How are teams doing it? Teams like the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder have been doing it. Whatever their system is, it works, and it's time the Philadelphia 76ers thought about doing so.
Yes, Philadelphia is not a "small-market". The city is top-10 in terms of population, but that means nothing in the NBA. At this point, the Sixers under new ownership Josh Harris and Adam Aron need to build around the idea that Philadelphia is a small-market NBA franchise.
This is not to insult the city of Philadelphia, but this is the point. We're not Los Angeles. We're not Miami. We're not New York. We're not Boston. THOSE are either huge markets or -- in the case of the Celtics -- can get by on the name "Celtics". Philadelphia is not what it used to be. The days of Allen Iverson blitzing through the lane are over. The days of Dr. J., Moses and Barkley are long over. Josh Harris says that he will do everything in his power to attract free agents to Philadelphia, but in reality, big name free agents don't want to come here.
The Sixers have been mediocre at best since Iverson left. There's no star to draw free agents here. Some argue that Jrue Holiday can be, but he's only had one All-Star appearance since he hit the league. Holiday and the Sixers need at least one or maybe even two more years to build momentum. Don't even mention Philadelphia fans because it's a mute point. There has been report after report of athletes WANTING to play in Philadelphia because the fans are so passionate and educated.
When the move towards statistics-based moves swept through baseball, I thought that the NBA was the perfect league to enact "Moneyball" tactics -- especially if you're a small-market team. Sam Presti, Thunder GM, and Daryl Morey, Houston's GM, are at the forefront of this move to these tactics. They draft well, and they make smart moves with their money and assets. Look at the James Harden trade earlier this year.
Some basketball fans and writers killed Presti after deciding not to give Harden an extension and give it to forward Serge Ibaka instead. This is the package the Thunder got for Harden: Kevin Martin (scored 14 PPG), Jeremy Lamb (someone with Sixth Man potential post Kevin Martin), two first round picks (one of which will be top 10 in 2013) and a second round pick. Not only that, but the Thunder are set financially. After Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka, the next highest salary belongs to Kendrick Perkins, and that contract expires at the end of the 2014-2015 season. Perkins can easily be replaced at this point.
The Rockets got back someone that can be the face of their franchise for years, and they have a legitimate superstar to point to when attracting free agents. "Hey. Come to Houston and play with James Harden." Who doesn't say yes to that?
The Sixers, on the other hand, have been making mistake after mistake for the last five to six years. They overpaid Andre Iguodala in 2008 -- giving him $80 over six years. They gave a max contract to Elton Brand who happened to be coming of an torn Achilles, and don't even get me started on hiring Eddie Jordan. That's something that should've NEVER happened under ANY circumstances.
This season, the Sixers took a chance on Andrew Bynum. No matter what you say, the Sixers should do that deal nine times out of ten. Former coach Doug Collins maximized everything he could out of that roster the last two seasons. There was just nothing more he could do with this team. GM Tony DiLeo took a chance to take the team to the next level, and it backfired horribly. Bynum never played a second for the Sixers, and the rest of the team as constituted was just plain bad.
Now, the Sixers are a young team in another rebuilding mode. It's time this team did things more intelligently. When the time comes to hire a head coach, make sure he makes sense. A head coach that predicates his style on the half court makes NO sense. None. Period. With Holiday, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young, this team has athletes. Let's use them. Mike Malone's name has been getting tossed around in circles, and Brian Shaw is the Sixers leading candidate according to NBC Sports. Either of those coaches would be great. Will they want to come here and aid us in our rebuild? We'll see.
In the front office, Tony DiLeo needs to go. He and Collins put this team together, and it was a mistake. With the players he brought in during his one year tenure as GM, he showed me nothing that he deserves to stay. Once he gave Kwame Brown more than a bologna sandwich, the clock was ticking on his tenure, here. Bring in one of the new-school advanced stats guys because if you're building a team on the "small-market" model, you're going to need one of these guys. Two names that come to mind are Mike Zarren of the Celtics and Sam Hinkie of the Rockets -- guys that will spend money responsibly (i.e. not give Spencer Hawes $12 million for two years for a 7-footer that DOESN'T REBOUND!)
When the draft or free agency comes around, don't make mistakes. That's all Sixers fans ask. Drafting Evan Turner may have been a mistake when you look at what DeMarcus Cousins has been doing in Sacramento -- with or without his insane temper tantrums. Go back to that draft. Who would you rather have now? Answer this question. Can you name the last Sixer drafted by the team to reach multiple All-Star Games with the team? The answer is "The Answer". That shows a SERIOUS lack of scouting chops in this organization. Go back to 1997, the year the Sixers took Keith Van Horn -- who flat out said he's not playing in Philadelphia. Let's say the Sixers take Chauncey Billups at #2 ... or even more insane ... Tracy McGrady! Iverson and McGrady as the Sixers backcourt for at least four years? Sign me up!
Free agency has been making or breaking this franchise since 2006, and nowadays with salary request from fringe starts, it's beyond important not to overpay. For example, this offseason, why even entertain the notion of giving Josh Smith a max-contract when you can get one of three guys: David West, Paul Milsap or J.J. Hickson for much cheaper. Any one of those three would be better for this team than Smith. Al Jefferson is another name being floated out there, but after dealing with the Bynum fiasco, can you Sixers fans really deal with ANOTHER big man that's had a history of knee problems. No thanks. After his antics this season, Dwight Howard's name shouldn't even be a thought, so don't even go there with me.
O.J. Mayo and Tyreke Evans -- a local Chester boy -- are going to be available, but those are two other guys that are okay AT THE RIGHT PRICE. Mayo shouldn't get more than $10 million per season, but he will because he's the best available scorer. Evans is still very raw and doesn't really shoot that well, but he'll probably get $8-10 million per year from someone. It'd make a lot more sense to just re-sign Dorell Wright and maybe give a one or two year deal at $3-5 million to someone like Brandon Rush -- provided he declines his $4 player option -- who actually has decent stats in a per 36 minute scale (12 points, 5 rebounds, shoots 42% from 3).
There isn't one player in free agency this off-season that DESERVES a max-contract. Josh Smith doesn't. Al Jefferson doesn't. Dwight Howard will get one. Andrew Bynum sure as hell doesn't, and that's how the Sixers need to operate. There are only 5-10 guys in the entire league that deserve that kind of a contract because you can win a championship with that guy as your number one option. Not one of those players has won nor can any team with them as their number one option can win a championship.
Going forward, Sixers fans should just want the team to change how things are done in South Philly. What they're doing isn't working, so it's time for something else. Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again hoping to get a different result. Don't be afraid to switch things up. It's definitely better than the alternative which is simply driving fans to the brink of insanity with the team.