Ideas for what the Sixers should do this summer are already being tossed around in the comments, from trades to draft picks to free agent signings, we're going to explore everything. Before we get into too much detail, though, we need to answer the biggest question of them all.
It's folly to enter into any kind of transaction without first defining the overall goal. Winning a championship is the ultimate, that goes without saying. What isn't clear, though, is how you're going to get there. There's no clear-cut answer, there's probably no shortcut, so I think we've got four options, three paths to choose from for this summer.
1. Stay the course: The Sixers' cap situation isn't great, but it could be worse. If they don't sign or extend anyone, they're probably going to have significant cap space in a couple of years when Brand comes off the books, the following summer Iguodala's deal will expire. Jrue will only be 23 and due an extension. Hunkering down, going with what they've got will probably result in a couple more trips to the playoffs, then relying on Rod Thorn (or whoever is pulling the strings at that point) having a couple of pieces in place, maybe a big piece or two depending on how the younger guys develop, and the assets to make a major move. The benefit here is that the team should have a very clear picture of what they have in Jrue, Turner and whatever other young pieces remain on the roster. They can make an informed decision before investing a ton of money in the future. We should also have some enjoyable basketball to watch between now and then. The limiting factor here is that they really can't do anything major to augment their roster in the mean time. Priority number one has to be making no long term bets, singing no one to a contract longer than Iguodala's. That's the only way to keep all options open when the cap space becomes available from Brand's contract.
2. Tear it down to build it up: This path basically involves trading Iguodala in the hopes that you can get two or three things in return: (1) Cap space earlier than you would've gotten in by holding onto Iguodala, (2) Extra draft picks, (3) Player(s) who could help the team in the long term. If you're opting for this path, you have to be willing to see the team take a step backward in the short term, but at the same time, you have to realize that you probably aren't going to take a big enough step back to get into the top of the lottery. There's too much talent left on the roster even without Iguodala for this group to sink to the bottom of the standings. They may not make the playoffs, but they won't have a legit shot at winning the lottery either. Keep this in mind when you're dreaming up Iguodala trade scenarios. If they do trade him, they have to get something of value in return. Preferably, they'd get a young piece that fits for the long term, a guy whose career arc matches well with Jrue and Turner and whoever else is part of the long term plans. If you're intent on getting a little deeper into the lottery, then you should probably look to move Brand as well, though I'm not sure there's going to be any kind of palatable deal out there for him. It would probably be a case of making a trade to intentionally get worse, and that's not really a road you want to start down, especially when you're grooming a couple of guys to lead the team in the future. The advantage here is that you'd be turning the team over to the youth movement immediately, you'd create cap flexibility earlier and get to the point where you can make a big move for the right piece almost at any time, instead of hoping your window coincides with the availability of the right guy.
3. Make a move to improve: The simple fact is that even if the Sixers play all their cards right, the odds of landing a franchise altering talent are still prohibitively low. I'd love to tell you the Sixers will have a legit shot at signing Dwight Howard when he becomes a free agent, but it's probably not going to happen. If you take an honest look at things, trading for a superstar is a long shot, and winning the lottery is as well. So you can either grow old waiting for a miracle to happen, or you can do everything you can to do the most with what you've got. If you look at the East, the Sixers are closer to being a top-three team than you probably think right now. One or two positive moves to fill key holes and we could be talking about a 50+ win team, home court in the first round and maybe an outside shot at playing the Heat or the Bulls in the conference finals within two or three years. The problem here is that to make impact moves, you're probably going to have to mortgage your future somewhat. You might not have to overpay in terms of dollars necessarily, but you're probably going to have to overpay in terms of years. The benefit here is obviously moving the needle in the right direction in terms of winning games. You've also got the advantage of adding without subtracting, meaning if you add a guy like Nene, you've still got a 20-year-old point guard to play with him, and you've still got a couple of guys who could make a huge leap on your roster. Maybe you invest the money, someone turns the corner and what originally looked like a 50 win team is suddenly a 55-win team and you've got a really good supporting cast around a budding star. You've got national attention, you've become a viable destination city, and you've got Brand and Iguodala's expiring contracts to use to improve the team even further. What once looked short-sighted suddenly has become a foundation for long-term relevancy and possible contention. Long odds, but it's a possibility.
4. Go for broke: You take the Knicks suicide rush approach to targeting one guy, you completely strip your cupboards bare to get him and you worry about the consequences later. Chris Paul and Dwight Howard are the only two guys I see as being even remotely available who fit the bill here, but this is one way you could go. The upside: If it works, you've got not only the centerpiece of your team, but you've got a draw as well. A player the city will rally around and a guy who will create his own gravity, luring other good players to join him in Philly. The drawback: putting all your eggs in one basket rarely works out well, and a guy like CP3 carries a fair amount of risk. With Howard, I'm sure it wouldn't be difficult to build a winner around him, and I think he's got a long career ahead of him, but how patient will he really be? If he's pushing management to get him help, you could wind up with stupid, short-sighted moves that wind up killing the team in the long run. In CP3's case, injuries are my main concern. In either case, though, I'd probably be thrilled if Thorn was able to get the deal done. I just don't see this as a very likely path, though.
The reason why I said this is THE question is the Sixers may have to make a decision on Thad Young sooner rather than later, and it's going to be a decision with consequences. If they sign him for a big chunk of money for a bunch of years, a couple of the paths laid out above will immediately be blocked off. I feel like this franchise hasn't always had the courage of their convictions when it comes to long term planning. They've sort of muddled through and made decisions willy nilly along the way, only when they had to. And they've made decisions that were the lesser of two evils at the time, but didn't really take the future fully into account. That really shouldn't happen this summer. It can't. If signing Thad is part of the overall goal, then you sign him. If giving him a long term deal doesn't work with your plan, then you bite bullet and hope you can keep him on his qualifying offer. The only thing you really can't do is look at Thad as a separate issue from all the other moves you're going to have to make in the future, because it's all part of the same big puzzle.
So here's your assignment over the weekend. Pick one of these paths, defend it, then describe how you'd execute it. Hopefully, Rod Thorn is sitting somewhere having this exact same conversation right now.