The Philadelphia 76ers have overhauled their frontcourt substantially this offseason on the strength of just two moves: amnestying Elton Brand and signing Kwame Brown. When the latter move was announced, most assumed that Brown would fit as a backup big man, which he's actually fairly qualified to do despite his reputation as an all-time bust. Then, to the consternation of many, reports broke that Brown was actually being signed so that he could start at center, with previous starter Spencer Hawes moving to power forward, a position he has never played.
None of it made much sense. But it's a real thing, and head coach Doug Collins confirmed the plans on Tuesday. From John N. Mitchell for The Philadelphia Inquirer (via SLAM):
Speaking Tuesday afternoon at a news conference at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Collins said he expects to start Brown and slide Spencer Hawes, last season's starting center, over to power forward in a lineup that will also see Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, and Andre Iguodala back in the starting lineup. [...]
"I think when people view Kwame Brown they look at a guy who was a bust as the No. 1 draft pick in the NBA," Collins said, "and that's not what we're signing him for. I had him at that period in time when he was 19 years old, and I understand the pressure that young guy was under. I wish I could go back and be a better coach and a better mentor for him at that time." [...]
"Again, we're not asking him to come in here and be the No. 1 pick like back then," Collins said. "He's coming to a place where he feels good about. I think we're going to see the best of what Kwame has to offer."
Oh, they were at a college of osteopathic medicine. Maybe Collins was just pandering to the crowd and promising lots of foot and joint surgeries in the future.
Collins speaks the truth here on one level, though it's not exactly an argument that people disagree with. Brown has in fact turned into a pretty good backup center — he's a solid post defender, which is enough to keep tall people employed for around a decade even if they have no other applicable basketball skills. But picking up a player for 20 minutes of playing time per game and starting him are two very different things, even if Hawes will also be around to play minutes at center. No one really thinks Brown should be a top player anymore — that opinion is a relic from Collins' time with the Wizards. The debate here is much more reasonable, though no less dependent on proper expectations.
Then again, that doesn't mean that this decision itself will consign the Sixers to the dustbin of the Eastern Conference. The roster is in a state of relative flux, with linchpin and Team USA member Andre Iguodala mentioned in various trade rumors. Any trade involving Iguodala would remake the team in a meaningful way, much more than the questionable Brown/Hawes pairing in the frontcourt. And so, while this decision is the kind of thing that turns a playoff participant into a lottery team, we shouldn't oversell its potential effect on Philadelphia's fortunes. A much bigger move with much bigger implications could be on its way soon.