Louis Williams, toward the end of Saturday's Game 7 loss (Getty Images)
The Philadelphia 76ers, full of youth and energy and replete with athletic depth, were one game away from making the Eastern conference finals. The team stormed out of the gate by winning 20 of its first 29 games in 2011-12, worked its way through a midseason lull that threatened the young squad's confidence and playoff standing, and look to be set for the future with a litany of players on affordable contracts.
So why do they look like a team that needs to be broken up?
We respect these players, and this roster. We really do. And collectively a group of disparate yet versatile parts can do great things under a coach that knows quite a bit about how to play from day to day, like the man the Chicago Bulls used to call "Play a Day," Doug Collins. And we don't subscribe to the theory that you need some famous gunslinger to round out a championship roster, because games can be won in the second and third quarters as much as the fourth. This Sixer team, though? Their front office can't fall in love with it.
Because this is the summer to move these players. The Sixers didn't exactly light up the statistical ledger in defeating the Bulls and battling with the Celtics in two close, defensive-minded series; but it's exactly these sorts of overachieving runs that cause front offices to commit to teams without paying much mind to exactly why the Philadelphia 76ers were still playing basketball on May 26th. Chicago was without its two best players, and Boston's depth was hammered by injuries. It's a simple take, but it's the right one.
Mixing in with that brief scouting report is the situation that presents itself to the Sixers, as they take to the offseason. This is a team that could completely explode this roster, and in spite of playing deep into May that might be the best possible solution for a team that still barely made the playoffs in the East.
Several NBA teams will have heaps of cap space this summer, but the 2012 free agent market is a thin one, full of players that will probably return to their incumbent teams. As a result, the trade market could pick up, and the Sixers (full of cap space, as well) could help facilitate quite a few deals that could add to their stash of assets.
This could be a now or never situation with the 76ers, especially as the team considers a list of players that isn't universally beloved by their fans. Respected, sure, but mindful of the games from mid-March when everything was going wrong along with the times in early May when everybody seemed to be a Sixers fan.
Elton Brand? A leader who works hard and attempts to defend all comers. Still owed over $18 million in the final year of his contract in 2012-13, and a likely candidate for the amnesty clause.
Andre Iguodala? Forever on the trade block, owed over $30 million over the next two years; and coming off of a postseason that saw him shoot less than 40 percent, average just 12.9 points per game, and fail to make his pairing with an older Paul Pierce the one-sided affair some postulated it could be before the second round.
Lou Williams? Featuring an early termination option on his contract that could see him looking elsewhere, and for more than the average-ish salary he's making now. Also, perhaps, a starting role.
Spencer Hawes? Fantastic in the early part of the year, but Sixer fans were seething at his (possibly injury-addled) play in the postseason. Playing for the Qualifying Offer last year, Hawes is unrestricted as a free agent this summer and might cash in on with another team looking to fill the toughest position to hire fore.
Losing all four would eviscerate the team's roster, to be sure, but it would also pare down the team's payroll almost completely, depending on what the team does with players eligible to make the Qualifying Offer next year — like Sam Young, Lavoy Allen, and Jodie Meeks. We're not saying building a team around the returning Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner is the best move going forward, far from it. But there has to be an alternative to building around whatever the heck the 76ers are built around now.
Some Sixer fans will no doubt read this another outside-Philly sportswriter, harping on the tired line that casts the 76ers as a star-less outfit with no hope at getting over the top.
In a lot of ways, Andre Iguodala is that star. His ability to dominate defensively and fill in all the necessary holes offensively is often just as vital as the famous guy dropping 25 each night on average. But the just as tired line about Dre needing to be a Scottie Pippen of sorts is correct — though people forget that Pippen was a far more effective ball handler and shot creator. Pippen had his moments at being ill at ease creating offense when Michael Jordan was off the floor, but not nearly as much as Dre has. He's a star, to be sure; but if he's your lone star, then something has to change. Even if he's surrounded by admirable talent.
This summer, more than any other, is a time to take advantage of the options that luck and trends often provide. The team will have plenty of flexibility in 2013, as well, and there is just as much space in hand to keep the core and attempt to add some free agents or upgrades via trade. There is a very good chance the same hands, save for perhaps Brand, will be on deck in 2012-13, and there would be absolutely nothing wrong with that.
If the Sixers have a chance to blow things up a bit, and take advantage of desperate teams badly needing to make a move to justify years of cap clearing? Then they should at the very least consider it. Because by the time mid-July hits, playing deep into May is going to seem like ages ago.
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