It took more than three months of basketball, but we finally learned who won the backup point guard derby contested languidly this season between Trey Burke and Raul Neto.
And the winner is … Alec Burks.
The Sixers confirmed at Thursday’s trade deadline what everyone already knew. Their bench wasn’t talented enough to provide the support for a deep playoff run. The acquisition of Burks and Glenn Robinson III, rental 6-foot-6 journeymen on expiring contracts, doesn’t alter that equation very much, but at least there are a couple of new guys we aren’t tired of yet. Give it time.
Burks is probably the more useful of the two and projects to become the primary ballhandler when Ben Simmons isn’t at that position. The Golden State Warriors were happy to make the salary dump and take back none in return, getting three middling second-round picks instead.
The Sixers didn’t have to delve into the deep treasure trove of second-round picks originally belonging to the Knicks, which are more like junior varsity first-round picks. Golden State agreed to the skimpy deal only with the understanding it wouldn’t have to lug around Jonah Bolden or Kyle O’Quinn for the rest of the year.
In the end, to add Burks and Robinson and promote Norvel Pelle, the team shipped James Ennis to Orlando for a second-round pick, and had to eenie-meenie among Burke, Bolden, and O’Quinn to see which two would be simply cut. That summed up their trade value.
That is the real indictment of the team’s bench, as constructed by general manager Elton Brand and the merry meddlers of the front office and ownership branch. The team couldn’t package a couple of serviceable reserves along with a nice draft pick to pry loose a shooter and perimeter creator who would actually make a difference.
What the Sixers have, beyond the starting lineup and Matisse Thybulle, is what nobody wants. That makes for a tough trade-deadline assignment.
The good news for Burks and Robinson as they attempt to learn a new offense is they are joining a team that apparently doesn’t know it, either. Center Joel Embiid said after Monday’s dreadful performance in Miami that the team lacks an offensive identity, and Al Horford added there is some “stuff” going on with the locker room dynamic right now.
“Sometimes we play fast. Sometimes we play slow,” Embiid said.
And one pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small, but the ones Brett Brown is handing out don’t do anything at all, is the subtext to their whining. When in doubt, blame the coach, and Brown is far from blameless, but he’s gone from bumping down the road for years in a dumptruck to trying to handle a Formula 1 machine with very loose steering. The wall comes up fast.
Whether Embiid realizes it, or cares, saying out loud in February that the offense doesn’t have an identity is the kind of thing that gets coaches fired, which is where all this is leading if the season doesn’t shake its “disappointing” adjective.
The actual problem isn’t that the team doesn’t have an offensive identity but that it has five or six of them. Everyone sort of does his own specialty – some better than others – and it hasn’t blended into anything cohesive.
A team has an identity when each of the parts sacrifices something of itself for the greater good. At least when it comes to the blending of Embiid and Ben Simmons, the only ones who really matter, the Sixers aren’t there yet.
So, yeah, welcome to town, Alec and Glenn. It’s been an absolute funfest here as the Sixers have gone 11-14 since Dec. 13, including Thursday night’s loss in Milwaukee, often looking so uninterested on the road they barely register a pulse.
The new acquisitions aren’t saviors, and Robinson might not play very much at all. Both were having career production seasons with the Warriors but only because they were also playing more minutes than they deserve.
The Sixers are Burks’ fifth team in just over 14 months, and while he will bring some speed to the court, which the team needs, he’s only moderately reliable on the perimeter. This is what you get when your trade partners would prefer a plague of cold sores to James Ennis or Mike Scott.
Brand and the boys did their best, one supposes, with what they had. The bench should be a bit better, or different in any case, which is also better. As for the starting lineup, that wasn’t going to be altered until it has a go at the playoffs, which probably makes sense.
Maybe they will be able to go through the motions of a batting practice regular season and then become the dominating force that was expected. History tells us that doesn’t happen very often, and the Sixers, who have developed a weirdly disconnected personality, seem unlikely candidates for the task.