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Flux in Philly

For years, I've made a point to avoid Golden State players in most fantasy leagues. Don Nelson's constant lineup shuffling makes it too difficult to get a real sense of how to value the Warriors' non-stars (read: anyone other than Monta Ellis). I've gone through similar phases with other coaches... Larry Brown can get a little jumpy with his lineups, and Scott Skiles has a notoriously quick hook with his big men. But my new favorite coach to avoid might be Philly's Eddie Jordan.

Now, let me be clear -- I don't mind when coaches try different combinations of players. I just want to understand what's going on. Because if I understand what the coach is doing, I have a better chance of predicting what might happen next -- and predicting what happens next is key to assigning fantasy values.

My problem with Jordan's lineup changes begins with Elton Brand.

To say Brand has been a disappointment in Philly is something of an understatement... but let's be fair. Last year he joined a team that was used to an open, running style, just as he was coming back from a major Achilles' injury. Before he was able to work off all the rust, he sustained a shoulder injury in mid-December, tried to play through it and eventually needed surgery. He's been in uniform for the Sixers for 40 games so far -- and in every one of those games, he's been working his way back from a major injury, adjusting to a new coach and teammates, or both.

Also worth noting -- he's not yet 31 years old.

Now, it's not like I get to see the Sixers' workouts on a day-in, day-out basis. Or, ever. I don't know how much the injuries have affected his game. I don't know how much rust built up while he was missing the better part of two straight seasons. I do know the Sixers are committed to paying Brand like an NBA superstar this season -- and the next three seasons after this. They're stuck with him -- so they'll try everything in their power to get him back to the top of his game, right?

Apparently not. After threatening to do so for the bulk of the season, Eddie Jordan shifted Brand to the bench last night, starting Thaddeus Young and Sam Dalembert at the four and five against Golden State. And the Sixers responded with their first win in 13 games.

But that doesn't mean the Dalembert/Young/Andre Iguodala/Allen Iverson/Jrue Holiday starting five is here to stay. First off, last night's opponent was the Warriors -- a team that often inspires unconventional lineups. And even if Jordan does stick with that five, it'll only be for a week or two, as Lou Williams (broken jaw) and Mareese Speights (knee) are due back soon, further confusing the rotation.

Given all that uncertainty, how do we value the Sixers for the remainder of this season?

Andre Iguodala: Love his game, love it even more in an Eddie Jordan offensive system, which should play to his all-around ability. Wouldn't be at all surprised if he finishes the season as a top-ten fantasy contributor -- right now he's ranked 12th overall in the ESPN NBA.com system.

Allen Iverson: I've written about him before, at length. I think his spot in the rotation is more or less assured -- because I don't think he would have signed with Philly otherwise. Iverson's presence on the team may be evidence that Jordan is taking some lineup direction from the management suite.

Thaddeus Young: Has tremendous potential, and seeing him used at the four spot gives me hope that he won't be squeezed too badly when Williams returns. But if he winds up backing Iguodala on the wing, his fantasy value will take a major hit.

Lou Williams: Seems safe to assume he'll get his starting job back when healthy, supplanting rookie Jrue Holiday. Remains to be seen how he and Iverson will mesh in the backcourt.

Mareese Speights: The second-year four/five's hot start is one of the reasons Brand was getting marginalized earlier this season. He's also one of the reasons the Sixers would love to trade Dalembert. His return -- which could come before Christmas -- might compromise Brand's value even further.

Jrue Holiday: Hard to envision a scenario where the rookie doesn't lose out when Williams returns. At best, he's probably a third guard in the second half -- but that's probably the right role for Holiday, who is viewed as pretty raw at this point.

Sam Dalembert: Moving Dalembert would clear things up significantly, but Ed Stefanski will have a hard time finding a taker for a limited center who will make $12 million in 2010-11. Benching Dalembert in favor of Speights or Brand would seem to make a lot more sense for the future of the team.

And where does that leave Brand?

Until we hear anything definitive, I'm going to continue to assume that, at some point, he still has the ability to be a 20-and-10 guy in this league. He stays firmly entrenched on my "buy low" list until the situation becomes clearer. But that's just a guess... are you guys buying or selling?

 

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