Since the selection of Jrue Holiday with the #17 pick in Thursday night's draft I've seen and heard reactions from fans ranging from loving the move to hating it. You all know which camp I fall in, and you know why. What really made me curious was the fans who were dead-set against Holiday. After the jump I'll take a stab at putting my thumb on the root of the frustration, and maybe shed a little light on what direction this team is headed, or to be more accurate, how quickly they're headed there.
The first thing we need to do is take a look at the ten guys who are currently on the roster, their ages (on opening day) and the length of their contracts:
- Elton Brand - 30 yrs (4 years remaining, player option for fourth)
- Samuel Dalembert - 28 yrs (2 years remaining)
- Willie Green - 28 yrs (2 years remaining, player option for second)
- Jason Kapono - 28 yrs (2 years remaining, player option for second)
- Andre Iguodala - 25 yrs (5 years remaining, player option for fifth)
- Lou Williams - 23 yrs (4 years remaining, player option for fourth)
- Jason Smith - 23 yrs (3 years remaining, rookie contract)
- Marreese Speights - 22 yrs (4 years remaining, rookie contract)
- Thaddeus Young - 21 yrs (3 years remaining, rookie contract)
- Jrue Holiday - 19 yrs (5 years remaining, rookie contract)
So here's the question, are the Sixers built to win now? Actually, check that. Whether or not this roster can compete this season is irrelevant. There's a much more important question to ask: Will this team's window close in the next two seasons? Are they in a "win now or win never" type of situation?
If you believe the answer to that question is yes, you can probably stop reading right now. If they absolutely must find a way to contend right away, then I suppose the Sixers should've drafted Ty Lawson, because they absolutely need a guy who is on the verge of reaching his full potential. A guy who can step in and start from day one, if need be. Personally, I think the Sixers window is just beginning to open, though. So I think the answer to that question is a resounding no.
As things stand, when Dalembert, Kapono and Willie Green come off the books they'll have Elton Brand at 32 (with less miles on his odometer than a typical 32 year-old, if he can recover fully from the injuries.) Andre Iguodala will be 27. Lou and Jason Smith will be 25. Speights will be 24. Thad 23 and Jrue 21.
Pretty much every scout, analyst and informed basketball writer agrees that Jrue Holiday has a higher ceiling than Ty Lawson. He's got all the physical tools to be a better player on both ends of the floor, he's younger. Had he been allowed to declare for the draft straight out of high school, he would've been a top five pick. Had he gone back to college for one more season, it's likely he would've been a top five pick. The only reason he fell to the Sixers was a poor freshman season playing out of position at UCLA. Even so, his freshman year behind Darren Collison was much, much more productive than Russell Westbrook's. Westbrook barely even played as a frosh. Holiday forced his way into the starting lineup with his defensive skills. It was a crazy set of circumstances that allowed Holiday to fall into the Sixers lap.
If the Sixers internally had Jrue rated like most "experts" it would've been silly to take Lawson, and I can only assume that they did. They didn't go into this draft looking for a quick fix, because that's not how their roster is built. They're built to compete now and
contend for years to come. From looking at the ages on the roster, I'd say their championship window won't even really open until two years from now. If that's the case, do you still think Lawson was the right pick? Would you rather have a budding star, a defensive stopper just coming into his own at 21, or a guy who's maybe tapped his potential and who is at best a passable, under-sized defender who's 24 years-old running the point? If you believe Holiday will be the better player ultimately, you have to pick Holiday, and I believe they absolutely made the right decision. If you think Lawson's ceiling is higher than Holiday's and/or there's a better chance that he'll reach his ceiling, then you just disagree with the Sixers' scouting. I think they've more than earned the benefit of the doubt with their picks over the past two seasons.
Here's the thing, though. With the roster set up to hit it's peak in let's say 2-6 years, it becomes even more important that the Sixers maintain flexibility heading into that period. Are the 7 guys they have under contract enough to make up the core of a championship team in 2011? No way to tell right now, but we do know that the Sixers will have three expiring contracts heading into that season. Three sizable expiring contracts, two of which belong to players who can actually contribute to a team willing to take a chance on them to make a run of their own. In a couple of years, that's when you start running the team with a larger focus on the present than the future, not before.
The planning has to start this Summer. For me, there is one goal over the next two seasons, and one rule. The goal is to win as many games as possible and go as deep into the playoffs as possible each season. I think it's crucial that the core players keep tasting success and keep testing themselves in the post season. The rule is that you make no moves that could possibly derail that window in 2011. Any veterans you sign must expire before 2011 (Kidd, Miller, Bibby). Any young piece you add (Gortat) must fit in as a big part of that team which will contend.
This brings me back to another gripe I've noticed from Sixers fans since the draft. Everyone seemed to want the Sixers to somehow work their way into the second round to pick up a shooter. I count myself among this group, by the way. If it's just cash we're talking about, then fine, they should've done it. But when you look at the trades teams pulled to get a pick in the second, most of them involved future picks and cash as compensation. If that was the asking price whenever they picked up the phone, then I'm taking the team's side on this one as well. This was a weak draft, if I had to give up a second rounder (or even two future seconds) in what will probably be a deeper draft to take a shot at a guy who probably won't amount to anything anyway this year, why would I? Better to keep your future picks and then maybe next year a guy you can really use drops to you in the second, it's more likely you'll strike gold in the second with a stronger overall draft class.