Do The Sixers Really Have a Plan?
It would be really easy to resent the 76ers right now. While other front-offices were roster-building—either pouring the cement for soon-to-be contenders or fitting on-the-cusp rosters with the basketball equivalents of gold-plated hot tubs and living room laser tag arenas—they sat on their hands.
Makes you wonder what the hell they’re are doing.
Makes you wonder whether they even have a plan.
If they did, Item Nos. 1 and 2 would be (in no particular order) moving Andre Iguodala and giving Elton Brand the “snip-snip” under the new amnesty clause of the collective bargaining agreement. There’s nowhere else to start. Calling Iguodala’s $44 million and Brand’s $25 million due over the next two years “prohibitive” would be like calling a shark bite “inconvenient.” Total understatement.
Both players preclude the Sixers from doing anything. Signings. Trades. Optimism.
That they haven’t done either yet, then, is kind of unsettling. Even if Doug Collins is a softie for reclamation projects and Iguodala’s and Brand’s here-and-there glimmers of defense; even if the idea of paying Brand’s contract without the convenience of milking him for 25 minutes a night (which they’d have to if they amnestied him) doesn’t jibe well with newbie owner Joshua Harris (who, we’d be assuming, would make Robert Sarver1 look like a Lehman brother); even if the team thinks it’s better off during an accelerated NBA season with its core intact: You have Rod Thorn as your president and GM.
Rod Freaking Thorn!!!
Let the man do his thing!!!
Let him hoard draft picks and scoop up the next Michael Jordan, how he did the first Michael Jordan in 1984 as GM of the Bulls.2
Let him outfit the Sixers with the perfect mix of stars (Jason Kidd) and role players (Richard Jefferson and Kenyon Martin) and take them to their first NBA Finals since 1982-83, kind of how he did the Nets leading up to their first appearance ever.3
This is why Thorn is here. This is why he was brought on in 2010, why he babysat then-GM Ed Stefanski, why he waited patiently until the organization officially elbowed out Stefanski this October, why he now has autocracy as team president and GM: To eventually do his thing.
Whatever the reason, though, whether it’s feet dragging from Collins or some time-released master plan of Thorn’s, “his thing” isn’t what Thorn is doing. To date, the Sixers have made … carry the two … exactly ZERO moves of note, outside the Thad Young deal. And no, extending Tony Battie and singing 2011 first-rounder Nikola Vujevic to a predetermined rookie deal really don’t count.
I’m talking moves of substance. I’m talking the “move” in “moving and shaking.” I’m talking about laying the framework of a championship-caliber roster, that has been proven time and time again to be a matter of landing that first mega star.4 Really. It’s all about the first one. After that, the rest—including, but not limited to: former stars in the twilights of their careers (Shane Battier) taking pay cuts to be a part of something special (the Miami Heat)—is cake.
Better: It wins more than games; it gives your front-office the multiplier of uber credibility. That’s why the Knicks had to land Carmelo Anthony last year—even if it meant overpaying, gutting their roster and precluding themselves from acquiring Chris Paul this year. That far into the ordeal, they were already pot-committed. They had to ensure to Anthony and future free agent of interest that the Knicks were “dedicated winners” and “credible businessmen” and everything else you’d want from the people entrusted with making your team matter.
That’s what the Sixers need: Just that one marquee deal. Just one, and people will be falling all over themselves over the romantic renaissance of the NBA’s third-winningest franchise. Over the fourth largest media market in the country. Over the new Sixer crop chasing the legacies of the fifth-best center ever (Moses Malone) and undisputed “Most Charismatic Persona” (Charles Barkley).
That’s what makes this so frustrating.
That’s what makes what the Clippers, Nuggets and Knicks have done, and what the Lakers and Nets tried to, so unbearably upsetting.
Clippers fortified an “At Least Second Round In The Playoffs” caliber roster for the better half of a decade (assuming Chris Paul and Blake Griffin re-sign, a scenario that I can’t see not happening). The Nuggets added the best offensive center in the game (Nene). The Knicks added the second-best defensive center available (Tyson Chandler). The Lakers haven’t yet, but are on the prowl for the best physical specimen/superstar personality combo in basketball history outside of LeBron and Magic Johnson (Dwight Howard). And the Nets were willing to offer five future first rounders and 31 percent of the Russian economy to the Magic for (insert everything I just said about Dwight Howard).
All while are salary cap clogged by a peanut buttered hairball of bad contracts.
I mean, it could be worse. They could’ve committed to the first “Guaranteed Future Amnesty Clause” signing of the new CBA, hemorrhaging $57.7 million into the most “Overrated For Being Underrated” center in the game for the next four years. (Cough, Marc Gasol, cough.)
But at least the Grizzlies gave Memphis something.
Isn’t that what Sixers fans want right about now?
Maybe no. Maybe that’s the point.
Think about the complexion of your fandom as a Philadelphia sports fan. You have Phillies first and second, leave open slot at third (on the outside chance that the Philadelphia Union become the Manchester United of the MLS … I’m kidding…), Eagles fourth, then the Flyers, the Union for realsies, and the automatic slot for the most recent Philadelphia Beer Pong Tournament Champion.
The Sixers aren’t even on your radar.
That said: Maybe, just maybe, Thorn realizes that he has time. That he doesn’t have the same frothing fan base threatening to scale the PCOM walls that Jeffrey Lurie and Ruben Amaro do. That he doesn’t have the national prominence of this town’s baseball and football franchises. That, because of both, he doesn’t have nearly the same media scrutiny, a multiplier on fan antsiness.
