The Philadelphia 76ers made a marked improvement in 2012 that almost got them to the Eastern Conference finals. Yet Sixers fans like myself are already resigned to taking a step back next season, especially with the Boston Celtics still largely together and the Brooklyn Nets rising up. However, the 2012-13 season may not be the one where the SIxers make their big move.
Philadelphia is clearing up cap space, but it is likely too late to make a major deal or signing for this coming season. The goal might instead be to make a splash in the 2013 offseason, regardless of how 2012-13 turns out. Of course, it still needs to turn out well so top free agents will want to join the Sixers in summer 2013.
Elton Brand's large salary is finally off the books, so the Sixers have more money to play with. But so far, they have only used it for one-year deals for the likes of Nick Young and Dorell Wright. And with Andre Iguodala approaching a $15 million option for 2013, letting that expire could leave Philadelphia with as much as $26 million in cap space, according to Comcast SportsNet.
With Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Manu Ginobli, Andrew Bynum - and maybe even Dwight Howard - leading next year's free agent class, it may be no wonder that the Sixers are playing the waiting game. In addition, the 2012-13 season would give them a better idea about their young up and comers - and how much faith and responsibility they should get in the future.
However, looking ahead to make a big move in the future can backfire, even for championship teams. Right after winning the 2011 title, the Dallas Mavericks started clearing cap space and dumping the expiring contracts of valued contributors. But it has not paid off in the least so far, as the Mavericks haven't lured away a major player and their championship core seems to have been dissolved for nothing.
If even the Mavericks and owner Mark Cuban can't win with that kind of strategy, what kind of chance do the Sixers have? That risky plan of attack did work for the Nets, as they got to resign Deron Williams and land Joe Johnson - yet it hasn't worked well enough to bring Howard to Brooklyn.
The Sixers certainly need some kind of major player if they want to contend, especially with the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Celtics and Nets around in the East. As such, the 2012-13 season could be easier to sacrifice for that goal - which would be a worthy sacrifice if it pays off.
If Philadelphia still manages to improve with the team it has and is respectable in the playoffs, then some A-list free agent could possibly be enticed to take it a step further. But if the Sixers focus too much on the 2013 season at the expense of 2012, the results on the court might not make the best sales pitch.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and 76ers fan.
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