Sixers blueprint for success

(First thing's first. I have to give credit where credit is due. I wish I could say I got the idea for this post all by myself, but I didn't. I read Canis Hoopus' wonderful 'Building a winner' post a few months back and thought I should do one of my own. Well, I finally got around to it, so here it is. Enjoy.)

Last year we saw how quickly things can change in the NBA. Look no further than the finals' participants. The Celtics went from this to this in a year's time. The Lakers were on the verge of an implosion when their best player was calling out his teammates and asking to be traded. Then, all of a sudden, Pau Gasol was "traded" to them in exchange for a towel boy and a 2071 draft pick. Next thing you know their in the NBA finals.

That's how this league works. Sometimes it takes years of work. Other times it happens overnight. A trade here, a lucky ping pong bounce there, and you're contending for a World Championship. 

This brings me to the Sixers. In a league filled with LeBron James, D-Wade, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Kobe and the Lakers, the Celtics, the up-and-coming Blazers and Kevin Durant, how are they ever going to contend for a title? Are they destined to be a mediocre 45-win team for the next five years? (The length of Elton Brand's contract) Or is there something they can do to change the inevitability of back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back 6th seeds? 

It's going to take some tweaking, but the foundation is there. It's up to Ed Stefanski and company to build on it. A flawless off-season or two and the Sixers could be the ones hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy when the dust settles. Can it be done?

Here's the blueprint:

Remainder of the season

The ultimate goal: Develop the young guys.

In order to make the right decisions in the off-season Stefanski has to know what he's working with. 

1. Start Speights. I like the way DiLeo's been handling him thus far. If he fails to play defense or rebound, DiLeo benches him, regardless of how many nasty dunks or smooth jumpshots he makes. That said, 7 minutes a night isn't going to cut it. M16, as the kids like to call him, may very well be the most talented guy on the roster. You have to at least experiment with him in the starting lineup. If he regresses or completely neglects rebounding and defense, bench him. Simple as that -- just give him a shot.

2. Give Lou more point guard reps. I'm the biggest believer that Lou isn't, and will never be an NBA point guard. Give him one more chance to prove me wrong. He has the intangibles, but often fails to utilize them. As of right now, finding a point guard of the future is the Sixers biggest issue. If Lou somehow pulls it all together for the remainder of the season, it would be huge. It's a given that the Sixers are going to make the playoffs, so what do they have to lose? I'm not advocating that Lou starts; I'm just saying that when he's in the game, he should be given the reigns. This experiment has been done before, and it was ugly, but Lou's still only 21 and deserves one more chance before the Sixers invest in another point guard prospect

3. Start Iggy at the two and Thad at the three. Assuming Brand is healthy next year, Thad has no chance of starting at power forward. Why not move him back to his natural position now? Moving him to the three would also make room for Speights in the starting lineup and bump Willie Green. Anything that removes Willie Green from the starting lineup is a good move for the Sixers. As for Iguodala at the two -- we all know the numbers. On the season he's averaging 20 points a game at small forward and 14 points at shooting guard. But as commenter, Johnny "Dash-man" likes to say, "That's not a large enough sample size." I agree. The entire team was playing poorly when Iguodala started at the two. We need to see what a lineup of Miller, Iguodala, Thad, Speights and Sammy can do.

Sub-goal: Win a playoff series.

It's too much to ask of the Sixers to win a playoff series this season. Depending on which team they draw in the first round, they could have a chance. But if they get a seed in the 6-8 range, they aren't going to beat the Celtics, Cavs or Magic. That's just a fact.

Winning a playoff series would be invaluable experience for this team. Just getting there last year was a good experience. It would be huge if they could take the next step and win a series. Just don't expect it.

Coaching

Oh wait, so the Sixers aren't set at head coach either? Nope. Everyone seems to have forgotten that the team has has an "interim" at the helm.