That he doesn’t have any pressure, really, altogether.
So maybe Thorn is just waiting this thing out. Maybe he’s waiting for Brand’s and Iguodala’s contracts to expire, since it’s not like he can move either of them.
On Brand: Between his creaky knees and iffy production these last few years, you doubt anybody would knowingly make a deal that would eventually cost them their amnesty tag. Nobody’s that dumb (again, outside of Memphis) or charitable (outside of Phoenix, for those of who you remember last year’s egregiously awful Vince Carter deal).
On Iguodala: You’d have to find an a.) a defensive-oriented team that b.) had a mid-level star due up for free agency that it really wanted to hang onto, c.) but knew it couldn’t, and so wanted to get something for him so it might d.) take a chance on a question mark like Iguodala.
In other words: a defense-first Hornets with Chris Paul’s second-tier stunt double.
Among teams that had interest during the 35-second lifespans of the “Iguodala Trade Block Party”—the Lakers, Hawks and Warriors—none seem realistic anymore.
The Lakers, allocating all their energy and trade pieces on a package for Dwight Howard, don’t have the resources. All you need to know: if the season started today, Derrick Caracter and Steve Blake would have significant roles.
The Hawks, similarly balking about using their amnesty clause on their Elton Brand (Joe Johnson), have too many resources, and would be goofy to part ways with a two-time All-Star and 25-year-old lock for the best up-and-coming big of his time (Al Horford) or a physical rarity for his ability to get assists (for a big guy) and blocks (for a little guy) and during his recent three-point shooting self-redefinition (Josh Smith).
The Warriors, reportedly piqued at the idea of swapping Iggy for Monta Ellis straight-up in the months leading up to the draft, never really had the interest in the first place. If they had, they would have pulled the trigger already.
Don’t believe me?
Per Ken Berger of CBSSports.com:
“The Warriors and representatives for Monta Ellis are working cooperatively to see if a trade to a contending team can be arranged, a deal that would likely happen around the NBA draft later this month, a person with knowledge of the discussions told CBSSports.com.”
So that’s a resounding “NO!!!” on two counts: one, because it’s shelf life (the weeks prior to the draft) has expired, and two, because the Sixers rank be among the least deserving entities for endearing terms like “contender” in sports. Had the Chris Paul deal fallen through, and the Hornets been contracted by the league (totally would’ve happened), the New Orleans NBA 2K13 team (that would’ve been in the game either accidentally because makers couldn’t take a team out of the game after its release; or purposely because it refused to on nostalgia) would have had better Vegas odds to make a run at the real NBA Championship than the 2011-12 Sixers, as currently constructed.
And now? There doesn’t seem anything else out there.
The Bulls have the right mind to go get Iguodala (that is, a defensive one … see what I did there? … no? … sorry … ) But reigning Coach of the Year, Tom Thibodeau, also has Luol Deng and Joakim Noah and armfuls of similar players already in place, not to mention the same players Philadelphia would have to be be seeking. Could Thibs benefit from Iguodala, arguably as athletic and, if in a situation that doesn’t demand he be the first-and-foremost finisher, talented on the floor as anyone on the Bulls roster? Sure. But why break up that nucleus (Deng, Noah, Carlos Boozer and, oh yeah, that reigning 23-year-old MVP, Derrick Rose) for a potential disaster (Iguodala)? The upside just isn’t there—especially not for someone whose one-and-only qualifier as a sensible acquisition is that he’s not a scorer. Individual player with a track record of selfishness, insubordination and exactly no “killer instinct”? Almost a to-the-t description for the exact opposite of what the Bulls need right now.
The Celtics have a similar situation on their hands, after going all “Josh McDaniel On Jay Cutler,” failing to move Rajon Rondo after dangling him as trade bait (again). But a Rondo-for-Iguodala swap would totally destroy the Celtics already fading chemistry. I mean, that would be like quietly dealing heart-and-soul guys in Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis within four basketball months…
Play with the NBA Trade Machine all you want. (I did, and laugh all you want, but I bet Thorn did, too.) The moves just aren’t out there.
So maybe Thorn has been forced to wait. Handcuffed into inaction, so to speak.
Let’s hope that, in the meantime, he’s crafting an action plan. Does he get a pass for stepping into, arguably, one of the worst situations in recent sports memory? Does he score some brownie points for not reaching on potentially mushroom cloud-ish moves solely to satisfy the fan base and his ego? Sure.
But when the time comes, Thorn had better have something.
He’d better have a wish list of second-flight superstars that might not be unavailable now, but, in this NBA, could have relationships with their team or city that sour over in a hurry.
He’d better have the same for soon-to-be “it thing” head coaches, in case Doug Collins’ Years Two And Beyond go how the rest of his career’s surprise turnarounds did after their own immediate awesomeness.
He’d better be stockpiling cap room for some future free agency class that we’re all far too myopic to have caught onto this early, say the scheduled 2014 crop, set to feature potential waivers like Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitski, add-ons like Pau Gasol and Luol Deng … and … wait for it … possible opt-outs including the entire Heat roster (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh), the entire Knicks roster (Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire), and will-be-by-then role players galore (Thabo Sefolosha, Zach Randolph and Marcin Gortat, to name a few).
If nothing else, HE HAD BETTER be polishing an in-the-works plan to get Chris “Birdman” Anderson in the Wells Fargo Center for two years and $15 million plus incentives (like minutes played, scoring, and percent of skin-colored skin remaining) and give the paying public one of the most colorful characters in the game today.
Here’s to hoping for that.
Here’s to hope, period.
(This story was written by Matt Hammond of 973espn.com)