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Pick One

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Late last night I was thinking about the Sixers and checking out various stats when a thought came to me. I've been in the camp that the Sixers have a core worth building around, or at least the beginning of one. When I was looking at the stats, and ages, of the players on the team, I couldn't help but ask myself a few very tough questions. I'd like to get your thoughts after the jump.

The first thing I did was define the "young core" on the roster. It's easier to say who's not part of it: Dalembert, Green, Kapono and Brand are definitely out. That leaves the following players:

  • Iguodala (26)
  • Holiday (19)
  • Williams (23)
  • Thad (21)
  • Speights (22)
  • Jason Smith (23)
  • Carney (25)
  • Jody Meeks (22)

It's my belief that of that group of eight players, Jrue and Iguodala are the true building blocks. Iguodala is there already, he's got the entire package, he's a complete player. I believe Holiday will get there offensively, and he's probably there now on the defensive end. Beyond those two guys, what else do we have?

To be more accurate, which of these other guys do you see still being in a Sixers uniform after their rookie contracts run out?

Thad's offensive game has evolved since his rookie season, he's definitely added some things to his game, and he's maintained decent productivity as his role has increased, but he really hasn't improved at all in other areas, in fact he's regressed in some regards. He's going to be the first tough decision for the team, and right now, I'm just not sure what type of contract he's going to demand. If he continues on his current career arc, I think there's a great chance he won't sign a second contract in Philadelphia.

Speights is absurdly one dimensional, and I'm not sure anything is going to change that. Maybe a team can absorb one guy who doesn't defend and doesn't contribute anything but scoring in its regular rotation, but can it absorb two? It's possible, but again, how much money do you want to invest in two guys who essentially provide the same thing, and probably provide the same thing off the bench?

Smith, Carney and Meeks all fall into the same category right now. They can go, they can stay, it doesn't really matter. The only reason they're even in this conversation is their cheap contracts and their age. All three seem extremely replaceable to me.

So here's the question for you guys. Fast forward to the summer of 2011, the Sixers have to decide whether they're going to extend Thad, knowing full well that Speights will be in the same situation the following summer. It's one or the other. Which guy do you want in a Sixers uniform for his next contract?

As for Lou, well, you know how I feel about him. Offense on the bench @ $5M+ per year is too steep of a price to pay when you have so many more holes to fill.<br /><br />

One more conversation point, and I really don't know how I feel about this one. If Iguodala and Jrue are your cornerstones, and you're building around defense, do their career arcs mesh? There's a seven-year age difference there. I think it's reasonable to say Jrue will reach his defensive potential relatively quickly, he's already light years ahead of most guys his age, but it could take much, much longer for him to develop an offensive game. How long? Maybe five years. That sounds like a long time, but he'll only be 24 when he's coming off his rookie contract, and I think that's when he's probably going to hit his prime.

If Jrue does take that long to develop, we're talking about a 31-year-old Andre Iguodala. That has to change your way of thinking about these two guys. For one thing, Iguodala's current contract will expire by then, meaning in order to have Iguodala on the roster when Jrue hits his prime, you're going to have to sign him to another contract, not to mention the fact that Iguodala will probably have somewhere near 30,000 NBA minutes under his belt. He's an exceptional athlete, who keeps himself in unbelievable shape, but how many athletic wings can play that many minutes and stay at the top of their games into their early thirties?

It's depressing to think about, but building this team around Jrue and Iguodala is going to require at least one of these things to happen:

  1. Jrue matures very, very quickly, and at least nears his full potential by his third season, age 22
  2. Iguodala doesn't slow down when he reaches his early thirties. He doesn't lose any of the athleticism that makes him such a special player.
  3. As Iguodala ages, his game morphs. He refines his jumper and retains his excellent defensive and play making skills. He becomes an older, wiser version of the player he is now, but no less effective.

Sobering thoughts, I know, but that's the kind of mood I'm in. When you stop and think about it for a second, there's really only one of two ways to go. You either completely blow it up, do everything you can to clear out not only Iguodala and Brand, but Lou Williams as well, and you reset your clock to coincide with Jrue's maturation. That's a pretty big gamble to make on a 19-year-old with only 900 minutes of play under his belt, and questionable stats in those minutes. This would undoubtedly be a bumpy road, but you should have at least two or three high draft picks to work with to add to the core.

The second option is to go for broke with what you've got. You look to add players rather than subtracting and hope Jrue (or maybe Thad and Speights) can make a leap early. It's going to be extremely hard to move Brand, so maybe you don't worry about it. Maybe you accept him for what he is, and you package your expiring contracts this summer, or next season, to add another piece. A piece with a contract that expires the same year as Brand's. You reload, get a new coach and emphasize the strengths of the roster, but in the back of your mind you're always well aware that you're probably going to hit the reset button when Brand's time with the team comes to an end.

I wish I could definitively tell you what the smart decision would be, but I just don't know. Are you better off going for the highest possible draft picks for the next three seasons, or are you better off setting yourself up to make a huge splash via free agency or trade when Jrue is 22, Thad is 24 and Speights is 25? When your young core, if that's what they are, really hits its prime and you have one year of Iguodala left, probably still in his prime? This is what the team could look like when Brand's contract expires:

  • Jrue (22)
  • ?
  • Iguodala (29), Thad (24)
  • Speights (25)
  • ?
With some luck, one of those question marks would be filled in with a top-ten pick this season. The other possibly with a trade sending out our expiring contracts this summer. Then you have enough enough cap room to make a max offer to a free agent to fill the final hole(s), or maybe more depending on the new CBA and any number of other factors.

Thoughts in the comments, as usual. Let me know if you're as torn as I am.