The Philadelphia 76ers have climbed the mountaintop—or, more accurately, they've climbed a moderately-sized hill in anticipation of someday climbing the mountaintop. It's not the highest of victories, but for a franchise that's been idling in place while trying to piece together some kind of quasi-rebuilding strategy, making it to within a few points of the Eastern Conference finals (as an eighth seed, no less) is quite an achievement.
But the Sixers, who have only a few developing players and a lack of cap flexibility going forward, will likely face a summer of difficult decisions. Philly is up, but not an up-and-comer; they're coming off of a successful campaign, but can't merely groom the players on their roster and hope for the best. A Sixer ascent would require a bit more orchestration than that, and frankly, more talent.
What Philly has at present is nice, but before we grow too kind in our praise of an improbable accomplishment, let's remember that the Sixers ultimately failed to defeat an unspectacular opponent that was riddled with injuries. They weren't vanquished by the hand of LeBron James or Derrick Rose, but by Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, a hobbling Paul Pierce and a gimpy Ray Allen. Making a contender from this current bunch isn't impossible, but it's clearly going to take some work.
Yet due to the Sixers' finances, any step forward will only come with the accompanying step back. Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand are perhaps Philly's most vulnerable pieces going forward, and yet Iguodala was the top defender on a D-first team, and Brand one of the mobile big men that made Doug Collins' defensive vision a reality.
Iguodala himself is a staple of the off-season rumor mill, but this summer could finally bring his exodus. Philly has long been looking to improve, but only now will their franchise be saddled with the weight of expectation. That could mean the end of Iggy's time in Philadelphia, and almost certainly looks—according to the Associated Press—to be the end of Brand's time with the team.
Under the right set of circumstances, [owner Joshua] Harris said, the Sixers would use the amnesty clause, which allows a team to waive one player during the new labor deal and have 100 percent of his salary taken off the cap and the tax.
Brand is due $18 million in the final season of his five-year contract. While he is the locker room leader and the heart of the Sixers, his production never merited the whopping deal he signed as one of the hottest free agents around. He averaged 11 points and 7.2 rebounds this season.
Brand says he understands the organization will do what suits it best, but he does not want to leave.
“I want to be here, absolutely,” he said, adding that if it was over, “I definitely loved my time here.”
Neither Brand nor Iguodala are absolutely indispensable, but both were elemental to the identity that the Sixers took pride in adopting. Improvement is a necessity, and perhaps Brand could indeed be amnestied for savings with Lavoy Allen poised to take his place. But how does a team in Philly's position go about upgrading its roster without losing itself?