Since I'm new around these parts, I must introduce myself to you all. My name is Sean O'Connor, and I previously served as an editor of a smallish Sixers blog on another blog network. I left the writing game to focus on my studies but got the itch to write again, and I needed to find a place where interested Sixers fans would read my stuff. So here I am writing a FanPost at the best place for Sixers coverage on the web. I hope you enjoy this!
The Sixers have some sort of road map for title contention. That much seems to be evident, even if I don’t always agree with the team’s direction. Part of that road is committing to a core - the exact members remain unknown, but it undoubtedly includes Jrue Holiday and Andrew Bynum. Considering neither Holiday nor Bynum had a contract signed for next season, tying them up has been a priority, even if each would undoubtedly return.
Bynum will almost certainly re-sign over the summer - he doesn’t exactly give the impression that he will reject an additional $30 million in guarantees. Jrue would have become a restricted free agent, practically ensuring his safe return to Philadelphia. The questions surrounding Jrue's and Drew's status had little to do with whether they would return - the real questions were how much would it cost, and how well would they work together? Everyone and their mothers know Bynum will get a max deal, so Holiday's contract really was the difference. Having signed for 4 years and $41 million, we now know, roughly, the cost. From here, the Sixers have to figure out how to efficiently build around the two players they clearly believe are franchise cornerstones.
But Bynum and Holiday, currently, are the only near-certainties. Despite the abundance of youth, the Sixers’ core outside of Holiday and Bynum is in flux. Evan Turner continues to struggle and create doubt. Spencer Hawes will try to make his case while Bynum sits out, but whether or not he can co-exist with Bynum remains a mystery. Thaddeus Young fits the bill with his play but not with his fairly hefty contract. Lavoy Allen does not give a you know what about the core (but in all seriousness he's a role player who shouldn't get in the way of building a winner). Arnett Moultrie? I’ve got nothing. Dorell Wright and Nick Young are on one-year deals, looking for a way to get paid long-term. Holiday and Bynum seem solid enough, but the Sixers need more than those two and a bunch of complementary pieces to compete for a championship.
The problem with getting another centerpiece-type player in the short-term is that the Sixers lack tradeable assets. As a result of the Bynum and Moultrie trades, the Sixers lack future first round picks in two upcoming years, likely 2013 and 2015. They also moved their past two first round picks. Trading a net of 3 recent picks means that the Sixers have few of the league's most valuable tradable commodities to spare. Meanwhile, since they have a bunch of players on short-term deals, they have few players with any noticeable trade value. They also won’t be signing one this summer, because things like "Kwame Brown’s player option" and a couple of slightly large short-term deals (for Hawes and Turner) get in the way of them having any significant cap room at all. In fact, as of now they project to be over the cap, at around $62 million in total guarantees when including a Bynum cap hold or contract.
However, if we look forward one more summer, we can see that the Sixers may have quite a plan. Holiday’s contract provides some certainty as to how much the Sixers will have committed to spend in the summer of 2014, and between him and Bynum much of the salary cap is filled. Holiday and Bynum should take up around $30 million in cap room, give or take a million dollars. Add in the team’s other current guarantees (Thad Young’s contract and a certain-to-be-exercised player option for Jason Richardson) and you have another $16 million guaranteed, for a total of $47 million. Add in one mid first round draft pick, and you end up with somewhere just short of $49 million. Considering any realistic cap scenarios, the Sixers won't have room to sign even a mini-max (that is, the maximum a player coming off a rookie contract can make) free agent.
But Thad Young’s contract isn’t awful and should be movable to a team that needs energy/bench help, and Richardson can be traded with another first rounder to make room as well. Moving one of those contracts should create at least mini-max room or even full max room for a free agent. Potential free agents include Miami’s Big 3 , Carmelo Anthony, Danny Granger, and a bunch of talented restricted free agents from Evan Turner's draft class. You can find a full list of potential 2014 free agents here. While the Sixers don’t have a huge market advantage, Philadelphia is far from an avoided destination and having a (hopefully awesome or at least pretty good) point guard and a dominant center might be enough to lure one of the top free agents to Philadelphia. And if that's not enough, the Sixers will have plenty of cap room to sign lesser free agents or to absorb a bigger contract.* Or, if things turn out really well with the rest of the roster, we can just bring everyone back.
*All of this, of course, hinges on the Sixers not committing additional long-term dollars between now and the summer of 2014. The Sixers don't seem to have any drastic needs that can only be filled by a multi-year deal in between, but you never know. If they do commit more money, being a free agent player becomes significantly more difficult, and this may never happen.
Doug Collins, when talking about the team’s plans during the summer, emphasized that the Sixers new team improved its shooting and provided flexibility for the future. Obviously, not everything from that discussion came through, like the Kwame-Spencer bloodbath and the Iguodala roster presence, but the team should have flexibility at the end of Collins' proposed two year period. While two years seems like a long wait, finding another "foundational player" (to borrow Daryl Morey’s terminology) can take years (just as Morey himself can attest). Over these two seasons, the Sixers can see what Holiday can give them when paired with Bynum. If those two mesh and Holiday earns his contract, the Sixers can be in an excellent position when Summer 2014 comes.