Back in June, with disconcerting rumors about the Sixers ownership/front office swirling, I chose to bide my time. Who's in charge, who's make decisions, those are typically secondary concerns. Possibly, they aren't concerns at all. Who makes a decision carries no meaning without the decisions themselves present to be evaluated. Well, now we have a handful of decisions, and possibly the outline of a plan...or a direction...or maybe two plans and two directions. Let's take stock.
Kwame Brown was the latest, and perhaps final, player personnel move of the summer. It looks like Tom Penn is the front-runner to usurp Rod Thorn as general manager. We've now got a team with only four players under contract beyond 2014: Thad Young, Moe Harkless, Arnett Moultrie and Nikola Vucevic. Let's try not to deal in rumors, but in facts.
When you look at the Atlantic Division, and really the entire Eastern Conference, the Sixers seem to be playing a long game. It's not a game many teams are playing. Of the teams who made the playoffs last season in the East, only the Sixers and Hawks have actively tried to shed salary for year three of the renegotiated CBA. If you recall, this CBA doesn't bare its teeth until year three, when the revenue split drops to 50%, taxpayer penalties increase dramatically and sign-and-trades become more difficult (and less advantageous to the players). The cap and luxury tax thresholds are going to drop. The penalty for being a taxpayer is going to be much, much more than the slap on the wrist it's been in the past and teams who pay the tax will have fewer exceptions to use to augment their rosters. The Nets, Knicks, Heat and Bulls are all going to have to choose between a bloodletting to gain maneuverability or the charity of veterans on minimum contracts to fill holes. Superteams are probably going to be a thing of the past, and the Sixers will probably be hard-pressed to reach the salary floor.
Unquestionably, they're going to have a ton of cap space when cap space will be at an extreme premium (unless something crazy happens between now and then). It seems like a solid long-term plan, and Penn seems like a good choice to bring into the front office. He's known as a cap and CBA expert. (Part of me wonders if interest in him is a direct response to the "Oops we have to amnesty Brand to pay Hawes!" gaffe). Circling back, though, cap space itself doesn't make a contender. The Kings have been spinning their wheels with a ton of cap space for several seasons and they don't appear to be any closer to the playoffs this season than they were last year (unless Thomas Robinson really pans out). The ability to make moves is meaningless until good moves are actually made. The Kings are actually a good way to transition into the second part of the "plan," because they didn't half ass their rebuild.
While the financial aspect of the Sixers plan had an eye to the future, the current roster was built with little regard for anything but the upcoming season. In terms of the players they lost and acquired, the Sixers had one goal in mind. Give Doug Collins what he needs (or wants) to replicate last season's success. The Sixers are behaving pretty much like the Oakland A's have in baseball for years. They lost Lou and Brand, so how can they recreate their production on the cheap? Nick Young, Kwame Brown and Dorell Wright appear to be the answers. Better shooting to offset Lou's explosive scoring. Better size on the perimeter and in the middle to offset Brand's interior presence on the defensive end. The Sixers plan to use these castaways to maintain the progress made last season while the larger picture can develop...if it ever develops.
I've heard people talk about using the next two seasons to evaluate the talent on the roster, but I don't see any sign of that being a priority. They didn't go out and get young guys, they didn't even clear a spot for a young guy. They brought in veterans to round out the rotation and until I see evidence to the contrary, I believe the plan is for Doug Collins to squeeze as many wins as possible out of this group by whatever means necessary. The team isn't going to be turned over to Jrue to run as a true PG. Evan Turner isn't going to be given free reign to make mistakes and take bad shots. Moultrie and Harkless will probably spend time in the D-League, and Nikola Vucevic probably won't even be in the rotation. I'm sure the Sixers would like to see what they have in all of these guys, and they will, but not to the point where they're going to sacrifice games on a fact finding mission.
People have called this plan a delayed rebuild, but it doesn't look like a rebuild at all to me. When you put the pieces together, it looks like winning as many games as possible is the goal, and then that flexibility would be used to push them from a second-round-exit team to a contender with a hypothetical big splash with the cap space. If the plan was to rebuild through the draft, the moves made this summer would've been entirely different.
In broad strokes, it's not a terrible plan. Win games, stay nimble, pounce when teams realize they need to have a fire sale. In the short term, the Sixers won't be terrible next season. Depending on several factors, they could be a little better, they could be a little worse. I'm sure it'll be an exciting season and I'd say they're likely to return to the playoffs where their defense will again make them a tough out. I would've preferred they use the money spent on Spencer Hawes and Kwame Brown for either Ryan Anderson or Ersan Ilyasova (or just set $6.5M on fire instead of re-signing Hawes), but whatever. It is what it is. We should be in for some enjoyable basketball over the next two seasons. The part that's tough to take is that we're right back where we were in June. Wait and see. Only now, we're going to probably have to wait a couple of years to see if the decision makers can properly build a team.