The Sixers have a tough decision ahead of them on whether or not to make DiLeo the full time head coach, or to go a differe   nt direction. DiLeo's done an adequate job since being named the coach. He's lead the team to a 20-16 record, improved the offense, and he's done it without Elton Brand. DiLeo's been with the organization for 19 years now, and knows the roster inside and out, especially since he help build it. So, why the tough decision?

According to the team's official site, DiLeo was promoted to Senior Vice President/Assistant General Manager in 2003. There's no coincidence that since then, the Sixers have feasted on the NBA Draft. Let's take a quick look:

2003: The Sixers first and only pick was number 50 --  not a prime position to be in. They ended up selecting Paccelis Morlende. Who? They quickly turned around and traded him, along with cash, to the Sonics for Willie Green. Like it or not, Willie Green is a good value at pick 50. The Sixers also sent cash to the Nets in exchange forKyle Korver.

I'd say, going into the draft with the 50th overall pick, and coming out with Willie Green and Kyle Kover is pretty dang good. First year with DiLeo as assistant GM -- success.

2004: The Sixers went into the draft with the ninth pick. They came out with a franchise player in Andre Iguodala. Success. DiLeo is two for two.

2005: The Sixers had no first-rounders o   nce again, just pick number 45   . Last time they stole Green and Korver. Who'd they pick this time? Louis Williams. Again, love him or hate him, Lou was an absolute steal at number 45.

2006: The year of "Oh we really need a point guard, but Rodney Carney's available!" Man good thing there were no legitimate point guards on the board when the Sixers traded down from pick 13 to pick 16 to select Rodney Carney. Oh wait, there were. Just to name a   few: Rajon Rondo, Marcus Williams, Kyle Lowry, Jordan Famar, Sergio Rodriguez, and Daniel Gibson. Oops. This is DiLeo's lone blemish in his six years as assistant GM.

2007: Thaddeus Young at pick 12. 'Nuff said.

2008: Marreese Speights at pick 16. See above.

So now you see why hiring DiLeo as the full time coach might not be such a good idea? I don't want to re-visit the pre-DiLeo draft blunders, because those are painful memories.

Since DiLeo was promoted to Vice President/Assistant GM, the Sixers have done beautifully in five out of six drafts. For the most part, the 2003, 04, 05, 07, 08 drafts turned out as good as they possibly could.

Now, the Sixers can either keep DiLeo as full-time coach, or move him back to his natural position. It remains to be seen whether the Sixers drafting ability would suffer if DiLeo was remained the head coach, but one thing's for sure, he wouldn't be able to spend as much time scouting and researching prospects. 

I'm going to go out on a limb and say, the Sixers recent success in the draft would notcontinue if DiLeo became the full-time coach. And it's not like he's a brilliant coach. Solution: Allow DiLeo to concentrate on the draft, and hire a new coach. Let's look at the potential candidates.

Eddie Jordan

Avery Johnson

Jeff Van Gundy

Honestly, it's all speculation at this point. Other than Eddie Jordan, I basically drew the other two names out of a hat. 

The front-runner is definitely   Eddie Jordan. There's already been rumors that'd he be hired in the off-season, both by FanHouse and Steven A. Smith. We had a pretty big debate about Eddie Jordan in a FanPost earlier this year, and it included long-time Wizards blogger Pradamaster. It's definitely worth checking out.

Jordan's career 44 percent winning percentage doesn't exactly blow me away. Neither does his career-high 45 wins, but he's never worked with the Sixers talent before. :) Ha! In all seriousness, I wouldn't be upset if we hired Eddie, but I wouldn't be jumping out my seat either. It would be nice to look down at the bench every night and have this thought run through my head... "Hey! When did Terrence Howard start coaching the Sixers?! Oh, that's just Eddie Jordan." God, those jokes would get old.

I'd much rather have Avery Johnson. I think he got a raw deal in Dallas, and his .735 winning percentage speaks for itself. Also, if not for a Flash sighting, Avery would have the title "Championship Head Coach" Avery Johnson. If that was the case, he'd still be coaching Dallas.

