They need a big. They need a scorer. They should trade up for Kanter or Biyombo. Iguodala must go. Thad must be re-signed. Let Hawes walk. There's no shortage of opinions on what the Sixers should do this summer and I'm sure everyone has the same goal in mind. My only question is where does the path lead through?
Watching the OKC/Dallas game last night, I got to thinking about the Kendrick Perkins trade. OKC got the better of the deal as far as I'm concerned. I'm no fan of Jeff Green and I think Kendrick Perkins is a fine defensive center, but somewhere in the back of your mind you have to at least think about whether Jeff Green would've given Dirk more problems than Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka have on the defensive end. At the very least, he would've given Dirk a different look, and I do believe you might be better off going with a smaller, quicker player to defend Dirk, though that's questionable.
That train of thought brought me to the bigger picture. Why did OKC make the trade? It's pretty simple, they needed (or thought they needed) more big bodies to be able to compete with the Lakers. Of course, the Lakers got knocked out and now they may be too big to compete with the Mavs, if that makes sense.
Anyway, building your team with an eye toward the defending champs in your own conference probably isn't a mistake, though it may look a bit like a blunder with OKC trailing Dallas 3-1. Let's keep that in mind when we look at the big picture of the Eastern Conference and how the landscape relates to what the Sixers are trying to do going forward.
Finally, let's look at the question atop this post: How should the build it? The East has two teams set up to be powerhouses for the next 3-5 years, maybe longer. Chicago can't count on more than another year or two out of Boozer, but the rest of their core is very young. They have room for growth and that's a scary proposition for a team that had the best record in the league this season. And then down in South Beach, LeBron is in the middle of his prime and Wade still has a few good years left in his body. Even when Wade fades, LeBron and Bosh will still be in their primes for a year or two. Overtaking either of those teams is going to take a ton of work, a ton of luck, and maybe even more careful planning.
When you look at the Bulls and the Heat, there's one thing that comes to mind: athleticism. Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James aren't the super-skilled type of superstars (they have plenty of skills), at least not exclusively. All three are the rare combination of other-worldly athlete and excellent skills. All three can do what most humans can't. When no opportunity presents itself, they can make something out of nothing by running faster and jumping higher than anyone else on the floor. When Wade and LeBron are on the floor together, they get the ball down the court in a blur. If you turn your head the wrong way against Derrick Rose, he's gone for a dunk or a layup. That's what you have to compete against. That's what you have to prepare for. That's what you have to build your team around. Finding a way to stop those guys, those teams.
Sounds simple, right? If only it was. There's really only one shortcut to getting on the same level as Miami and Chicago, and in no way does it involve a player like Monta Ellis or Danny Granger. It's finding yourself a dominant big man in the prime of his career. One guy in the league right now fits that mold: Dwight Howard. If/when Howard becomes available, he's going to make The Decision and the Melo-drama look like child's play. The odds of the Sixers getting him fall closer to none than slim. If you're looking to the draft, the next Tim Duncan isn't there this year. Not even close. Getting that dominant big is the easiest path to competing with Miami and Chicago, but I don't think it's the only one.
You can go the Hoosiers route, fill your roster with a ton of shooters with perfect basketball fundamentals and hope your execution and chemistry will overwhelm their insane athleticism. Of course, you're probably going to need a guy like Dirk or Larry Bird as your centerpiece if this is going to work. Or you can go the opposite route and fill your roster with as much unbridled athleticism as possible. I'm talking about putting five guys on the floor who can do everything and anything on the basketball court. Guys who can all guard multiple positions, guys who can all start the break with their defense, lead the break with their dribble, find the right guy with a pass and finish with authority in transition. Guys who can swarm the ball and recover. Guys who force mistakes and then make the other team pay for them in transition.
It's easy to say they need to get a superstar, it's much harder to actually get that guy, then it's harder still to build a contender even when you do have the superstar. If the plan is to sit around and wait for a superstar to fall in your lap, then you don't have a plan at all. And even if one of those guys does become available, if his name isn't Dwight Howard, he isn't going to be enough, not against Miami. Adding Chris Paul tomorrow would make the Sixers interesting, but it wouldn't make them a contender. Not overnight. The Knicks added Melo and Amare last year and they're doomed to be little more than a curiosity because they don't have the athletes nor the defenders to truly compete.
I'm sure it's no surprise to you that I'm of the mind that this team needs to go the athletic route. I'm not talking about guys who have enough athleticism to get by, I'm talking about the physical and athletic freaks who disrupt games by doing things human beings should not be able to do. Andre Iguodala is one of those guys. In a sneaky way, Jrue is as well. Thad Young and even Lou Williams to a lesser extent are as well. Evan Turner doesn't have the athleticism, but he's got the size at shooting guard and the lateral quickness to be a disruptive defender. This is a really long winded way of saying I really don't want the Sixers to come out of this draft with a guy who has skills beyond his years and the moves of an old man. I want the freak. I want Biyombo most of all, but there are a number of guys I'd settle for who fit the mold. When we're talking trades, I'm much more interested in adding a guy like Josh Smith to Iguodala and Jrue than subtracting Iguodala's athleticism to take a long shot on Kanter. Assemble as much athleticism as possible, as many guys who can change the game with their legs and wingspans. Put them on the floor together and let chaos rule. I just don't think building a team in the traditional fashion is going to be the way to beat teams like Miami and Chicago in the playoffs, and if that isn't the goal, what are they even playing for?