Think back to the night of Wednesday April 27th. That was evening the 2010-2011 Philadelphia 76ers season came to an end after a Game 5 loss to the Miami Heat. Looking over the end of the game thread that night and the offseason kickoff thread the next day, many shared similar sentiments to myself. I knew this team had holes, notably in the frontcourt, but I was excited for the future. The Sixers had plenty of things going for them.
Fast forward to today. The same Miami Heat are trying to win an NBA Championship that they very well already could have wrapped up. Not only that, but the Sixers have made as much news as anyone in the league not named Miami or Dallas in the past week. I figured that it would be a pretty slow time of year as far as the Sixers were concerned. After all, the team would be picking outside of the lottery. Besides looking over the countless possibilities the Sixers could draft at # 16, the impending lockout really looked like it would suck the life out of the month of June.
Not for the first time in my life, I was way off. This past week, the Sixers have been a hot topic not only in Philadelphia, which is a stranger circumstance than an outsider would think. They have made news worthy of coverage from outlets such as ESPN, SI.com, CBS Sports, and many other places with a national audience. Too bad I'm more worried than ever about this team, much more than a month ago.
The coverage has come for two reasons. The first is positive and it comes from off the court, because that the team is up for sale. The situation is looking as if ownership will change hands from Comcast and Ed Snider to a group of investors led by billionaire and leverage buyout specialist Joshua Harris. This is an absolutely huge deal long term for a few reasons, the first being Snider and Comcast's well-known affinity and attention towards The Wells Fargo Center's other tenant. The move also could lead to a front-office shakeup with former Sacramento assistant general manager Jason Levien being a part of the group of investors. Still, this move is not what is the most pressing issue for Sixers fans right now. That would be the ongoing saga of Andre Iguodala's status in Philadelphia.
Iguodala is one of the most polarizing athletes that I have had the pleasure to cheer for, both nationally and locally. Writers around the country can't make their mind up on how good of a player he is and it is no secret that Iguodala is not exactly revered by the large casual section of the 76ers fan base. I listen to WIP and hear people who say that the team will be better as soon as he leaves town, regardless of what happens. It's hard to hold in my thoughts. Then I read one of the team's local beat writers write this quote last month in this story:
"This brings us to the main question each Sixers fan must ask this offseason: Do you care for whom Iguodala is traded?"
I mean, come on. Of course I care who our best player gets traded for. Anybody who doesn't should not be following this team. This is not a guy who ever bad-mouthed the city. This is not a guy who ever doesn't give 100 % effort. This is not a guy who has ever caused public relations problems. This is a guy who plays hurt. The sad part is that I am sure that the Inquirer's Kate Fagan is correct. Some Sixers fans just want Iguodala out of here. Iguodala has been a part of trade rumors for a long time, but now ESPN's Ric Bucher has gone on record saying that Andre will be dealt by the end of the month. Let's take a look at how we got here, rewinding all the way back to late April, in the post-game press conference after the Sixers bowed in five to Miami.
The Quote and The Interview
When asked whether he expected to stay in Philadelphia next season, Iguodala did not give exactly a ringing endorsement. The quote, per Bob Cooney of the Daily News:
"I expect to be back in the NBA. It's always been a dream of mine to play ball. This has been a great ride so far, not just with the Sixers, but playing basketball in general. So I'm really looking forward to getting some rest this summer, letting my body recuperate and get back to 100 percent."
Fagan wrote a whole piece where she believed that specific quote signified that Iguodala definitely wanted out, and I don't know if I'd go that far. It seems to me that he wouldn't mind leaving. The guy was frustrated after losing a hard-fought series might have been a little more emotional than usual. "Reading between the lines" is a tricky business.
Still, that type of quote is exactly what would fuel the fire of people who want Iguodala out of town. Never mind that in a follow-up question he talked about wanting to stay in one place and climb his way up the Sixers record books. The first quote was enough for people to wonder if he wanted to stay. On the one hand, I understand where he is coming from. Iguodala has heard for quite a while now that people want him out of town, so why would he want to show undying allegiance to those people? At the same time, he shouldn't have answered the question that way and he knows better. Usually very subdued when answering questions, he had to know how that would come off.
