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Shaun Powell

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The lack of a star turn by Evan Turner (left) is one of many issues to crop up as Philly's season has worn on.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Star-deprived Sixers feeling the pinch as playoffs near


Posted Apr 10 2012 11:48AM

This is where Allen Iverson bailed them out 10 years ago. And 10 years before that, Charles Barkley. And 10 years before that, Julius Erving.

Every decade, the Sixers were blessed. They had a superstar with strong shoulders who was the difference between winning and losing, tough times and good times. When they needed a big basket, a savior or just a security blanket when it counted, Philly could always rely on Dr. J or Sir Charles or A.I. to swoop in.

Now, that superstar seat has gone cold in Philly. And that's why the reeling Sixers are desperate and woozy and in serious danger of getting deep-sixed from postseason contention.

Who will get the Batsignal from Doug Collins to reverse a tailspin that saw the Sixers go from Atlantic Division leader to feeling the hot breath of the Bucks at the bottom of the playoff rung? This spring swoon is on the verge of becoming epic, and yet there's a feeling of helplessness to prevent it, only because the Sixers don't have the one player they truly need.

With a superstar, the Sixers don't lose 10 of 14 games, getting wiped out by the Wizards and Raptors in the process. They don't look clueless in the clutch, or start a number of games dreadfully slow, or cause Collins to quickly lose whatever natural hair color he has left.

The Sixers didn't have a big weapon last season, either, and that earned them one win against the Heat in the first round. They were counting on one of their handful of good, young players to make a star turn this season. That hasn't happened.

And so there's the very real possibility the franchise must go outside to fill that role this summer -- if they're lucky enough -- and until then, hope for the best these last 10 games.

"This has been a difficult season," admitted Collins.

The Sixers have their best players at the same position, aren't getting major production from their veterans and are seriously lacking in low-post offense. They play defense well enough to give themselves a chance, but nobody on the Sixers scares the other team offensively in a tight game.

After being wiped out Sunday in Boston, Thaddeus Young said: "Everyone is just trying to do too much right now, taking into their own hands and trying to act like Superman."

That would be fine ... if there was a Superman on the Sixers.

Being that this is Philly, much of the abuse in town (at least among those who still care) is heaped on Andre Iguodala and, to an extent, Elton Brand. They're the highest-paid and most-accomplished players, but they're unfair targets. Although they both have been All-Stars (Iguodala made his first appearance this season), they're not franchise players.

Collins hoped for more from the younger players, but have any of them improved? Do the Sixers have any confidence that Young, Evan Turner, Jrue Holiday or Lou Williams still have a high ceiling? Is there a potential star in the bunch?

Williams, a reserve, shoots 40 percent -- not what you'd want from your No. 1 scorer. Holiday was better across the board last season. Young got a big contract extension, but the results haven't matched the money ... yet.

And then there's Turner, the second overall pick two years ago. He still hasn't found a niche or a comfortable position. Is he a point guard? A two? Does he have the size and strength for the front line? Turner's rookie season was nothing special (7.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.0 apg) because Collins wanted to bring him along slowly. This season, he's been wildly inconsistent; he can get 26 points and eight rebounds against the Heat one night, then four points and three rebounds the next against the Raptors.

The other issue? Is Collins reaching the younger players. Their development depends on a steady hand and a coach who connects and inspires. Collins did a bang-up job last season and did not turn dumb overnight. He's more mellow and patient at age 60 than ever. But you wonder if he's reached his limits.

On a certain level, it might be better for a team that opened the season winning 18 of 25 to miss the playoffs, drop into the lottery and spend the offseason reshaping itself. Would that be a better option than backing into the playoffs just to face the Bulls or Heat? After the Sixers started the season strong, they weren't chasing major moves at the trade deadline. Now, they'll be chasing.

This summer they can package players carrying reasonable contracts with picks to trade. Or if they're adventurous, they could amnesty Brand, who is due $18 million next season (the last year of his deal) and use the money to chase a free agent.

The remaining schedule is a good news/bad news deal for the Sixers. Eight of the last 10 are on the road, including the final five, and there is a back-to-back-to-back set. But six games are against lightweights; three against the Nets, along with the Raptors, Cavs and Pistons. The season isn't totally lost. April 25 in Milwaukee could decide things.

Whether they make the playoffs or not, their main problem will follow them into the summer. The Sixers are due for a star, aren't they? Call it a 10-year itch.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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