The 76ers are using a different formula.
The standard NBA formula calls for reaching the finish line with one luxury vehicle out front - or three luxury vehicles if you're the Miami Heat - and a slew of midlevel sedans zooming behind.
But because the Sixers aren't in the hunt for that luxury vehicle - because of a lack of salary-cap flexibility and destination-franchise cachet - they're taking the road less traveled.
They're using a rare formula: a roster of solid, if not star, pieces aligned in formation. It's a narrower road for an NBA franchise to follow. It takes a little while for the jelled product to beat the superstar product, and it requires the individual pieces to annually elevate their game.
So it makes sense that some Sixers fans will look at this season's roster - on Saturday the Sixers finalized a deal with center Spencer Hawes - and wonder exactly where the improvement will come from. Last season, the Sixers went 41-41 and exited in the first round of the playoffs. The agreement with Hawes means the Sixers return their top 12 players from last season.
They were mediocre last season. They'll be mediocre this season.
Not necessarily. Although the team hasn't been improved artificially - by a free-agent signing or trade - the Sixers and coach Doug Collins hope it has improved the old-fashioned way: by each player improving his game, by the additional chemistry that comes from consecutive years with the same players and same coach.
Here are three improvements the Sixers expect. Alongside those improvements are the potential added wins from each improvement. (Added wins are valued as if this was going to be an 82-game season; this season will be just 66 games because of the lockout.)
Guard/forward Evan Turner going from a scared-looking rookie to a game-ready sophomore (+4 wins).
In Saturday's scrimmage, Turner caught a risky outlet pass and in one motion spun away from an oncoming defender and immediately pushed the ball up the court. He took two long dribbles and then dished a no-look pass to his backcourt mate, Jrue Holiday. It was a small move, but the confidence and playmaking were things seen only sporadically from Turner last season.
Last season's starting shooting guard, Jodie Meeks, was too streaky and rarely created opportunities for others. He sometimes added a slew of threes, but he rarely won the Sixers' games.
Collins has Turner penciled in as this year's starting off-guard, and if Saturday is any indication, Turner's growth will directly translate to additional wins.
Point guard Jrue Holiday improving as much this year as he did last year (+2 wins).
Holiday went from averaging 8.0 points and 3.8 assists per game his rookie season to 14.0 points and 6.5 assists a game last season. Although a similar jump is unrealistic - such an improvement would make Holiday a lock for the All-Star Game - continued improvement is expected and will likely come in the form of intangibles: better decisions at the end of games, smarter choices in the final two minutes of each quarter. The Sixers struggled to win games that came down to the final minute. Much of that inconsistency was the result of Holiday's youth and inexperience.
Holiday's improvement, even if it is just gradual throughout the season, will turn at least two losses into victories.
Forward Thaddeus Young adding a 15-foot jumper, boosting scoring from 12-plus points a game to 17-plus points a game (+2 wins).
Young, 23, has the potential to become an all-star player for the Sixers. His blossoming ability, which has always been limited to reserve-level minutes, is the reason the Sixers paid him $43 million for the next five seasons.
Young had one objective this offseason: to add a 15-foot jumper. Collins explained to him that this additional piece would make him unstoppable when isolated. If every defender is forced to honor Young's elbow jumper, no defender will be able to stop his drive.
With a jumper, Young would become a legitimate contender for the league's sixth-man-of-the-year award.
It makes sense that Sixers fans are frustrated about the franchise's lack of a star player. The star player - the luxury vehicle out ahead - sells tickets and keeps the arena rocking.
But the Sixers decided on a different formula. It's not quite as sexy, but this season it might get them one exit closer to their destination.
The Sixers are taking
the road less traveled:
A roster of solid, if not star, pieces all aligned in the
same formation. E4.