2012 NBA Offseason: Moves That Will Make Philadelphia 76ers Contenders
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The Sixers' surprising run in this year's playoffs can certainly be attributed to a significantly improved, well-coached team that played stifling defense and unselfish basketball. However, it can also be attributed to a fortunate set of circumstances, including timely injuries to key opposing players (Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah) and a favorable matchup against an inconsistent, aging Boston Celtics team.
Regardless, you play the cards you are dealt and, by Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, most observers and fans alike would agree that Philly was playing with house money.
With that said, expecting further progress by sitting on the current makeup of this roster would be more than a little foolish.
Although surrounded by a solid, young nucleus of still-improving players such as Evan Turner, Jrue Holiday, Lou Williams, Lavoy Allen, Thaddeus Young and perhaps even Nikola Vucevic, there are still several key components the Sixers lack which make a contender, most glaring of which a go-to scorer and a dominant post presence.
With the opportunity to possess an astounding amount of cap space this summer and only six players remaining on the books for next season, it is safe to say that this is the most important offseason Philadelphia has had in many years, and can go a long way in determining if this season was the beginning of a new era or just the beginning of the end.
The following moves can, in this writer's opinion, ensure the former and prevent the latter. Let's take a look...
Goodbye: Spencer Hawes, Elton Brand and Jodie Meeks
Hawes and Brand: Thanks for the memories.
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Spencer Hawes, Elton Brand and Jodie Meeks made up three-fifths of the Sixers' starting rotation for much of the season. All three were unselfish team players and key contributors at various times throughout both the regular season and playoffs.
That said, all three must go.
Hawes is one of the better passing centers in the NBA and has a nifty mid-range jumper that goes in more often than it doesn't. However, for a team already grossly undersized and lacking a physical presence, that's not the type of profile that fits a starting five for a championship contender. In a perfect world, Philly could resign the free agent-to-be at a reasonable price to come off the bench and provide a change of pace. But don't count on it. Seven-footers with good hands come at a premium, and some team is bound to overpay for him.
For more than a decade, Brand has been the quintessential professional, but each year, it becomes more painful to watch the former all-star's on-court skills erode before our very eyes. His $17 million salary is a ludicrous amount for an undersized power forward who can barely get up and down the court and is always one play away from reconstructive surgery. Expect the Sixers to use the amnesty clause on him and reappropriate his salary toward their summer shopping list.
Meeks, like Hawes, will be a free agent this offseason. He is a one-trick pony who didn't even perform that trick (hitting three pointers) well enough to justify being resigned.
Hello: Andrew Bynum, Ryan Anderson and Reggie Evans
Evans and Bynum: Instant toughness down low for Philly.
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Signing one of the hottest free agents on the market this summer is a no-brainer. The bigger question is, why would Andrew Bynum want to leave Los Angeles to come to Philadelphia?
1. The opportunity to finally be in the spotlight instead of living in the shadows of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
2. The opportunity to be on a young, developing team as opposed to an old, declining one.
3. The opportunity to make a lot more change on a team that will potentially have a lot of cash to throw around.
Ryan Anderson had his coming-out party in Orlando this year and established himself as one of the best shooting big men in the game. He would provide a better fit than Meeks as the Sixers' go-to spot shooter and is versatile enough to play both the 3 and 4, much more so than the undersized Thad Young.
As for Reggie Evans, on paper, the pickup would seem like nothing to write home about. He has extremely limited offensive abilities and is a liability if on the court more than a handful of minutes a game. But for Philly, they have lacked a high-energy player who can box out and out-tough his man since, well, they got rid of Evans a few years back. His return to town would serve as a great intangible off the bench and should be a welcomed site for a guy who's a fan favorite everywhere he plays.
Flip-Flop Iggy and Holiday's Roles
It's time to play "The Change Up" with Andre and Jrue.
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Andre Iguodala faces what should be a very eventful summer. Fresh off his first All-Star berth (which he frankly didn't deserve) and the prospects of making the US Olympic team in a couple months, there have been many in the greater Philadelphia area hoping that Sixers' General Manager Rod Thorn can add to those events by trading the eight-year veteran.
However, there doesn't seem to be much of a market for a player with no established position who makes more than his share of mental errors on the court, misses more than his share of free throws, and is on the books for the next couple years at well over $35 million.
Jrue Holiday may have more of an upside than Iggy at this juncture, but, three years into his career and, like his backcourt mate, his potential has not fully translated into reality. He can score in bursts at times, but for a point guard, tends to overdribble and not be able to find the open man at times.
Unlike Iguodala, though, Holiday could, in fact, be a tradeable commodity. However, a easier solution could be to simply flip their roles. The former seems to have transformed into a dynamic passer who is more than willing to defer to his teammates at times throughout the game, whereas the latter has never seemed to feel comfortable doing just that, dating back to his days at UCLA.
So, the solution? Make Iguodala the point guard instead of instead of a shooting guard who can't shoot or a small forward who won't drive. Make Holiday the shooting guard instead of a point guard who seems uncomfortable passing.
Re-Sign Lou Williams and Lavoy Allen
Another year on the "Night Shift" for Lou and Lavoy should do the Sixers good.
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For all the changes that have been suggested to this point, two areas which should remain a constant inside the home locker room at the Wells Fargo Center should be Lou Williams and Lavoy Allen, two integral parts of the famed "Night Shift," the moniker annointed to one of the best benches in the NBA this year.
Williams has already been a constant source of instant offense for the better part of a decade in Philly. Finally an unrestricted free agent, he figures to have his share of suitors this summer. The Sixers should be at the top of the list for the perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate.
As for Allen, the second-round pick may have played his college ball a few miles up Broad Street at Temple, but he still somehow came out of nowhere to make an impact, never more apparent than in the playoffs when he more than held his own against the Bulls' big men and, especially, the Celtics' Kevin Garnett. His continued growth should only benefit a team which already lacks in toughness and size as it is.
Sign a Veteran Leader
Could Kidd, who is no longer a kid, enjoy a swan song in Philly?
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Every good contender seems to have a proven veteran who provides a stabilizing leadership presence. The closest the Sixers got to that role on their roster this season was backup center Tony Battie, who barely sniffed the hardwood floor.
There are more than a couple veteran leaders entering the twilight of their career on the free agent market this summer. Steve Nash is perhaps one of the first names that comes to mind, but, for the money he'll demand, it is best spent elsewhere for Philly. However, names like Jason Kidd, who helped Dallas finally get over the championship hump last season, could work for a sizeable amount less.
Or Derek Fisher, who collected rings for sport in his time with Los Angeles and may add yet another this year with Oklahoma City.
Or even Andre Miller, the consummate professional who enjoyed a successful stint in town just a few years ago.
Go Big in the Draft
Henson: The rookie missing piece?
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As stated previously, talented big men are at a premium in this league and it is nearly impossible to have too many. In order to compete with other such conference contenders like the Heat and the Bulls, the Sixers need to toughen up down low. If they do, in fact, land Bynum, that would certainly help a great deal. But there is nothing wrong with a little depth, and this year's draft seems to be especially deep in the big man department.
Some prognosticators have Philly selecting John Henson, a rebounding and shot-blocking machine out of North Carolina. And that should work just fine.