Philadelphia and Denver Sneak Away with Big Gets

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Philadelphia and Denver Sneak Away with Big Gets
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Somehow, the Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers—the two peripheral teams in Dwight Howard's highly anticipated move to Los Angeles—both made out like bandits. Neither supporting actor will take top billing in a move tethered around a highly visible star, but these were far more than marginal accomplices, as both Denver and Philly made great plays on Friday that reflected their own unique interests.

Denver's slice of this trade netted them the highly valuable (and contractually expiring, provided he exercises his early termination option) Andre Iguodala in exchange for Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, and a protected first round pick. The Nuggets had no need whatsoever for another wing player, but in dealing Afflalo, Denver GM Masai Ujiri has somehow upgraded a slot in his rotation while also giving his team greater financial flexibility—a tremendous gambit in an NBA market where flexibility and player acquisition are often mutually exclusive. 

Afflalo had dropped off a bit since signing a five-year, $43 million deal to stay with the Nuggets last December, with his defense taking the hardest hit of all. That left the Nuggets with an expensive, long-term payout for a player who may have abandoned his primary NBA utility; without his previously sterling perimeter defense, Afflalo would have been a well-compensated spot-up shooter whose offensive game wasn't developing quite as quickly as both Afflalo and the Nuggets had hoped.

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So out goes Afflalo, and in comes an elite defender who brings no reason for concern whatsoever. Iguodala may well be the top perimeter defender in the league, and in that light he trumps even a fully functioning Afflalo; the former is an on-ball weapon that turns even the most talented opponents to putty, while the latter is a skilled defender who does well to limit the opportunities and openings of his assigned mark. They're as different in defensive style as they are in defensive effectiveness, which in itself is more a tribute to Iguodala's transcendence than any assumed lack of skill on Afflalo's part.

That in itself—coupled with the long-term financial savings involved in shedding the contracts of both Afflalo and Harrington—would provide a sound enough basis for this particular move, and yet the difference between Afflalo and his replacement is even more pronounced on the offensive end. Iguodala is often chided for his inability to function as an isolation shot creator, but his real application is far more useful and far more nuanced. Given his athleticism, instincts, and passing ability, Iguodala makes for a tremendous offensive facilitator, giving his team more on that end of the court than many solo shot creators are typically capable of. He's not the most traditional star, but Iguodala is perfect for a balanced, fast-breaking team like the Nuggets, who should be able to make spectacular use of his incredible gifts.

That's just fine by Iguodala's former team, who have essentially dealt first-round pick Moe Harkless, second-year big Nikola Vucevic, a future protected first rounder, and Iggy in exchange for a trial run with Andrew Bynum (and a side of Jason Richardson). While the Nuggets are an outfit equipped to maximize Iguodala's offensive versatility, the Sixers were forced to lean too heavily on it; Philadelphia often ran headfirst into its own offensive limitations, and with Iguodala pulling in a salary that nears $15 million this season (not to mention an even higher single-season salary next year if he foregoes free agency), the Sixers didn't have all that many avenues to upgrade their offensive personnel.

That makes the acquisition of Bynum—one of the most talented young stars in the game—a no-brainer, even if he isn't yet financially committed to remain a Sixer. Bynum gives Doug Collins a far more straightforward weapon to use in his offense, and the kind of primary shot-creator that Iguodala could never truly be.

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Bynum's addition isn't without its hiccups; the Sixers were one of the most post-averse teams in the entire league last season, meaning that his introduction to the offense pretty much demands that Philadelphia create their system anew. But bringing in a seven-footer so talented that he needs a ton of touches is a good problem to have, and should allow one of the league's best defensive teams to improve on the basis of running more conventional and dependable offense.

There's a risk inherent in acquiring Bynum, but it's inconsequential given what little the Sixers had to surrender. Iguodala's days in Philly were numbered, Vucevic and Harkless are solid but expendable assets, and the protected first rounder qualifies as an acceptable loss for a player of Bynum's caliber. Even if Bynum ends up bolting in free agency, this is a gamble well worth taking, and one that, if nothing else, makes Philadelphia substantially more likely to make the playoff cut this year in a scrambled Eastern Conference. Otherwise, the Sixers finally have the true centerpiece they've been pining for since Allen Iverson's departure, and between Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, and Thaddeus Young, they also have a nice head start on a young core to flesh out their reconstitution.

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