Around the League v. 2.0: 76 Degrees of Separation

Elton John performs Philadelphia Freedom (via globalimageworks)

I reviewed the Philly season that was and tried to analyze what the team might/should/would probably do this offseason in June. EiM (I think), however, recently suggested that those of us who had done "Around our the League" posts already might do a follow-up post as well. Good idea.

As I saw it then, the Sixers were stuck in NBA purgatory (a.k.a. the middle) and management had three primary choices: (a) stick with the status quo and make a big move next offseason; (b) move both Iggy and Brand off the books now and risk missing the playoffs; or (c) amnesty Brand and keep Iggy while using the newly acquired cap space to remake the front court with free agent signings.

So ... where does Philly stand now? At the very least, they're no longer stuck firmly in the good-enough-to-make-the-playoffs-but not-contend hell that Garnett-era Wolves fans know so well. But I think the word "freedom" (which doesn't come without risk) better describes it.

Roster Changes Summary: Only five players from the team that almost went to the ECF last year are back. Eight new faces have been added. Two roster spots remain open. David Kahn practically spent the summer fishing at McHale's cabin in comparison.

The details ...

Making sense of it all ... well, not much of it made sense even to most Sixers fans until the Bynum trade happened. Before that trade, it looked like Philly had only (a) replaced a pretty good chucker (L. Williams) with a pretty bad one (N. Young); (b) doubled-down on its wing logjam by acquiring Wright and drafting Harkness; and (c) amnestied a pretty solid front court contributor (Brand) while resigning Hawes and adding a worse replacement (Brown).

Things look a little sunnier in Philadelphia now.

They've got a good young core of Holiday-Turner-Bynum. They added shooters in Wright, Richardson and N. Young to space the floor for an inside-out, Bynum-focused offense. Despite losing Iggy, they should remain a formidable defensive team but will also be better balanced on that side of the ball with Bynum in the middle. They're more versatile too:

PG - Holiday / Ivey / Turner / Wayns

SG - Turner / N. Young / Holiday

SF - Wright / Richardson / T. Young / Turner

PF - T. Young / Allen / Moultrie / Hawes

C - Bynum / Hawes / Brown

If Bynum stays healthy, lives up to his franchise player potential and signs an extension -- Philly's management hit an absolute home run this offseason.

That's a pretty big "If" though, which is why the best news for Philly fans is that if Bynum can't stay on the floor ... or if he continues to act more like a low BB IQ thug than a leader and reliable #1 option ... or if he chooses to leave in free agency ... the worst that happens is the Sixers lose a year of Igoudala's contract and speed up a rebuilding process that was inevitable anyway, given how the team was previously constructed.

Sixers' management also did well with respect to the salary cap. Apart from Richardson (who's owed about $18.5 million over the next three years), none of the new contracts last more than two years or are too pricey: Nick Young, Ivey and Wright (about $11 million) all come off the books after this year; Hawes' deal is two years at about $6.5 million per, which means he shouldn't be hard to move if needed; Kwame Brown (2 years / $6 million) is good value for a backup center too. There's also next year, when I think Philly could actually clear enough cap room (if they can move Thaddeus Young and Hawes) to add a fourth major piece to the core while extending Bynum and Holiday.

No matter what happens Philly's no longer stuck in the middle. If Bynum plays most of the year, they should make the playoffs again (and probably as a top 5 seed in the East). But the 2012-2013 season should be viewed as a transition year for the team, given the roster turnover, and fan expectations should be tempered accordingly. Come next July, however, I think Philly will either be looking to add a big free agent piece that will make them a legitimate title contender or they'll be looking at a lot of cap space to do a rebuild with Turner and Holiday already in the fold.

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