Season preview: Philadelphia 76ers
Power forward Elton Brand's arrival has ratcheted up expecations for the 76ers
Along with adding Brand, Philadelphia retained all of last season's key players
Coach Maurice Cheeks will have to keep this team from getting too overconfident
SI.com will analyze each of the NBA's 30 teams as regular-season tip-off approaches. For a complete list of team-by-team breakdowns, click here. The information in the "Go figure" category below is provided by Roland Beech of 82games.com.
76ers at a glance
Last season: 40-42; lost in the first round of the playoffs to Detroit
Notable additions: Elton Brand (FA), Marreese Speights (R), Kareem Rush (FA), Royal Ivey (FA), Donyell Marshall (FA), Theo Ratliff (FA)
Notable losses: Rodney Carney (trade with Timberwolves), Jason Smith (out for season with knee injury)
Coach: Maurice Cheeks (113-133 in three seasons with 76ers; 275-272 overall in seven NBA seasons)
Reasons for hope
1. A Brand new big man. Adding Josh Smith, whom the Sixers courted with their free-agent money, would have helped expand the team's talent base, but ultimately he might have proved redundant for a team brimming with young, athletic slashers and an elite shot-blocker in Samuel Dalembert. Getting Brand instead, however, addressed the Sixers' glaring need for a proven interior scorer. Excluding last year's injury-plagued campaign, the former longtime Clipper has averaged at least 18 points and 9 rebounds in all eight of his NBA seasons.
2. Let's stay together. The Sixers brought back every key player from last season's playoff team, including their two biggest free agents, Andre Iguodala and Louis Williams. As important as it was to retain Iguodala, which the Sixers did with a six-year, $80 million deal, it was equally important to keep Williams. Check out the 21-year-old backup guard's numbers from last season extrapolated over 48 minutes: 23.6 points, 6.5 assists and 2.1 steals. With Andre Miller entrenched as the starting point guard, the Sixers have the luxury of bringing the explosive Williams off the bench as he continues to develop.
3. Young's emergence. One of former general manager Billy King's last major moves was selecting Thaddeus Young in the first round of the 2007 draft. The Sixers are thankful for that. Young, with his energy and athleticism at power forward, helped fuel the 76ers' midseason turnaround in 2007-08, and he progressed enough to start 22 regular-season games and all six playoff games as a 19-year-old rookie. Brand's arrival means Young might start at small forward, a position at which he will need to improve his perimeter shooting.
Reasons for worry
1. Long-range shooting. The Sixers shot a league-low 32 percent from three-point range last season. That kind of accuracy won't do anything to create space for Brand to operate in the post. On the bright side, Rush (38.9 percent from beyond the arc with the Pacers last season) should help, the 35-year-old Marshall is capable of getting hot (though he slumped last season) and shooters are often available for hire at the trade deadline.
2. Is Cheeks up to the task? We understand that GM Ed Stefanski couldn't show Cheeks the door after he guided Philadelphia to a surprising postseason berth. (In fact, the coach received a contract extension.) We also understand that Cheeks is a good and honorable man. We also know, though, that Cheeks is a career .500 coach (275-272) with only two winning seasons and a 5-11 mark in the playoffs in seven years. We know that he lost his team in Portland once he was challenged by Darius Miles and didn't put him in his place immediately. And we know that we wouldn't feel entirely comfortable trusting Cheeks to push the right buttons in a tight spot after the Sixers went 4-8 last season in games decided by three points or fewer.
3. The possibility of overconfidence. The Sixers generated some buzz last season by surging into the playoffs and then pushing the Pistons to six games in the first round. With Brand now on board, that buzz has grown into full-fledged expectations for this season. Are the Sixers ready for them? More than a few supposed contenders have been derailed by an offseason of glowing press clippings. Though this group hasn't demonstrated a knack for coasting, it's never before been told how good it is, either. If Cheeks can keep this team focused, he will have earned his keep -- no matter the strategic miscues.
Keep an eye on ...
Miller's contract situation. Miller, a steadying influence at point guard for this young team, could be the key to the Sixers' prospects. He's also in the last year of his contract (worth $10 million) and recently hired a new agent to handle negotiations. His name came up often in trade rumors last season, but he ended up producing a solid season in Philadelphia. Miller is pleased with the direction of the team and has said he is open to staying beyond the season. Will the 76ers try to extend his contract now? Or will they wait to see how Williams progresses before committing to the 32-year-old Miller?
Miller, playing alongside athletic wing players as well as the explosive Dalembert, ranked third in the NBA last season in dunk assists with 149, trailing only Steve Nash and Chris Paul.
There is still work to be done to add another piece or two (especially a more reliable perimeter shooter), but the Sixers have come a long way since starting over after trading Allen Iverson in December 2006. Look for the 76ers to be in the mix for home-court advantage in the first round. And with a trade-deadline deal here and a mid-level deal there, the Sixers could soon join the Lakers in reviving yet another classic rivalry from the 1980s.
Sports Illustrated's NBA preview issue will be on newsstands Wednesday, Oct. 22.