All in all, I just want to the Sixers to hire a semi-competent coach, preferably an offensive-minded one. I love DiLeo, but I think he's much better behind the scenes as an Assistant GM.

Bottom line, hire either Avery Johnson, or Eddie Jordan, preferably Avery Johnson.

2009 Free Agents

Sixers free agents

First, take a look at the official Liberty Ballers salary sheet.

The Sixers pending free agents are as follows:

Andre Miller - $10,333,333

Kareem Rush - $926,628

Royal Ivey (Player option) - $854,957

Donyell Marshall - $1,262,275

Theophilus Ratliff $1,262,275

With the economy the way it is, the cap figure is projected to drop from 58 million to 55 million. The luxury tax also projects to drop from 71 million to 68 million. This puts the Sixers brass in a tough situation. Without re-signing any of their free agents the Sixers cap will be approximately 60 million -- a little more than 7 million below the luxury tax threshold. Let's face it; they're going to have to suck it up and pay some tax. That's just the way it is. (The whole salary cap thing is still fairly new to me, and very confusing, so if I write something that you know for a fact, is wrong, do not hesitate to correct me and/or educateme. And if you're confused like me, look at this FAQ; it's pretty helpful.) Take a look at what happened to the Suns when they tried to save a couple bucks, courtesy Bill Simmons.

On to our free agents. The whole Andre Miller dilemma is mind-numbing. No one has the prescription. Do they keep him? Do they attempt a sign-and-trade? Do they let him walk? First let me answer the last question right off the bat. No -- you cannot let him walk. Letting him walk would be a complete failure, and I would never forgive Ed Stefanski. He'd go from the GGMOPE (Greatest GM on planet Earth) to Billy King, overnight. Especially, ESPECIALLY, when the trade deadline just passed, and Stefanski could have shipped Miller off for something, anything, but decided to keep him for the playoffs. If I found out that he had any indication that Miller was going to walk this summer, and still refused to trade him, I would not be a happy camper. That said, Ed has never let me down before, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt... for now.

I think the best case scenario would be to re-sign Miller for the right price. A ridiculous rumor surfaced a couple of months ago that Miller's asking price was 60-70 million, which he'll never get. If that's the case, I'd rather see him walk. That rumor seemed bogus though. I'd be perfectly happy with a 3-year deal worth anywhere from 21-27 million.

Miller is far and beyond the Sixers best player, and although he's about to turn 33, he shows no signs of slowing down. I think locking him up until he's 36 is reasonable. Whether his athletic ability, which he doesn't have much of in the first place, goes, he'll still be a savvy, veteran point guard. The question is, will the Sixers be ready to contend in the next 3 years? Hopefully. They're chances are much better with Andre Miller at the helm.

If nothing else, the young guys can learn from Miller, specifically Lou and the eventual point guard of the future.

Bottom line, re-sign Andre Miller, as long as the asking price is nowhere near 70 million.

As for the rest of the free agents, I'd love to see Theo and Marshall re-signed. I'd also love to see Ivey come back, but that's all up to him; he has a player option. I think he's received enough playing time, and enjoyed his stay in Philly enough to come back for at least one more year. 

Bottom line, re-sign Theo. Marshall is a toughie, because I like the way he's mentored the young guys, and the fact that he can come in a hit a 3 or two when needed. I just think with the salary cap situation the way it is, along with a draft pick and possibly a mid-level exception player coming in, Marshall becomes expendable. 

And in case you haven't noticed, peace out Kareem Rush.

"Mid-level" 

Now that we've dealt with our own free agents, it's time to look at the open market. Assuming the Sixers follow the blueprint -- re-sign Miller, Theo, and Rush (player option), that would leave them with three open roster spots. Much like Stefanski did last off-season, I expect him to leave one spot open for the sake of flexibility. Another one of those spots will be occupied by the first-round draft pick. That leaves the Sixers with one roster spot, and no cap space, so what do they do?

