Friday, July 13, 2012

Nick Young? Kwame Brown? Sixers' only hope is to blow it all up

Out are Lou Williams and Elton Brand. In are Mo Harkless, Arnett Moultrie, Nick Young, and Kwame Brown.

What the Sixers lack in quality, they certainly make up for in lack of quality.

Lou Williams, the Sixers' leading scorer last year, was going to be difficult to replace. The slashing, gunning, instant-offense threat off the bench was the team's only go-to shooter in crunch time last year. That showed, as the Sixers lost a number of close games because opposing defenses keyed on Williams.

Luckily, the Sixers were able to sign a perfect replacement for Williams in Nick Young. Williams shot a fairly abysmal 40.7% last year, but Young was able to top even that, shooting 39.4% from the field. Young also gets to the line much less effectively than Williams does, having averaged nearly 40% fewer free throw attempts per 36 minutes than Williams in his NBA career.

Of course, there's little to say about the Sixers exercising the amnesty clause on Brand. Last year, Brand averaged a career-low 11.0 points in a career-low 28 minutes per game. For $18 million per year, those stats aren't going to cut it.

Getting rid of Brand left the already-undersized Sixers even weaker in the middle. Even with the continued development of Nikola Vucevic and Lavoy Allen and the selection of the promising-but-raw Moultrie in the draft, there was a hole to be filled.

Enter Kwame Brown.

The same Kwame Brown of whom Stephen A. Smith once said,

"This man was a bona fide scrub. He can't play! No disrespect whatsoever, and I'm sorry to have to go and tell everyone the truth, but the man cannot play the game of basketball. He has small hands; he can't catch the ball. He's got bad feet; he can't really move. Even though he's mobile, doesn't really know what he's doing. Doesn't have a post move that he puts to memory that he can do two times in a row. He has no game whatsoever, plays no defense, doesn't have the heart, the passion, or anything that comes with it."

The same Kwame Brown who averaged more than 21 minutes just once in the last five years, in 2011 with the Bobcats, and hasn't averaged eight points a game since 2007 or seven rebounds a game since 2004.

Ringing endorsements, all. So, yeah. Hole decidedly not filled.

Then again, the Sixers' best all-around player last year was probably the much-maligned Andre Iguodala, so maybe some fans will take comfort in the fact that the team drafted an Iguodala clone in Mo Harkless. Harkless, like Iguodala, is an athletic slasher with good athleticism. Unfortunately, with Iguodala still in the fold, it's unclear where he's going to get any minutes.

This offseason, the Sixers needed a scorer and a big man. They subtracted their leading scorer and replaced him with a lesser offensive threat whose jump shot will never be mistaken for Ray Allen's. They subtracted their starting power forward and replaced him with a "bona fide scrub." They drafted an Iguodala clone with nowhere to put him. They drafted another big project to take some minutes at center.

So let's just go ahead and say that this year's team is not exactly going to inspire any more confidence than last year's team did. Unless the Derrick Roses of the world continue to tear their ACLs on a semi-regular basis, it's unlikely this team is going to make any real noise in the playoffs.

Then again--and this is the real tragedy--what were the Sixers supposed to do? Steve Nash doesn't want to play in Philadelphia. Deron Williams doesn't want to play in Philadelphia. Ray Allen doesn't want to play in Philadelphia. Even if the Sixers had the pieces to deal for Dwight Howard, there's no indication that he would want to play here.

In sports, there are three ways to acquire the premium talent necessary to contend for a championship. In the NBA, because of the emphasis on the individual within the context of the game, those elite players become even move coveted, and the number of players who can put a team into championship contention are even fewer.

Because of the scarcity of and demand for these players, they command justifiably high salaries. However, because only a handful of teams can feature these players, it's easy for many teams to clear the necessary cap space to accommodate one or more of those superstars and still field a full team. Those stars then have the opportunity to choose whichever team they want to play for, like Dwight Howard has done this year or Carmelo Anthony did the previous season. And why would a marquee player choose to play in Minneapolis, Indianapolis, or Charlotte when they could choose New York, Los Angeles, or Miami instead?

When every other team can offer the same maximum salary, and a player knows that any team he joins is going to be an instant contender, why not choose the most desirable geographic location?

And so the Sixers are stuck with an amalgamation of scrappy, likable players who work hard, do the little things, and espouse a Doug Collins system that helps them overachieve, but who will never, ever contend for an NBA title.

The last two contending Sixers teams featured Charles Barkley, drafted fifth overall in 1984, and Allen Iverson, first overall in 1996. The draft is, without a doubt, the only way this team is going to seriously contend. Unfortunately, when the Evan Turners of the world don't turn out to be instant franchise saviors, they just have to try again.

Tanking is unsavory. It's bad PR, the fans don't like it, and the players are unhappy. But if they want to win, the Sixers will take a page out of the Rockets' book and trade whatever useful pieces they can for first-round picks after this season and either use those picks to move up in the first round, trade them for a star player and try to sign him to an extension, or use the free cap space to desperately try to lure a franchise player.

If not, they'll be stuck in NBA purgatory for the foreseeable future. Low playoff seeds are nice, but no white knight is riding in on the back of a massive contract, and saviors don't fall into the low teens in the draft.

Elton Brand, Lou Williams. Nick Young, Kwame Brown. It's all the same in the long run.

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