When Elton Brand bit hard on the upfake from Milwaukee rookie Luc Mbah a Moute midway through the third quarter on Wednesday night and cartwheeled to the floor, suffering a separated shoulder in the process, whatever is supposed to be happening with the 76ers at the moment was also wrenched from its socket.
Maurice Cheeks was fired Saturday because general manager Ed Stefanski did not think the process of blending Brand to the roster, adding a necessary half-court game to the Sixers' obvious running ability, was proceeding on schedule.
None of that can be denied. The Sixers have operated this season like a car that rides around with one of those donut spares for weeks at a time - significantly slower and less maneuverable and definitely searching for a more permanent solution.
Stefanski did not blame the architect - himself - for what appears to be a serious design flaw in the structure of the roster. That might have to come later, but not yet. First, you change the coach and use that as a litmus test. If Tony DiLeo gets the same results, and potentially, whoever follows DiLeo, then the problem isn't the coach. The problem is the team.
Reaching that conclusion is still a long way away, however, and much testing still has to be done. It has to be done with Brand on the court, though, and as long as he takes to recover from the shoulder injury (estimated at one month right now) - and as long as he remains gimpy from the effects of Achilles surgery and the occasional hamstring issue - the interim tests don't mean a thing.
Welcome then to a stretch in the Sixers' season that is more meaningless than usual. There will be some wins along the way, including what could be a pair this weekend against Washington and Indiana, but those will be merely sugar highs and have to be ignored. At the end of last season, as the team revived itself with 22 wins in its final 34 games, the Sixers ran like crazy and picked the low-hanging fruit of NBA.
It was great until the postseason arrived and Detroit took the Sixers apart by actually playing defense. That wasn't fair, was it? Suddenly, the Sixers couldn't run and, placed in the half-court game, they couldn't hide, either. They certainly couldn't get a reliable basket in the post and they couldn't shoot from range - which pretty much exhausted their options.
Stefanski brought in Brand to solve one of those deficiencies, whiffed on getting a shooter, and told Cheeks to make it all work. Find a way to continue an up-pace offense even though 40 percent of your starting lineup - Brand and Samuel Dalembert - are trotters and not runners. Find a way to use Andre Iguodala at shooting guard to make way for budding star Thaddeus Young at small forward, even though Iguodala shows little aptitude for the guard position. Hey, no big deal if you can't make it work, but we did just give the guy $80 million. Oh, and work in these other new guys, too, guys like Royal Ivey, Donyell Marshall, Kareem Rush and Marreese Speights. And figure it out before the end of December.
If it wasn't an assignment doomed to failure, it was pretty close. Maurice Cheeks might not be a great NBA coach, but this wasn't a fair measure of his ability. In fact, it was a mess waiting to happen.
Toward the end of his tenure, Cheeks made a lineup change when he threw up his hands and moved Iguodala back to small forward, removing Young from the starting lineup. It was a short-term fix to a deeper problem, but Cheeks was paddling as fast as he could. DiLeo kept that lineup in his first two games as coach and now, with Brand out, it will take more time to learn how the organization intends to solve the small-forward conundrum.
That, like everything else, is on hold until Brand returns. Time has halted, even as the schedule grinds on. Whatever the Sixers might become, they will have to achieve it with Brand in the lineup. (The small matter of the $80 million he got, too.) Making the pieces fit is the task and it is a puzzle that can't be attacked without the biggest piece on the court.
It isn't known yet exactly how long Brand will be out, although the team's guess is that it will be at least a month. We do suspect he's not the world's quickest healer, but that's just another assumption yet to be tested.
So, be prepared to sit back and enjoy the run-and-gun Sixers again for a while. They will be more fun to watch and there will be some meaningless wins along the way. If last season taught nothing else, it was the lesson of what meaningless run-and-gun wins actually represent.
That is why nothing really matters until Brand returns. In the meantime, the wait to meet the new and improved 76ers, already delayed, will have to last a while longer.