The season is 27 games old for the 76ers, still quite a way from the halfway point.
But doesn't it seem so long ago since the season began and new coach Eddie Jordan was looking at a starting lineup of Lou Williams and Andre Iguodala at the guards, Thaddeus Young and Elton Brand at the forwards and Sam Dalembert at the center spot?
The plan then was for Marreese Speights to be the first big man off the bench, followed by Jason Smith. Willie Green and his versatility was the first guard, while Rodney Carney was going to be counted on for his defense and athleticism and Jason Kapono would bang threes at a steady pace.
How things have changed.
Speights partially tore a ligament in his left knee in the 10th game that kept him sidelined for just over a month. Brand struggled early, was about to be pulled from the starting lineup, but wasn't, then played well, then missed three games with an injury. He got back to starting after two games as a sub.
Williams broke his jaw just before Thanksgiving, which opened a starting spot for rookie Jrue Holiday. Then Holiday hurt a shoulder and missed three games. When he got healthy, he was plugged back into the starting lineup with Allen Iverson, whom the club re-signed to shore up a thin roster. That took Brand out of the starting lineup as Jordan wanted to go with a quicker group to start the game.
Got all that? It's been dizzying, to say the least.
Speights, who posted a career-high 28 points in Saturday's 112-107 overtime loss to the Clippers, is now recovered and back in his role as the spark off the bench. Williams played 23 minutes Saturday and should recover his starting spot soon. Iverson is battling an arthritic left knee that has caused him to miss two games, though he should be back this week either at Washington tomorrow or in Utah on Saturday.
"It will be nice to get a full deck back," said Jordan.
And it will be interesting to see how Jordan juggles all his pieces.
Jordan has talked about his excitement of playing Williams and Iverson together, so let's plug them into the starting lineup. Iguodala, Young and Dalembert aren't going anywhere, so there are your starters. Jordan loves the energy and physicality that Speights and Brand bring off the bench - often at the same time - which they did in Friday night's 98-97 upset win in Boston.
Holiday will probably be the first guard off the bench, as he continues to improve and show greater confidence on the floor. Kapono will get his time, simply due to his being the only consistent threat from distance on the team. Carney, Smith and the classy vet Green's minutes probably all will be dictated by matchups.
"Sometimes it can be [tough]," Green said of all the shuffling that's been going on. "Not knowing when your number is going to be called, when you're starting or when you're coming off the bench. Our main focus is for everybody to be prepared to go out and execute the game plan and try to win the game. I guess at the end of the day it doesn't matter if you're starting or coming off the bench if you play 30 minutes or 10 minutes. Our focus has to be to go out and play as hard as we can to do the best that we can for the time that we're given."
For Green, who in the past couple of years has gone from starter to bench scorer to defensive stopper and back to starter, it has been trying. Now with a healthy team and the addition of Iverson, he could very well be an odd man out as far as minutes go.
"It's an adjustment," Green said. "I think every year presents a different challenge for me as a basketball player. It's actually helped my game grow. One year I was a starter, another time I was coming off the bench and scoring in the first and third quarter. Last year it was more of a defensive mind-set. This year it's more coming in picking up full-court defense and giving this team a spark, a mixture of both. But I look forward to the challenge. I'm a faithful guy and I believe that everything will work out no matter what situation that I'm in."