Sixers ready for breakout season?


Sixers ready for breakout season?

After reaching the second round of the playoffs last season, the Philadelphia 76ers have had a very busy off-season, letting key contributors go and bringing on new players who they hope can take the 76ers farther in the post-season in 2012-13. That might bea stretch for Philadelphia because as an 8th seed last season, the Sixers beat top seed Chicago without the Bulls best best player Derrick Rose. Then, in a seven-game series, Philadelphia lost to Boston in the next round.

Without question, it was a season to build on with young players like point guard Jrue Holliday and shooting guard Evan Turner getting their first taste of playoff basketball. A lot will be expected from Philadelphias projected starting back court next season.Holliday had another solid season, averaging 13 points and 4 assists a game while Turner, the former 2 overall pick in 2010, put up 9 points and 6 boards a game in his second year as a pro. Both will have to continue to improve for the Sixers to be a threatin the eastern conference.

Andre Iguodala -- who will get key experience as part of the U.S. men's Olympic team -- returns as arguably the team's best player. Iguodala averaged 12 points and 5 rebounds last season. The freakishly athletic Igoudala is capable of being a top-tier smallforward in this league but his scoring has decreased over the last two seasons, down from an average of 17 points a game in 2009-10.

Another player the Sixers have high hopes for is Thaddeus Young. The 6'-8" power forward scored 13 points and grabbed 5 boards last season, but his production dipped drastically in the playoffs as he averaged only 7 points in two series.

Faced with his 18-million salary next season, Philadelphia amnestied forward Elton Brand. The burly forward averaged 11 points and 7 rebounds last season but the Sixers had to clear salary space to re-sign center Spencer Hawes and add shooting guard Nick Youngthrough free-agency.

The 7-footer Hawes averaged nearly 10 points and 7 rebounds in 29 starts for the Sixers last season. If he can stay healthy, Hawes has a chance to be one of the better centers in the watered down eastern conference.

Young, meanwhile, got a one-year deal with Philadelphia as the now 6th year pro still has a lot to prove. Plagued by inconsistency, Young would likely come off the bench to provide a spark offensively shooting the ball. Young averaged 14 points a game withboth Washington and the Clippers last season.

Young replaces Lou Williams who left via free-agency to Atlanta. Williams was coming off a career year, in which he averaged 14.8 points off the bench for the Sixers.

In a surprise reunion, Doug Collins gets to coach Kwame Brown again. Collins was the Wizards head man when the team took Brown with the 1 overall pick in 2001 and Brown notoriously struggled. Brown has kept his career going because he is a mobile 7-footerand can bang the boards. Brown's past season was cut short in Golden State where he averaged 6 points and 6 rebounds in only 9 games.

The Sixers selected small forward Mo Harkless in the NBA draft. The 6'-7" Harkless left St. John's after one season, having averaged 15 points and 8 rebounds with the Red Storm where he was named Big East Rookie of the Year.

Just two years ago the Sixers were a dreadful 27-55 but, in a short amount of time under Doug Collins, they have turned it around to make the playoffs the last two seasons. Realistically, they should make the post-season again in 2012-13 but it will be toughto go far in the playoffs with the incredibly stacked eastern conference.

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3 bold predictions: Caps headed for a Wild night in Minnesota

3 bold predictions: Caps headed for a Wild night in Minnesota

The Capitals start the road trip in Minnesota to face former coach Bruce Boudreau and the Minnesota Wild (8 p.m., CSN). Here are three bold predictions for the game.

1. Washington will not trail after the first period

To say that Minnesota is struggling right now would be an understatement. They have lost eight of their last nine games. In every one of those eight losses, Minnesota was either trailing or tied at the end of the first period. In their one win? They took the lead into the locker room. The Caps will not trail after the first and if they do, they will be in trouble.

RELATED: ESPN experts send Grubauer to Vegas in mock draft

2. Alex Ovechkin will score

Who were the Caps playing against when Ovechkin broke a 10-game goal drought? Minnesota. Now with two goals in three games, he's starting to light it up again and he will get another on Tuesday.

3. Braden Holtby will limit Minnesota to two goals or less

The Wild have scored three or more goals only twice in their last nine games. Against Holtby and a team that has allowed the fewest goals per game in the NHL this season, that's a trend Minnesota seems unlikely to break.

For more Capitals coverage, check out the newest edition of the Capitals Faceoff Podcast!

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ESPN experts unanimously pick Philipp Grubauer for Vegas in mock draft

ESPN experts unanimously pick Philipp Grubauer for Vegas in mock draft

Every team in the NHL is going to lose a player on June 21 to Vegas in the NHL's expansion draft. ESPN seems to think that player will be Philipp Grubauer for the Caps.

In a mock draft conducted among four ESPN hockey analysts, each one selected Grubauer to Vegas.

The article does list one caveat, however.

In the real expansion draft, the Knights likely won't be taking the best possible players, but rather will optimize the entire process in terms of acquiring assets. In other words, they might agree not to take some of the players we've listed in exchange for a side deal that nets them a draft pick and/or prospect. Or [general manager George] McPhee might work a deal to take an exposed player with a bigger contract, provided he gets other assets in return.

Basically, while they believe Grubauer is the most likely candidate, the team can make a deal with McPhee for him to take a different player in exchange for other assets, such as prospects or draft picks.

RELATED: Holtby could soon join some select company

In Washington's case, that seems unlikely to happen if Grubauer is indeed McPhee's top target.

We don't know exactly who Washington will protect in the draft because they have some expiring contracts that makes it difficult to project. What we do know for sure is that, since each team is only allowed to protect one goalie, Grubauer will be exposed in order for the team to protect Braden Holtby. Regardless of who else the team exposes, a young, up-and-coming goalie like Grubauer will certainly be one of the Washington's biggest assets in the expansion draft.

Having a dependable backup is important and the Caps would certainly hate to lose him. So why wouldn't they work out a deal to protect him?

With Holtby locked in as the team's starter for years to come and Ilya Samsonov considered to be one of the top goalie prospects in the world, Grubauer does not likely factor into Washington's long-term plans. Given that every team is going to lose someone to the expansion draft, losing a backup goalie would not be the worst thing in the world.

As good as he has played this season (2.10 GAA, .925 save percentage), is it worth giving up other assets to keep him just to lose somebody else? Let's not forget, the Caps do not draft until the fourth round of the 2017 draft. Their prospect pool also is not particularly deep. There's just not much there for the Caps to offer Vegas even if the wanted to 

Ultimately, it may not be worth going through that for a goalie they are going to lose in the next few years anyway to make room for Samsonov.

For more Caps coverage, check out the newest edition of the Capitals Faceoff Podcast.