Back in those heady days when everyone was scrambling to get ready for the truncated NBA season, the conventional wisdom on the Philadelphia 76ers went something like this:
"They're young and they play hard, and Doug Collins won't burn out until next year. But they didn't add any stars in the offseason, so they're screwed."
Now we're roughly a third of the way through the schedule, and the Sixers have one of the best records in the league. They're efficient, they play defense, and they run fresh legs out there for all 48 minutes, and the end result so far has been a lot of wins. Yes, they've played a home-heavy schedule thus far, but you have to win the home games, too, and they've been doing that at a pretty impressive clip. No, they didn't add any stars, but it looks like they've figured out how to use the guys they've got - the Thaddeus Youngs and Spencer Haweses of the world - in ways that let them succeed, instead of trying to force them to be players they're not.
Maybe it's an illusion. Maybe the rest of the league will catch up to them. Maybe the lack of a go-to shooter (besides mugger-defeating sixth man Lou Williams) will do them in. Maybe they'll just run into their bete noire, Miami, too early in the playoffs. It doesn't matter. They've been winning and they've been fun to watch, and for the first time in years Philly fans are excited about the Sixers.
And they've proven one other thing: there's more than one way (i.e. spend lots of money) to get better. If you've got good young players, emphasis on the young, there's a good chance they'll be better this year than last. Sometimes, that little bit of improvement year to year adds up, especially when it's coming from the Evan turners and Jrue Holidays and Jodie Meekses of the world. Good young players can get better, if you coach them and you let them, and you don't demand perfection immediately or ship them out. Sometimes, that's all it takes.