It's time to face facts, this Sixers team, coached by Doug Collins, is not bad enough to wind up with a top-five pick in the upcoming draft. It's simply not going to happen unless either Collins or Rod Thorn proactively and intentionally does something to make the team worse. Collins isn't going to do that, it's not in his DNA. Judging from his reactions as he watches the games and his comments about how he was forced to help New Jersey circle the drain in his last two season with the Nets, I don't think Thorn is too keen on that idea either.
The pride of those two guys doesn't really impact how I feel about the best path of the team one way or the other, though. For me, it comes down to how the team is playing, and who is playing the bulk of the minutes. The Sixers have been playing great basketball over their past seven. Not just good. Not just getting lucky. They've been playing great basketball. 5-2 with two losses that should've never happened against solid playoff teams. Most importantly, though, it's been on the backs of their young guys that they've been playing this basketball. This isn't a case of Doug Collins overusing veteran guys who aren't a part of the future, Tony Battie and Andres Nocioni have essentially fallen out of the rotation completely.
Collins has gotten the important young guys to buy in to the point where his trimmed rotation is more than competitive on a nightly basis. Every night, this team is bringing a ton of effort, they're fighting back against more talented teams (sometimes much more talented), and they're growing together. I think it's much more likely they squeak into the playoffs than they finish with a legitimate shot of winning the lottery.
Taking all that's happened and the team's cap situation into account, I think the players and Collins have earned some help. I think they're doing their part. They're showing ownership and the front office that they're far from a lost cause. It's time for Thorn to show them some support and do what he can to fix the tragic flaws in the roster. Make their uphill climb a little easier.
I have a trade in mind, but before we get to it, I have a couple of caveats. Jrue Holiday and Andre Iguodala are untouchable unless an unbelievable package is offered. Evan Turner and Thad Young should only be moved if legitimate long-term pieces are involved. I can't believe I'm putting Thad in this category, but he's probably done the most to rehabilitate his career, and I really want to see how he plays out the year before making any kind of decision on him. Everyone else is fair game.
I know there are people out there who disagree, so let's try to keep it civil and have a good discussion on the direction of the team in the comments.
Second caveat: When I talk about "adding a piece" I'm talking about adding a big man. I don't want to go out and get a guy who's going to replace or block Evan Turner. I don't want to go out and get a guy who will in any way take minutes away from Turner or Jrue. That's not negotiable. Forget guys like Vince Carter.
What I'm looking for here, is a guy who can step into the current rotation, leave what's working alone, but strengthen their weaknesses. My only other requirement is that no new contract extend beyond Elton Brand's final year. The failsafe to any trade needs to be the cap flexibility the team will have a couple years down the road.
The name that has popped up a couple of times is Marcus Camby, and after looking at the numbers, I have to say he's the perfect fit.
Here's one way a trade could work
- Sixers send: Jason Kapono (expiring), Darius Songaila (expiring), Marreese Speights (rookie contract) and the option to swap first-round picks with Portland this coming summer or next.
- Sixers get from Portland: Marcus Camby (expires after next season), Rudy Fernandez (restricted free agent after next season).
Rudy doesn't need to be in the deal, I just know they've toyed with moving him and he made the numbers work. I'd also give Portland the option of choosing between Speights, if they see something in him, or Hawes if they just want even more money coming off their books this summer. I'd also sub in any number of second round picks for the right to swap #1 spots once over the next two seasons. The only thing I wouldn't do is completely give away a first round pick.
I'm not sure if Portland is really willing to part with Camby. If they are, I'm not sure they would do it for little more than cap space, but I'd try to make this deal work if they're amenable. From the Sixers standpoint, they'd be getting a very old, very productive five who could anchor their defense for the next two seasons and allow the rest of the defenders on the team to concentrate on pressure. I truly believe if you put 30 minutes/night of Marcus Camby on the floor in this system, with these players, we're talking about a top 10 defense in the league, possibly top five.
If Portland is willing and a deal could be worked out, this would be a true test to Comcast. The Sixers would save a couple hundred thousand this year, but by trading away expiring deals, they'd be taking on a ton of additional money next season. If Thad and Hawes play for their qualifying offers, the Sixers would be at $74M and change for next season, well over the luxury tax threshold. If they let Hawes walk, and Thad signs his qualifying offer, it's $70M, and again, they're in the luxury tax threshold. If they extend Thad, you're probably well over the luxury tax, if it exists.
After next season, though, Camby and Nocioni both come off the books (plus, I'd say it's even money that Lou opts out of the final year of his contract) and it's no harm no foul, financially. Basically, you'd be swapping the potential opportunity to sign a free agent for an MLE-level deal for Marcus Camby plus potentially paying the luxury tax for one season.
Of course, if there's a lockout and next season is lost completely, then you've saved some money this year and added no future expense because no one is paid during a lockout.
Ultimately, I think it's a worthwhile move for a couple of reasons. To me, the difference between the #15 pick and a pick in the 17-20 range isn't all that much. Without gutting the team, I don't see them getting even into the top ten in the draft. I see a whole lot more value in getting to the playoffs, and more importantly, the young players on this team playing high quality basketball (at least on one end of the floor), as they grow into their roles and develop. Bringing in a guy like Camby isn't pushing anyone of note out, it's replacing Spencer Hawes with a center who rebounds, defends, and doesn't hurt you on the offensive end.
And finally, take a look at the headline. This team has bought in. They're doing exactly what Collins is asking of them. They're playing their asses off, despite the handicaps the front office has inflicted upon them. The positives of having ownership recognize that, and bolster their chances of making the playoffs, of taking positive steps in the right direction should be tremendous. If the converse was to happen, if the team finally - after years of struggle in some cases - seems to be headed in the right direction, ownership decides to start selling off pieces for pennies on the dollar, what message does that send? How does that motivate the remaining players? Pulling the rug out from under them when they're finally getting their act together would be disastrous. If the team does decide to go in that direction, they better get a hell of a return.