The lone option they have is the mid-level exception, which can be worth up to six million, and used on an "average" player. Eddie House, Raja Bell and John Salmons are examples of players who have been signed using the MLE in the past.

Here are some players I'd like to see the Sixers use their mid-level exception on: (Ranked highest to lowest in terms of "want-ability". Their 2008-2009 cap figures are listed next to their name.)

Ramon Sessions - $722,517 (Restricted)

Anthony Parker - $4,550,000 (Unrestricted)

Eddie House - $2,650,000 (Unrestricted/ Player Option)

Kyle Korver - $4,956,818 (Unrestriced/ Early Termination Option)

Ramon Sessions is number one on mine, and almost every other Sixers fan's wish list. I have a feeling he's going to get a lot more than 6 million dollars though. Even if the demand for him was in the MLE range, his current team, the Bucks, have the right to match any offer. If Stefanski could somehow get his hands on this fantasy phenom, I'd be doing this. The only issue I have with Sessions is his inability to shoot the three (21 percent for his career). He'd fit in perfectly, but that's not a good thing.

Besides Sessions, Anthony Parker is by far my favorite possibility. He's a little old (33), but he doesn't have a lot of mileage on him. This is only his 6th year in the league. Ironically he started with the Sixers in '97, but took five years off to play in Europe. Why is Parker such a good fit? He's a career 42 percent shooter from beyond the arch! 42 percent! The current leader on the Sixers is Royal Ivey at 36 percent; and he only takes 1.8 per game. From what I've seen of Parker, he's also a decent defender, plus he's the perfect size for shooting guard (6'6'' 215). He's currently making 4.5 million dollars, but has been slightly disappointing in this, his contract year. He should be right in the Sixers wheelhouse as far as mid-level exception money goes. Sign him up!

Eddie House can choose not to pick up with player option, but why would he want to leave Boston? Maybe him, Rondo and Marbury won't get along as well as everyone thinks they will? We desperately need outside shooting, and that's his specialty, but he's pretty undersized to play shooting guard. Not to mention the fact that he's not a good defender, and can't dribble the ball up court to save his life.

I'd love to see Kyle Korver come back to Philly, but will he opt out of his contract with Utah? I'm not sure. There's no need to go into his skill-set. We watched him play here for five years. Him and Eddie House are neck-and-neck for the spot behind Parker. The question is, will Stefanski get the chance to sign either one of them? Korver's defense is also questionable. 

Others

These players could be signed using the bi-annual exception or signed to a minimum contract.

(By the way, I'm not sure if the Sixers have a bi-annual exception available this off-season. It can't be used two years in a row, but I don't think they used it last year, so they should have it. Again, I'm not 100 percent sure. Check out the FAQ again if you're as confused as me.)

Bobby Brown - His stats aren't very impressive, but he has the potential to be a quality NBA point guard some day. I loved him when I saw him in the Summer League, and it helps that I sat next to him in between games. His buddy asked me to buy him a hot dog. 

Morris Almond - Again, his stats aren't impressive at all, but I've always had a little man-crush on Morris. In his final season at Rice he averaged 26 points on 48 percent shooting, 85 percent from the line, and 46 percent from beyond the arch. He also tied the D-League scoring record last year, dropping 51 points. 

Marcus Williams -  I still think there's mad potential for the former UConn star -- Deron Williams-type potential.

Bottom line, sign Anthony Parker using the mid-level exception and take a flier on Bobby Brown using either the bi-annual exception or minimum contract. The Bobby Brown signing would be extremely important if Royal Ivey decided not to return.

Draft

As noted earlier, the Sixers have been absolutely "money" at finding the best talent available regardless of where they're picking in the draft. Look no further than Thad Young and Marreese Speights as proof.