The next day it was reported that he missed his exit interview with Doug Collins. That story might have run wild (As things tend to do in Philly, it's the nature of the beast!), except that Iguodala was at a previously scheduled team doctor's appointment, which was necessary after Iguodala battled lower body injuries for most of the season. Rod Thorn, who said the incident was not a big deal, later confirmed this.
It was interesting to see this off-the-court controversy created by Iguodala, who rarely had drawn criticism for anything he did off the floor. Usually he took the most heat for his serious demeanor on the floor, which was a part of his leadership often being called into question. That was undoubtedly overblown though, because his team displayed some of the greatest heart and chemistry in the NBA during the second half of the season as well as in the playoffs. How could their best player and top minute guy be a bad teammate? That doesn't make sense.
Another criticism is one of the weaknesses of his game, his shooting, particularly at the end of games. Not getting into it too much, his shooting is definitely a weakness. That's a legit criticism, but it's really his only weakness. Without getting into the outdated idea of a closer and the fact that guys like Kobe Bryant aren't good in clutch, Dre is not meant to be a #1 scorer. It's not his fault that he has to be the #1 option down the stretch of games, a role that he is miscast in. That blame has to go on the Sixers' front office. Elton Brand was supposed to be that guy.
The Front Office's Motivations
Bucher the other day said in this interview that he had multiple sources say that the Sixers will trade Iguodala by July 1st. There are a couple of motivations for this, if Bucher's information is correct. Iguodala does have a big contract that will pay him 44 million dollars over the next three years. The date July 1st is significant because that is when the current CBA will be expired. One might be led to believe that the new salary cap might decrease and make that money worth even more.
The question I have is if Rod Thorn, who I assume is at the controls (Note: It's a bad thing when there is doubt of who is running your favorite team), would be allowed to make a deal. With new ownership and possibly a new general manager coming in, would David Stern or Snider let Thorn make such a big decision that will have a huge impact on the franchise down the road?
It does make me wonder why the Sixers would be painting themselves into a corner by declaring they will trade him by a certain date. Doesn't that take away your leverage? You know, the leverage you have by just being able to hold onto him. Iguodala still has three years left on his contract, and while he's 28 years old, he just came off a season where he played some of his usual excellent two-way basketball. While he probably isn't getting much better, I could see him performing at this level for at least the duration of his contract, which isn't a bad thing. The only thing I can think of are the injuries. Maybe they are worse than the team let on, but I doubt that. Personally, I think that was a product of all of the basketball he played dating back to last Summer and his time playing with the national team. His body needs rest, and that's what he says is happening.
The Possible Trades
By now, everyone has head the three rumored trades. Here's why I don't like them:
- Monta Ellis: I don't like this deal at all. In fact, I hate it. Both players have salaries that are close enough to be traded straight up. Ellis is paid less, and a trade like this would save you 11 million dollars. The problem is that Ellis happens to be signed for the exact same length of time as Iguodala, so you aren't making this move as a salary dump. It does save you money, but hardly enough to create significant cap space before Iguodala's salary would have gone off the books. This would solely be a move that in theory makes the Sixers better on the court.
That would be an absolute shame too, because Ellis is not the player Iguodala is, nor does he solve any of the Sixers' problems. First, comparing the two players, Iguodala does many things well and Ellis does one thing well, scoring. Thing is, how well does he do it? The points per game crowd would tend to favor his scoring average over Iguodala. They also may be shocked to find out that out of the six years they both have played in the league, Iguodala has had a higher true shooting percentage (IMO the best way to measure how efficiently a guy scores) four of those years, including the last two of the last three. Last year, when Eliis had a very good year by his standards, he was marginally better than Iguodala, with .536 TS% to Dre's .530. I will acknowledge that a higher offensive burden and a bad injury for Ellis needs to be taken into account, but trading for his scoring is lunacy! They would acquire the guy for one reason, to score, but the guy we are trading does it just as efficiently as he does. Not to mention, how does Ellis perform not playing in an up and down system?
