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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Evaluating the Sixers

          No one expected the 76ers to be playing during Memorial Day weekend when the playoffs began. While it was a fun extra couple weeks of basketball, no one should be fooled by the Sixers’ playoff run in terms of what needs to be done going forward with this team.

          The minute Bulls guard Derrick Rose went down for the playoffs (and beyond) with an injury in the first game of the opening round against the Sixers, the series had a huge asterisk attached to it. When Joakim Noah went down two games later and never returned, the series meant absolutely nothing in terms of evaluating the Sixers. The fact is that the Bulls were winning that third game of the series rather handily when Noah turned his ankle. It’s very easy to think that after dealing with the shock of losing Rose in the last couple minutes of Game 1, which the Bulls had in hand at the time of the injury, they had mentally regrouped and might have at least made it a competitive series.

          It astonishes me that anyone put any stock in the Sixers beating the number one seeded Bulls as an eighth seed. Even Luol Deng was banged up for the series. Losing the series would have said volumes. Winning it was what the Sixers were supposed to do.

          Somehow people get offended by that statement. I heard Tony Bruno in-between sound drops “defend” the Sixers by saying it’s not the their fault the Bulls incurred injuries. No kidding. No one said not to take advantage of it or not to enjoy the win. But to look at it as a historic 8 seed beating a 1 seed is ridiculous. The Sixers were practically playing the Bulls’ B-team for the main part of three out of their four victories in the series.

          The only worthwhile thing the series victory did was to give the Sixers the chance to play against a 4 or 5 seed in a playoff series, which was what people expected after their hot start to the season. Despite the ugly basketball against the 4th-seeded Celtics, taking Boston to a Game 7 meant something. Even the fact that it was in the second round, despite how the Sixers got there, has value.

          That said, neither fans nor the organization should assume that the Sixers will be improved next season simply because they will grow from the playoff experience. Philadelphia should know better by now. Experience is great, but the Sixers need a lot more than that.

          According to a recent Mike Missanelli Inquirer column, this team probably won’t even look all that familiar next season:

[Elton] Brand is slated to make $18.16 million next season. The Sixers also will be able to subtract the salary of Andres Nocioni ($6.7 million), released earlier this season. They can also chop off [Spencer] Hawes (who makes $4 million). If [Lou] Williams elects to take his early termination option, that’s another $6.3 million off the books. The Sixers are about $10 million over their cap. But with those subtractions, they would have $25.16 million to spend on free agents.

          He was suggesting Brand might retire, which I doubt, or the Sixers
will amnesty his contract.

          At the beginning of the season I suggested using the amnesty on Andre Iguodala, which obviously isn’t going to happen now because Brand went backwards from what I had hoped was a full recovery from his Achilles injury. I got scoffed at by a couple guys on my Facebook page, but I would still use it on Iguodala.

          One commenter on Facebook even suggested using the amnesty on Nocioni, which obviously made no sense. The clause is a chance to finally get out of salary cap hell, and it shouldn’t be wasted on some scrub at the end of the bench. Nocioni’s contract had so little impact ($6,650,000) the Sixers waived him without the amnesty option.

          According to, Brand made about $3.5 million more than Iguodala in the just completed season ($17,059,727 versus $13,531,750) and would do so again next season ($18,160,355 versus $14,718,250). But Iguodala has two years left (the second at $15,904,750) while Brand has just one. Both players have an “early termination option” in the final year of their contract according to the site, but it doesn’t seem to be the team’s option. (The figure for Nocioni also came from the site.)

          Besides raw numbers, Iguodala is absolutely not worth a max contract, which his deal was when he signed it. A big part of the problem is the perception that Iguodala is the Sixers’ main guy. Iguodala scored 12.9 points per game in the playoffs and shot 38.4 percent. That’s not being “the man.” And I don’t buy into the idea that he’s a dominant defensive player. He was matched up with a gimpy Paul Pierce a lot of the time, and Pierce averaged 17.7 points per game in the series.

          Yet, for most of the playoffs Iguodala’s performance was praised and he did have some solid games. If he’s actually tradable without getting other teams’ bad contracts in return, obviously that’s the move to make. Otherwise, he’s the guy to amnesty and the Sixers should just wait out Brand for a year. Unfortunately, unless Doug Collins has the best poker face ever, he seems to love the Iguodala, so I don’t think he’s going anywhere, even with a trade.

          I don’t get too into what the team should do in terms of trades and free agency because there’s too many unknown variables. I never bought into the notion that the Sixers must have a go-to guy, but this season changed my mind. They lost plenty of close games when the team concept doesn’t cut it in the final minutes. They needed that one guy who the defense knew was going to get the ball and could score anyway. Obviously, that’s the hardest piece of the puzzle to obtain, but it only strengthens my point about Iguodala – he’s not that guy.

          I don’t get what happened with Thaddeus Young this season. He averaged 12.8 points on 50.7 percent shooting playing 27.9 minutes a game. He has to play more, and moving Iguodala would help that process because they are very similar players.

          Jrue Holiday and to a lesser degree Evan Turner showed signs of becoming very good NBA players. I think they have the same problem as Young and Iguodala of being similar players. I wouldn’t “get rid” of either guy, but if the right deal came along I wouldn’t hesitate to move one of them. I’d prefer to keep Holiday.

          More than anything else the Sixers need a true shooting guard, with as much emphasis as possible on the word shooting. Enough with bringing in guys who can knock down three after three when they are all alone and not much else. They need a guy who can shoot and play 40 minutes a game. Of course, finding that is easier said than done. Williams is the closest guy they have who fits that description, but he’s more of a scorer as opposed to a shooter and too streaky. I would keep him around at a reasonable price.

          I might also keep Hawes around for the right price. He’s by no means a stud, but I doubt he’ll command a big salary as a free agent after the injuries he had as well as his lackluster return after the injuries. But he played ok for a while this season, and unless there’s something unforeseen on the horizon, they might as well keep him for the short term.

          Lavoy Allen was a playoff surprise, so he might be worth another one-year deal around where he was last season.

          The last time the Sixers were out of salary cap hell it lasted about two seconds as they signed Elton Brand. I’m not sure it’s even possible to keep cap flexibility in the NBA, but perhaps the best thing the Sixers can do is be patient. If they can’t get a free agent worth the $25 million they reportedly can have available this summer, there’s nothing wrong with staying flexible.

          Collins and team owner Josh Harris said all the right things after the season. Making the right things happen in the off-season can be a lot more difficult.

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