This year the Sixers project to draft anywhere from 15th to 19th. The obvious need is a point guard, but some people feel they should draft the best talent available. Here are the options: 

Point Guard

Best Talent Available

Now, I don't follow college basketball too much. Actually, I don't follow it at all. So I'd hardly consider myself an expert. I know bits and pieces, but not enough to make an educated pick unless... Stephen Curry was available. There's no doubt in my mind Curry would be my selection. I know he's undersized, not a true point guard, etc, etc. I also know that I've witnessed him completely own the NCAA tournament for two consecutive years. I've even seen him score against a quadruple team! If you can score, you can score, you can score, and he's absolutely lights out from beyond the arch. Perfect fit for the Sixers. And he'd come off the bench as long as Andre Miller was around.

If Curry wasn't there I'd be forced to choose between Ty Lawson and Nick Calathes. In case you haven't noticed, I'm on the point guard bandwagon rather than drafting the best talent available.

Bottom line, draft Stephen Curry if available. If not, take Ty Lawson.

Recap

There you have it. The blueprint for the Sixers success. Obviously it's not perfect, but blueprints never are. I'm sure Ed Stefanski has a master plan of his own, and I sure as hell hope it looks something like mine. 

Like I said earlier, the foundation is there. It just need a few tweaks here and there and next thing you know we could all be staring at an image similar to this.  

Let's do a quick recap for those of you who choose not to read the near 4,000 word beast.

Remainder of the season - Start Speights, give Lou more point guard reps, start Iggy at the two, and Thad at the three.

Coaching -  Move DiLeo back to Assistant GM/ Vice President full-time and hire either Eddie Jordan or Avery Johnson, preferably Avery Johnson.

Free Agency - Re-sign Andre Miller, Theophilus Ratliff, and hope Royal Ivey picks up his option. Also, sign Anthony Parker using the mid-level exception and take a flier on Bobby Brown -- not the singer.

Draft - Take Stephen Curry if available. If not, settle for Ty Lawson.

Here's what the roster 2009-2010 roster would look like:

PG - Andre Miller, Louis Williams, Royal Ivey, (Ty Lawson), Bobby Brown

SG - Andre Iguodala, Anthony Parker, Louis Williams, (Stephen Curry), Willie Green

SF - Thaddeus Young, Anthony Parker, Andre Iguodala

PF - Elton Brand, Marreese Speights, Jason Smith, Reggie Evans

C - Samuel Dalembert, Theophilus Ratliff, Jason Smith

Coach - Avery Johnson

That's a pretty crowded roster. Keep in mind the status of Royal Ivey is up in the air. The Bobby Brown project will probably never happen, but it's worth a shot, especially if Stefanski is 110 percent sure that Lou is not point guard material and/or Ivey jets. 

The Theophilus signing might not be necessary either, but that all depends on either a) if he retires and b) the health of Jason Smith.

It'd be awesome if Stefanski was able to unload any or all of the "big 3" (Sammy, Willie and Reggie) for picks -- or anything for that matter. That would clear up a lot of playing time for guys who actually, I don't know, have talent?

That said, here's a more realistic roster following the blueprint:

PG - Andre Miller, Louis Williams, Royal Ivey, Ty Lawson

SG - Andre Iguodala, Anthony Parker, Louis Williams, Willie Green

SF - Thaddeus Young, Anthony Parker, Andre Iguodala

PF - Elton Brand, Marreese Speights, Jason Smith, Reggie Evans

C - Samuel Dalembert, Marreese Speights, Jason Smith

Coach - Eddie Jordan

Still pretty good? Yeah. They're still weak when it comes to shooting, but that flaw isn't going to be fixed in one off-season without salvaging the future. The addition of Anthony Parker (a 42 percent three-point shooter) would help. The team would also have their point guard of the future in Ty Lawson. 

What are your thoughts guys? Have I completely lost my mind? Am I on to something? Should I be on the next flight to Philly to assist Stefanski? Who are your favorite free agents and draft prospects? Coaches? Comment, comment comment!

And you know this wouldn't be a signature jsams post without a quality YouTube clip, so here ya go!

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