Solving Problems: 76ers Need To Keep Iguodala
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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Few teams in the league have exhibited mediocrity over the last five years at the same level as the Philadelphia 76ers. They’ve finished exactly at .500 (41-41) two of the last three seasons, which were both capped off by losses in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Not since the 2002-2003 season, when they made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, have they actually advanced past the first round. However, they appear to be on the preface of getting over the hump and actually becoming a team capable of making some serious noise.
By virtue of having some high draft picks over the years the 76ers have assembled a nice group of young talent. Point guard Jrue Holiday is coming off a stellar sophomore campaign in which he averaged 14 points, four rebounds and six assists a game. Versatile forward Thaddeus Young, who is currently a restricted free agent, has also grown up significantly during his time as a Sixer, developing into a very tough matchup. Then there is also center Marreese Speights and guard Evan Turner who have yet to truly come into their own, but clearly have a promising amount of upside. Their strong work ethic gives reason to believe they’ll eventually become fine players as well once everything clicks for them.
While those four are their top young players, the Sixers also have the sharpshooting Jodie Meeks along with young big men Craig Brackins and Nikola Vucevic to boast as members of their young core. They too could see a decent amount of playing time come their way next year.
The youth is balanced out decently by veterans Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand, Lou Williams and Andres Nocioni.
Iguodala has established himself as the team’s top player, but he’s been involved in trade rumors constantly over the last year. His contract is nothing to scoff at. He’s owed $44 million over the next four years, which is quite a lot for someone who averaged just 15 points a game for his career. Iguodala isn’t a true go-to scorer, though. He’s one of the league’s best all-around players who can do a little bit of everything. While he doesn’t get enough credit for it, he’s a tenacious defender whose athleticism and length gives opponents a lot of trouble.
Word was around draft time the 76ers had a deal in place with the Los Angeles Lakers to swap Lamar Odom, the reigning 6th Man of the Year, for Iguodala. It never came to fruition, but the Sixers were definitely open to offers for him.
It’s interesting to think about just how willing the Sixers would be to trade Iguodala had Brand lived up to the expectations he came with when signed to a whopping five-year, $82 million deal in 2008. The Sixers made that serious investment thinking they were getting one of the league’s premier power forwards, someone who could go off for 20 points and 10 rebounds a night.
Instead they got a hobbled Brand, still limited by a ruptured Achilles that cost him nearly all of the 2007-2008 season. He’d end up suffering more serious injuries as a Sixer too, most notably to his shoulder in 2009. This past year was the first time that Brand started more than 60 games for them and he was still just a fraction of his former self. While the 15 points and eight rebounds he averaged were respectable, it’s still not what the Sixers thought they were getting three years ago.
Unfortunately, Brand’s contract doesn’t expire until 2013 and he’ll rake in $35 million until then. The Sixers would undoubtedly love to find a deal for him, but it’s going to be tough with a contract of that size. They’d probably have to at least take back one bad deal in return, which makes waiting two years for his contract to expire seem like the right move. If there’s any sort of amnesty clause in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Sixers would probably consider exercising it on Brand.
As far as trading Iguodala is concerned, the Sixers should consider doing so with much hesitation. Players with his wide-ranging set of skills are not easy to find. There aren’t many guys out there who can guard Miami HEAT forward LeBron James on one night, Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant on the other, and still stuff the stat sheet like Iguodala. Sixers’ management should be more concerned with trying to find a true number one option rather than looking to move Iguodala because he’s a better second option than first.
His contract may be hefty, but Brand’s is the one that really ties their hands and limits what they can do. At 27 years of age Iguodala is just now approaching his prime. The Sixers have invested too much time and money in him to see him play his best years somewhere else.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have really set the standard for how teams like the Sixers should conduct themselves when trying to take the next step and they could really benefit by following certain aspects of it. First, they need to be patient and have faith in the development of their young players. Second, they must stay away from bad deals like Brand’s. They could potentially have some cap space to work with in two years and they must spend it more wisely this time around. In the meantime, they definitely need to sign another veteran big man or two, possibly restricted free agent Spencer Hawes, to cap-friendly deals.
In order for the Sixers to truly become contenders in the Eastern Conference they’re going to have to respect the process it takes to become one of those teams. The Miami HEAT and Chicago Bulls aren’t going anywhere. They’re going to be great for the foreseeable future. Trying quick fixes to get in their class would be a mistake. In Doug Collins they have a head coach who is one of the greatest teachers this game has ever seen. His knowledge along with the experience they’re going to receive will prove to be invaluable down the line.
Eventually the right trade offer is going to come along and even if it doesn’t the Sixers always have cap space to look forward to in the future. It’s vital to make the right moves at the stage they’re at, though, because as close as they are to taking that next step forward, they could just as easily end up right back in the lottery if they rush to try and Iguodala or Brand.
Senior NCAA and NBA analyst Yannis Koutroupis will be hosting his weekly chat this Friday on 9/30/11 at 11 am EST. You can get your questions into him here.