NBA free agency is underway with a big bang. The Philadelphia 76ers worked some late minute magic and lured Elton Brand away from the Clippers. The Sixers have searched for a low post scorer for ages and have finally landed him. Somewhere Allen Iverson is asking why this didn’t happen sooner. If it did he wouldn’t be talking about practice.
Brand provides a solid midrange game and is great in the paint. The move takes pressure off Samuel Dalembert, who won’t be relied to develop into an offensive contributor anymore. With Dalembert’s defensive prowess to compliment Brand, the Sixers instantly become more dynamic and a great rebounding team.
The move should also allow Andre Iguodala to have his best season as a pro. With an established scorer in the paint it will cut down on Iggy’s shots and allow him to take much better shots overall. He’ll have easier drives to the hoop. His efficiency should improve substantially next season.
But the biggest move by Philly in hindsight is the one they didn’t make. It was widely speculated the Sixers would deal away Andre Miller to a contending team in need of a solid point guard. Instead the Sixers decided to hold serve and were record-wise one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference after the all-star break. He helped lead the young players. Now with an established veteran in Brand on the team, Miller should be able to incorporate his game to its highest potential. He will set up many good plays to Iggy and Brand. He will be hovering around 10 assists a game next season.
They were able to make an upgraded offer to Brand by dealing Rodney Carney and Calvin Booth to the T-Wolves for more cap space. Minnesota needed an athletic SF to challenge Corey Brewer and Carney fits the bill.
The Sixers now have one of the best starting lineups in the East but they are suffering from lack of depth. They will need a backup guard. Right now Louis Williams is the only one on the roster. Jason Smith, Reggie Evans, and Marreese Speights will have to serve as the backups for Dalembert and Brand. Clearly most of the starters will have to log big minutes over the course of the season. Dalembert and Brand have suffered nagging injuries in the past and this team could easily nosedive in a hurry if one of them goes down.
It is debatable as to whether Willie Green should be a starter in this league, but his game fits this core group of guys very well. He will be ignored by opposing defenses and will have to become the shooter of this starting 5. He will have to work on his perimeter game and if he can knock down shots regularly it opens up his ability to get to the hole while giving defenses headaches over who to guard and who to leave alone.
The Sixers also have Thaddeus Young, who made huge strides last season. It’s possible if the Sixers don’t get another guard that Green would go to the bench, Iguodala would slide to SG and Young would start at SF. It all depends on Young’s progress and Green’s ability to hit open shots.
Today the Sixers became major players in the Eastern Conference. With the Pistons about to make a major shakeup of their roster it gives the Sixers a window to be near the top of the conference. They should make a lot of noise next year. They won’t win a title but have certainly taken a big step in that direction.
Meanwhile it restores order in Clipper land. They can now return to the bottom of the Western Conference. Baron Davis only has a verbal agreement to sign with them at the moment and that was based on Brand coming back. If Baron Davis is willing to take less money to have a chance at winning he will back out of his commitment because of Elton Brand. The Clippers would have a ton of cap space with no one to go after. This would make them an afterthought in L.A. They could use the money to lure Corey Maggette back but the differences between him and Coach Mike Dunleavy are too much to overcome. Considering Maggette was going to accept the mid-level exception of just under $6 million to play in San Antonio or Boston, the $10 million a year offer the Warriors have given him sounds like enough money. He’ll get to start and have plenty of touches, the things he felt he was deprived of under Coach Dunleavy. Overnight the Clippers went from an intriguing team on the rise to a ship without a captain.
The Brand move to Philly was a huge deal that will change the NBA landscape. But it wasn’t the biggest move of the day.
Standout high school point guard Brandon Jennings, who had committed to the Arizona Wildcats, has officially backed out of that commitment and will play in Europe. The team has not been announced but the move sets up a major precedent for NBA-NCAA relations. The NBA currently has the one-year out of high school rule, which was designed as a brokered agreement to allow colleges to profit off great high school players. Major conference college programs would essentially get to rent these players for a season and reap huge benefits. Meanwhile the NBA would get a safeguard against taking high school busts early in the draft by seeing them on tape against better competition. It was a cozy deal and NBA Commissioner David Stern and NCAA President Myles Brand were in discussion of extending the rule to two years. Jennings just put that to rest.
Jennings decided to take the money away from the college big wigs and keep it himself. He is the first major American prospect to choose Europe over the NCAA out of high school. Instead of risking injury and losing money by playing against what is considered by the NBA as the best available competition, Jennings will earn anywhere from $200,000 to $500,000 in salary by playing in a weaker league overseas. This gives him a nice paycheck while giving him a better chance to dominate and look like a top 5 pick going into next year’s draft. The move is especially significant because the top of next year’s draft could be top-heavy with point guard prospects with high school star Demar DeRozan and Spanish sensation Ricky Rubio. DeRozan will be dealing with the likes of UCLA while Jennings is running up and down the court in a free-flowing game against a lot of players who won’t be able to handle his athleticism.
Jennings’s decision is a smart one because he’s taking the money into his own hands. He’s made it publicly clear that he has no interest in getting an education. If he does indeed have a great year in Europe and then goes in the top 5 of next year’s draft it will create a reciprocal effect of high schools standouts who feel they should be in the NBA choosing Europe and accolade over the NCAA and being subservient to a major program and head coach. It’s the choice that makes the most sense. A college scholarship is a great thing to have only if you plan to use it. If you have no interest in hanging around in college the choice comes down to being the big man on campus or getting paid while possibly becoming a hero to a city overseas. Jennings has chosen the latter. In my opinion the price is right.
It’s not like players like Jennings won’t enjoy the high life in the NBA once they get paid if they go overseas. And from what I’ve seen, foreign women aren’t so bad either. If Jennings wants to he can enjoy life just as well in Europe as he can in Arizona. So he might as well get paid for it.
Today will be remembered for two major milestones. It is the day the Sixers are contenders again. And the day that led to the demise of the NBA one year collusion rule with the NCAA.
Sometimes “it’s all about the money” is a good thing.
* For a much deeper look into the Jennings decision, please read: