For those of you who are younger Philadelphia 76ers fans like myself, there have been few instances in your lifetime that have engendered a real sense of pride in the Sixers. The glory days of Allen Iverson came and went, but there was so much mediocrity on the front and back ends of the 2000-01 championship run that apathy towards professional basketball in Philadelphia quickly became the norm.
Financial debacles by ownership rattled the consciousness of the Philadelphia basketball collective for much of the last decade, and poor performance ultimately made progress feel like an unattainable light at the end of the tunnel.
More than a decade after the Sixers' revered quest for a championship came to a screeching halt in five games at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers, new ownership has assembled a product that feels like a true winner.
An offseason revitalization project saw more familiar faces depart than return, and that was just fine with the fans. Gone are veteran staples Lou Williams, Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand and in are a melting pot of shooters and big men that will need to mesh with a young core in order to succeed.
The centerpiece of the team's facelift is All-Star center (and NBA Champion) Andrew Bynum, who is widely considered one of the league's premier big men. Whether he's better than Dwight Howard is still up for debate, but we'll let this season help decide that.
Bringing in a player of Bynum's stature means raising the levels of expectation across the board, but that's something the Sixers organization and their fans have been craving for some time now.
When I think of short-term expectations for a team like the Sixers, a second round playoff exit seems fair and anything past that would be a pleasant surprise. Fans will instantly point towards division and even conference titles, but the fact remains that the players on this team are unfamiliar with each other, and they will require a good chunk of time to find their identity as a group.
While it feels like the Sixers suddenly transformed from pretender into contender, fans will have to be patient. It seems like a difficult concept to grasp, but it will be essential to getting the most out of this season. This team overachieved last season thanks to some timely injuries (Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah) and a resilient second-round performance, so meeting a similar fate this season shouldn't be out of the question.
Simply put: An NBA Title feels out of reach this season for the Sixers. Don't get your hopes up, because this team will have too many obstacles to overcome in order to produce championship caliber ball on a consistent basis.
While the first year of the Bynum era may be the most fun for fans, it likely won't result in a parade down Broad Street. As the future rolls on, fans' patience may wear thin. After all, we're talking about Philadelphia.
Where things get more interesting is in the long-term, where the Sixers' future appears hazy at the moment. Bynum is a free-agent after this season, but it's been widely speculated (h/t to ProBasketballTalk) that Bynum will forgo signing an extension in order to enter free-agency in the summer, ultimately netting him a max-deal from the Sixers.
After the 2012-13 season, the Sixers have five players coming off the books, and that doesn't count Jrue Holiday, who's due for a qualifying offer. As new ownership has already exemplified, they are in the business of winning games, which has to have fans confident that they will continue to look at adding big pieces next summer.
Offseason additions like Nick Young and Dorell Wright will be headed for free-agency, and it will be up to the front office to surround Bynum with talent that's most conducive to his playing style.
Until fans have an extensive look at their refurbished team, they will have to understand that this is a fluid situation that will require adjustments down the line. The pieces aren't all going to fit perfectly from the get-go, but so far, proper steps are being taken to build a contender.
Given the franchise's abysmal play for much of the last ten years, it's likely that Bynum will get a pass for some time. For once, fans will be happy to known they're supporting a team that's not allergic to winning. That fact alone will have the fan base content.
It's the dawning of a new day for basketball in Philadelphia, and fans should welcome it with open arms.
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