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An End of Something: The Dalembert Trade

Yesterday afternoon, the second-longest tenured athlete in Philadelphia was traded for a journeyman small forward and an underachieving '07 lottery pick. Drafted weeks after the Lakers put away Allen Iverson's Sixers in the 2001 NBA Finals, Slammin' Sammy has endured 9 years of boos, benchings, and futility along his way to one of the more interesting tenures in recent memory.  After the jump, take a look back at Sammy's career, as well as what this trade means for this franchise. Be warned -- it's long.

There's no one over the course of my sports-watching career that has annoyed me more than Samuel Dalembert. Not Donovan McNabb and his worm-killing passes landing yards short of a receiver. Not Pat Burrell watching years of piped fastballs for strike 3. Not Eric Lindros continuing to find ways to concuss himself season after tormenting season. Samuel Davis Dalembert (who knew?) is the single most frustrating athlete of my lifetime. 

Coming out of Seton Hall as a freshman drafted 26th overall, the Haitian native drew comparisons to a young Dikembe Mutombo for his raw athleticism, shot-blocking ability, and unpolished offensive game.  After playing sparingly as a rookie, Sam was sidelined the '02-'03 season due to arthroscopic left knee surgery to repair two chondral defects. The next season, he shared a frontcourt with Kenny Thomas and Derrick Coleman, starting 53 games and closing out the last two months averaging a double-double.  Sam excited the home crowd with his high-flying dunks and statement-making blocks, but the Sixers suffered from Larry Brown's exit and ended the season 33-49.  After another promising year in '04-'05 under disciplinarian Jim O'Brien, Sam seemed to be well on his way towards becoming a top 5 NBA Center. Sure, he took some ugly shots, made the occasional awful pass, and seemed to get distracted easily on both ends.  But it was his third season, already on his 4th coach, and he hadn't started playing basketball until he was a sophomore in high school -- he was bound to put it together eventually. Right?

Not exactly.

On August 2, 2005, Billy King gift wrapped a 6-year contract worth $62 million on which Sam happily signed the dotted line. That proved both the undoing of King's time as GM (among other things) and the patience of Sixers fans tired of waiting for Dalembert to develop.  Year in and year out we would see the same mistakes over and over again. Samuel Dalembert and "maddeningly inconsistent" became inextricably linked to one another, and no amount of coaching changes (Brown-Ayers-Ford-O'Brien-Cheeks-DiLeo) could unlock the true potential of this kid. Around mid-season of the '08-'09 season, Sam started complaining about low playing time, claiming he deserved at least 30 minutes per night.  With three years remaining on his contract, erratic play, an attitude, and the emergence of rookie Marreese Speights, Sam was getting pushed out the door. There were some even debating a Dalembert for Eddy Curry swap.  The smiling kid from Port-Au-Prince was no longer the darling of Sixers fans.

In fact, Dalembert's demise followed the same path as the waning interest of professional basketball in Philadelphia.  The boom of the late 90's-early 00's was silent. Brown and Iverson broke up, the Van Horn/Harpring/Webber/Robinson experiments failed, defensive cornerstones like George Lynch, Aaron McKie and Eric Snow were long gone, Andre Miller demanded too much money for an out of shape point guard, Andre Iguodala was getting scapegoated as the problem with the franchise, and 7 coaches came and went. Samuel Dalembert remained, covered in debris from the collapse of the franchise, when tragedy struck.

On January 12th, 2010, hours after he beat the Hornets with a hook shot in the final moments of the game, an earthquake of colossal proportions shook Dalembert's native land, injuring, killing, and displacing millions of his brothers and sisters.  Somehow managing to visit Haiti in between games and get back in time for tip-off, Sam played some of his most inspired basketball of his career and lobbied his way back into the hearts of NBA fans everywhere. He went on to have the most consistent season of his career (his numbers are misleading) despite his poor relationship with Eddie Jordan. But the national memory is short, as the media moved onto other stories and America forgot about the wreckage and devastation that left millions homeless in Haiti. Samuel Dalembert was once again an inflated contract with a 15% trade kicker that nobody wanted to pick up.

Until Thursday afternoon.

People around here were beginning to recognize his value to the team, especially to the defense and rebounding, and discussions were being had just last night about how to sign Dalembert when his contract ran out.  But around 2:00pm EST, Chad Ford closed the book on Samuel Dalembert's decade in Philadelphia by use of a social networking site that was non-existent when Sam signed his rookie deal.

Scoop: Sixers agree to trade Dalembert to Kings for Nocioni and Hawes. Link coming shortly ...

