If you've been paying attention to blogs, papers, forums and comment threads, there's a definitive school of thought that the Sixers have to trade Andre Miller in the next five days. Most people falling in the Trade Miller camp believe he won't re-sign with the Sixers. Some think the Sixers will be better off in the long run if they don't re-sign him. Some, I'm pretty sure, haven't seen more than a handful of games this season.
The line I've heard more often than not is that the Sixers need to build to become champions. Strictly speaking, that's absolutely true. You don't put teams together with the goal of simply making the playoffs, you're always looking to build for more. So, here's my question to you, how do you build a champion?
The first answer is going to be win the lottery, get a top-two pick, and draft a superstar to lead your team to the promised land. Well, that's a fine solution, care to guess how many teams it's worked for since 1980? Two. The Rockets drafted Hakeem number one in 1984, they built their team around him and they won a couple of titles a decade later when Michael Jordan was on hiatus. The Spurs built a team around two number one picks a decade apart, David Robinson and Tim Duncan, they've won 4 titles in the Duncan era. Other than that, no team in the past 29 years has built a champion around a top-two pick they drafted. So if tanking is your philosophy, well, you may want to rethink that.
Typically, lucky trades lead to championships more than lucky ping pong balls. Take a look at last year's finals match-up. The Lakers got there by raping the Grizzlies for Pau Gasol, the Celtics with the helping hand of Kevin McHale. The year before was a draft finals, with LeBron meeting up with Duncan. The year before that we saw the Heat lucking into the Shaq trade versus the Mavs who were built around a euro drafted at number 9. The year before that it was the Lakers who lucked into a Shaq signing against the Pistons who used cap space to find Chauncey, dealt for a troubled Rasheed and a middling Rip Hamilton.
My point is that there is no set blueprint for building a championship team, and really there's no blueprint for building a team to get to the finals. It takes a lot of luck, a lot of perserverance and most importantly, it takes experience. Playoff basketball is a different game than regular season basketball, it always has been. You don't learn to win in the post season by winning in the regular season. Ask the Celtics. They won 66 regular season games last year and very nearly got bounced in the first, second and third rounds of the playoffs.
This has been a long, circuitious route to the point of this post, but here it is. I'm not saying you can't trade Andre Miller under any circumstances, all I'm saying is that trading him for no reason other than "he might walk at the end of the year," is stupid. Saying, "who cares if they make the playoffs, they aren't going all the way," is equally stupid. Every minute of playoff basketball this team plays is a step toward a championship. It's invaluable playoff experience for Andre Iguodala, Thad Young, Marreese Speights and the other young building blocks on the roster who are the foundation of this team.
This team is much better with Andre Miller than without him. They have a chance to get the number 4 seed, which would give them homecourt advantage in the first round. You don't just flush that down the toilet because Miller may go somewhere else after the season, and let's be honest here, Andre Miller really isn't going to have a lot of options when the season is over. After the Marion/O'Neal trade, Detroit is the only team that's "better" than the Sixers with any cap space next season. So for the Sixers to have the best offer for Miller, all they're really going to have to do is top the MLE offer some west coast team can make him. If you think signing Miller to an extension is silly, I'd like to know who you envision as a PG replacement who will be good enough to bring them back to the playoffs next season.
Yes, Andre Miller's expiring contract is an asset, and if you can use it to get a legitimate shooter who will improve the team not only in the short term, but the long term as well, then you pull the trigger. If you can somehow leverage Miller into a trade for a superstar, and I'm going to say a complete superstar at this point, then you do that as well (I'm talking about Chris Bosh here, not Amare Stoudemire). But you can't lose sight of the fact that Andre Miller the player is an asset as well. He's an asset that is going to help this team take a huge step forward this season, even without Elton Brand in the lineup. You don't sacrifice that step for a middling PG prospect and a mismatched piece for the roster. You don't sacrifice that step for a deal which might get rid of a bad contract as well, like Willie or Reggie. You only sacrifice that step if it brings back a legitimate piece which will allow the Sixers to take two steps forward next year. I haven't seen a rumor yet that accomplishes that goal for the Sixers.
I'd love it if people would avoid blanket statements like, "The Sixers have to trade Andre Miller," because it's just not the case. We're watching a playoff team every night. A team that's playing better basketball than they were when they went into the playoff last season, led by two under-rated Andres. Let's enjoy it.
I will say this, I think the Sixers will be much better off if they hold on to Miller, get to the second round of the playoffs and get knocked out, then Miller walks this summer for nothing than they would be if they traded for Sergio Rodriguez and Travis Outlaw and missed the playoffs entirely this year. Even with the slow start and the Elton Brand injury this team has taken a step forward this season, that's what you want when you're building toward the ultimate goal. Take a step forward every year and never be afraid to make a bold move. Trading Andre Miller for scraps doesn't have that bold feel to it, does it?