ers then played an ugly, uneven series against the Celtics.
Philadelphia's players deserve a ton of credit for playing hard and together and committing defensively to get the team to that point. But nobody is confusing this team with a championship team. In fact, this team seems more likely to be confused with a lottery team.
That is why the one constant Philadelphia hopes to establish as it contemplates its future is coach Doug Collins.
Collins was the one that turned the 76ers into one of the top defensive teams in league. It was Collins pushing all the right buttons and getting his team to buy in and play together. It was Collins who often helped his team find the hot hand and keep an offense going that could sometimes bog down by maintaining offensive balance.
Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes that Collins likely got all he could out of this Sixers roster and that he should get the opportunity to see what he can do when Philadelphia gains the resources this summer to make a real run for something bigger than just making the Playoffs -- really a first since Allen Iverson was stepping over Tyrone Lue in the early 2000s.
One thing appears certain, although there were rumors to the contrary. When the team regathers in that next locker room and the remaining faces are merged with the new ones, Collins still will be standing in the middle of the room. During a bad mid-to-late-season lull, when there were published reports that the team had stopped listening to Collins, it was fair to wonder whether the inmates would take over the prison.
That isn't going to happen, and some of the inmates will be relocated instead. Josh Harris, the managing owner of the team, sat in with Collins when he conducted individual exit interviews with the players on Sunday. That's unusual, and it indicates a working partnership that forms the core of the team's current decision-making hierarchy.
Again, this was not a team playing at a championship level, even when the team was winning a lot of games and rolling early on in the season. This was a team that crashed to earth pretty hard and had to learn the hard way to trust their coach. Those rumors in those dark days late in the season as Philadelphia slid out of the Atlantic Division lead and toward Playoff oblivion seemed pretty real.
But Philadelphia stuck with Collins, the team stuck with Collins and Collins continued to believe in his team. It paid off with a great playoff run.
The next step is much more uncertain as Philadelphia plans its future. One thing does seem certain, Philadelphia knows the man who will take the helm. Once the 76ers begin investing more in their future, they will begin to figure out if Collins is indeed the right man to return the 76ers to title contention.
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