The idea of this team "needing a scorer" also is a really foolish claim to make, and many are making it to justify the potential trade. If that's code for a volume shooter who does little else, than I'll pass. Speaking of passing, I'm probably not being fair to Ellis, who does that pretty well. It's just that Iguodala's better at that too (more assists, less turnovers) and needs the ball a lot less to accomplish it, but we'll get into that later. Some teams might be able to use Ellis as a scorer like the Bulls use Derrick Rose and the Sixers used to deploy Allen Iverson, with good defenders all around him. I don't know, a team like Charlotte or Milwaukee might be good fits off the top of my head.
Anyone who says this team "needs a scorer" before mentioning a big man who can defend and rebound is wrong though. Thaddeus Young can score. Lou Williams can score. Elton Brand can score. Jodie Meeks can score. Jrue Holiday can score. There has been such an overreaction to the Miami series, where the team struggled in the half-court against the Heat. Newsflash: Everyone in the Eastern Conference struggled in the half-court against Miami. That's no reason to make a panic trade because of it.
The worst part of this potential trade is the impact on Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner. If you believe that those two players are the Sixers' future backcourt (Some don't with Turner, but continue with me), having a guy like Monta Ellis would not help their growth. These two guys need to be our offensive initiators in the future, and Ellis simply is a ball stopper. He used 30 percent of the team's possessions in Golden State and Steph Curry was on his team. I don't think having Jrue on the team will faze him either. Not to mention Lou Williams, who really is a very similar player to Ellis, is already on this team and will also play heavy minutes. There were complaints about Iguodala needing the ball too much for Jrue and Turner to grow. If Ellis and his robust usage rate came to town, Jrue and Turner might both really struggle as long as he is on the team. The type of player to play alongside Jrue and Turner would ideally be a three-point shooter who can defend. I'd suggest Dorell Wright from Golden State as a good example.
Defensively, you are trading one of the league's best defenders for one of the worst. Doug Collins did a great job getting this team's defense into the Top 10 despite having a terrible defender at the 5 and an old one at the 4. This team needed a stopper in Iguodala to keep them afloat on that end. With Ellis, I don't want to think about how many guys Spencer Hawes and Elton Brand are going to have to stop at the rim. Did I mention Lou would still be on the team too?
The people in Golden State are looking to get rid of Ellis because they are finding it hard to have two guys under 6'3 play defense consistently. That's a fair point, and it is exactly the situation the Sixers would be in. Jrue Holiday has great defensive potential and has the size to defend twos (He did an admirable job guarding Wade), but I don't want to force Jrue Holiday into guarding shooting guards. This is a point guard's league, and I think the Sixers have a guy equipped to handle the focal point of most teams' offense. Why switch such a valuable weapon up? This trade really doesn't help in any way in my opinion.
- Chris Kaman: I'd rank this move a little ahead of the Ellis trade, which isn't exactly a compliment. Make no mistake, Kaman is a worse player than Ellis at this point, but there are a couple of reasons that this would be a better deal. The move would be more of a salary dump, because Kaman has one year left on his deal and has value as a large expiring contract. He also is an upgrade over Hawes in the position of need. He really isn't an athletic defensive big at all though, the goal for trading Iguodala. I think the Sixers can do better than this. Straight up, you can't make that trade.
Luckily, the Clippers have more pieces. I'd probably want Aminu and maybe a pick back from them, but they have the pieces to reasonably make a fair trade. It would be a robbery if they got Iguodala straight up for Kaman. If they can't get a young big, Aminu might help as a guy that is athletic on the perimeter with a solid three point shot. Maybe the Sixers can use the pick to draft a young defensive big too. If the Sixers got a few pieces back, a move centered around Kaman isn't terrible.
- Hedo Turkoglu: I don't want to address this deal, even if they throw Jameer Nelson in it. I would hope the Sixers do the same. I'm a huge fan of Jameer's, but we have a point guard and no use for him. Hedo's contract is just as long at Iguodala's and he is only good at getting fan bases to hate him. No thank you.
So there it is. I really hope the Sixers don't make a trade that will set them back. Right now, I think they can be a team that is around 45 wins and possibly closer to 50 if they can find a way to get a legit defensive big in the middle. With Monta Ellis instead of Iguodala, I'd be pretty surprised if they won more games than they lost next year. Holding onto Iguodala wouldn't be a bad thing at all for this team if they can't get a good offer. Hopefully the front office realizes that too.