This post, inspired in part by the Chris Paul and Dwight Howard speculation and in part by the return of nearly everybody form last years Sixers team, is brought to you by impatience and justification.
Also, due to finals, I’ll be away from now until Thursday night on here.
With superpowers emerging all around, the Sixers have taken a traditional approach to building a franchise. Draft well (and often very early) and build around young players. Recently, the draft has seemed to take a backseat to the free agency bonanza – big time players fleeing to big market teams. Take the two finals teams, for instance. Those teams were largely built around signing free agents – the Big Three came together through a cap-clearing bonanza and televised ego trip. The Mavericks came together because Mark Cuban spent a bazillion dollars.
But the roots of each of those teams were in the draft. Miami would never be in the position it is now without drafting Dwyane Wade over several other viable candidates. The Mavericks wouldn’t have won the title without Dirk Nowitzki, whom the team acquired via a draft-day trade. The Bulls and Spurs, the two best teams during the regular season, were built around strong draft classes (D-Rose, Noah, Deng for the Bulls; Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker, among others for the Spurs). These lend credence to the thought that a team can be put over the top by free agency and trades, but must first be built through the draft.
This TrueHoop post from the dark ages (i.e. during the lockout) proves that point – drafting well is the easiest path to success for any NBA team.
The Sixers have gotten a lot of value out of the draft, as shown in that link. Relative to drafting position, they got the seventh most value out of their recent draft picks. The effects of the draft were nullified in part by the lovely contracts given out by Billy King, but the point stands. Very few 17th overall picks became potential franchise cornerstones – Jrue Holiday can be considered a candidate for that. The team got lucky in drafting second in 2010, when they drafted Evan Turner (whether this turns out well is TBD). The team also drafted key contributors in Thad Young, Lou Williams, and Andre Iguodala at spots equal to or below what their NBA production warrants.
In theory, should a franchise draft consistently well for an extended period of time, it should eventually be able to turn the corner and produce a good team. It doesn’t always turn into a reality, though. Some teams (Golden State comes to mind, with one notable exception) have seemingly been teetering on the edges of contention without actually doing it for years – they have had their share of top draft picks (successful ones at that) and free agent signings but have failed to make any progress. You can argue the post-Iverson Sixers fall into this category – three playoff appearances, two playoff misses, three first-round exits. Not good enough to move forward, not bad enough to slide too far down. NBA purgatory, if you will.
The problem with purgatory is that it’s hard to escape. Most resolve to getting worse, dumping off their best players to start over again. The Sixers haven’t, yet.
I happen to not like that idea. Going through multiple 20-something win seasons isn’t my thing. Watching the Eddie Jordan Sixers was downright painful. Now imagine four seasons of that.
But going through the efforts of building a contender only to have a team that’s not nearly good enough sounds like a similarly depressing idea. Knowing that your team won’t win and having to start over AGAIN would probably be even more painful.
And the problem at this point is that we have no idea whether our “young core” can carry a team to the playoffs, let alone contend for a title. So far, they haven’t come close to proving it. Our two best players are Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala – we can’t rely on them forever with the young core alongside.
Holiday, Turner, Young, and anyone else that plans to play in Philadelphia for the long haul need to prove they should be built around. The superteams are bringing in an era where competing will take more than a solid young core. It will take a group of guys who, collectively, can stand toe-to-toe with all-stars.
This season is the year in which this core needs to prove they can play with the best. This core needs to show us it can be great without Brand and Iguodala. They need to prove that the future is close, that they can lead the Sixers for years to come. Jrue Holiday needs to show that he’ll be more than very good. Evan Turner needs to shed any doubts of being a bust. Thad Young needs to show he can’t be held to a bench role. Anyone else that wants to join along for the ride needs to prove that he belongs here.
If these guys can do it, Sixers basketball will truly be back, and we’ll have a lot to be excited about.
If not, then all this development time was a waste, ’cause were just stuck in purgatory again, waiting for another chance years down the road.