HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Typically, a young team that’s coming off a deep run in the playoffs will mostly stand pat and continue to develop. But in the two and a half months since they pushed the Boston Celtics to seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Philadelphia 76ers have blown it up.
Elton Brand was amnestied. Lou Williams was shown the door. And now, All-Star Andre Iguodala is being sent to Denver as part of the four-team trade that sends Dwight Howard to the Lakers and brings Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia. The Sixers are also sending second-year big man Nikola Vucevic, rookie wing Maurice Harkless, and a draft pick to Orlando, and getting veteran shooting guard Jason Richardson from the Magic.
As much of a feel-good story as the Sixers were last season, they knew that they wouldn’t have defeated the Chicago Bulls in the first round had Derrick Rose not blown out his knee. And they clearly believed that there was a ceiling with the group they ended the season with. They were honest with themselves and there was no standing pat.
Losing Brand and Iguodala, Philly has downgraded at both forward spots. And sacrificing Brand (who was on the last year of his lucrative contract) to sign Nick Young still doesn’t make any sense. But there’s plenty of sense in taking advantage of the Magic’s desire to become the Bobcats and acquiring a seven footer who will make an impact on both ends of the floor.
Bynum’s biggest impact typically comes on defense, but the Sixers were already a top-five defensive team, and they also just traded the best perimeter defender in the league. So they’re not going to improve much, if at all, on that end of the floor. Instead, Bynum’s presence will mean more offensively.
For the first time since Allen Iverson left in 2006, the Sixers have a guy who can draw double-teams, a requisite for a successful offense. And for the first time since Charles Barkley left in 1992, they have someone to give the ball to on the low block.
That will open lanes for guards Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner, while Richardson and Dorell Wright will give the Sixers more perimeter shooting than they had last season. But how coach Doug Collins manages his frontcourt rotation should be interesting, and the signing of Kwame Brown (or the re-signing of Spencer Hawes — take your pick) now seems like a waste of $6 million (or $13 million).
Really, if the Sixers knew this trade was coming, they would have done things differently last month (we can hope so, at least). But what’s done is done, and beyond the $18.6 million owed Richardson over the next three seasons, none of their contracts are particularly burdensome.
The risk is that Bynum will be a free agent next summer. But he has said that “there’s a bank in every city,” and this particular city is less than 50 miles from where he grew up. More important is that the Sixers, owning his Bird rights, will be able to pay him a lot more money than any other team.
Furthermore, swapping Iguodala for Bynum makes the Sixers younger. They now have a core of five guys — Holiday, Turner, Thaddeus Young, Lavoy Allen and Bynum — who will all be 25 years old or younger when the season starts. If Collins continues to work his magic and the whole continues to be greater than the sum of the parts, it’s a group that can eventually make another deep playoff run.
Right now, where the Sixers stand in the Eastern Conference isn’t clear. Bynum can be a cornerstone, but Iguodala filled a lot of holes on both ends of the floor. And as long as the wheels don’t fall off of Kevin Garnett, the whole Atlantic Division will be improved.
In many ways, Turner is now the man on the spot. He was the No. 2 pick two years ago, but hasn’t come close to living up to the hype, save for a big game here or there. In addition to improving his jumper, Turner will need to be more of a playmaker, because Iguodala is taking his 5.5 assists per game with him to Denver.
Iguodala’s under-appreciated eight-year tenure with the Sixers is over. We get to see now if Bynum can be the franchise player fickle Philly fans have been looking for.
It’s a new day in Philadelphia. Gone are three of the five best players from an overachieving team. And in their place is a new ceiling.