And that was that.  On the breaking news thread, nobody was talking about how Sam always hedged too far on the pick and roll. Nobody brought up his terrible interior passing or lack of a polished post game. There wasn't anyone hoping we got Eddy Curry for him instead. Samuel was a cornerstone of this franchise for the greater part of the decade. And while this blog certainly isn't a sentimental one with teary goodbyes to every player that came through here, Sam's been through it all here, and it's certainly a shame we couldn't win a championship while he was around.  He's seen 64 other players come and go in his 9 years (I would know, I counted), and most of them weren't very good. 

But as the starting center, a defensive stalwart who's played in 354 straight games through injury, catastrophe, and poor coaching, Samuel Dalembert has been a rock.  He will be missed in more ways than one.

What does this mean for the future of this team? To put it simply, a lot.  There are two draft-related scenarios (among a million others through trades) that come to mind upon reflection of this deal.  Before I get to that, let's look at the current roster as it stands today.

PG: Jrue Holiday/Louis Williams
SG: Andre Iguodala/Jodie Meeks/Willie Green
SF: Thaddeus Young/Andres Nocioni/Jason Kapono
PF: Elton Brand/Marreese Speights
C: Spencer Hawes/Jason Smith

I chose Hawes over Speights because he's started 100+ games at center in the NBA, albeit for the lowly Kings, while Speights has just 3. There's going to be some more shakeups both before and after the Draft next week, so don't be married to this roster, but I'm sure that if you've read this far, you are not. Let's take a look at what could happen.

Scenario One: Draft Evan Turner, Remove Thad from Lineup Above
This is the most likely result. Go into next season with Hawes and Brand as your front court, and Igoudala and Turner as your wings. While the bigs would be exposed on the boards and down low, they would be supported by some magnificent defense out of the back court able to stick their man up and down the court and get into the passing lanes into transition. None of the front court players we have right now can run the floor particularly well, especially if Speights is still hitting the fridge at midnight, but we have 4-5 guys that are lethal in transition, and if Collins lets them play to their strengths, they should be able to get a bulk of their points from outlet passes and leak outs.

The second unit would be much improved from last year with the additions of Nocioni and Thad (who would play the 3/4 depending on matchup), especially in terms of outside shooting. The problem is that with Lou at the helm, there's nobody to pass to the shooters on the wings. If Doug handles the rotations well enough (would be a sight for sore eyes after last year), one of Jrue/Turner/Iguodala should be on the court at all times to facilitate the offense. With Lou and Speights, we have guys off the bench that can score in bunches, and Nocioni/Meeks is a defensive improvement over Kapono/Green.  The problem with this is that we have no defensive stopper to speak of to patrol the paint. While our three-point defense would surely improve, the interior D would be knee-bucklingly bad.

Scenario Two: Draft Derrick Favors, Start Him Immediately
It would be ugly. He wouldn't be a black hole offensively and he plays more under control than Dalembert, but he's also someone the opposition wouldn't have to worry about at all. Jason Smith would be demoted to waterboy and Brand-Favors-Speights-Hawes would form the front court. If it were me, I'd start Speights with Favors and let Brand and Hawes come off the bench, but I doubt that would happen. Thad would start at the 3 and only play a handful of minutes at the 4 all season. I suppose Nocioni could start, but I'd prefer his defense help the 2nd unit. While he's not a defensive sieve, he's worlds better than Thad at this point. Who starts between them dictates how soon Collins thinks the team can contend, and if Thad could be a part of that contender.

We'd get to see years of Holiday/Favors puns around Christmastime (Imagine Zumoff's head popping out of a Christmas tree: "Hey kids! Send your friends some Holiday Favors for the season -- its Guys Night at the Wach!"), so that's always a plus. Truth be told, they could be a phenomenal tandem if Favors puts an offensive game together. Or even if he doesn't, he'll get some Dwight Howard throw-downs by accident. I'm confident the kid's gonna be good, I just don't have faith in him becoming a go-to offensive post player. This move would indicate much more of a long-term project, although the Hawes-Speights-Favors future is pretty bright. We'd get another lotto pick next season and pick up a 2-guard then.  Unless we can swing a deal giving up Thad/Lou/Speights (with Hawes he may be expendable) and nab Paul George/Xavier Henry/James Anderson around 10-20. All of these contingencies and addenda (plural of addendum -- again, who knew?) fuel the fact that we are more than one piece away from contending now or even 4 years from now. 

As John mentioned begrudgingly, this could open the door for an Andre Iguodala trade, but I don't buy it, and I agree with it even less. I won't make this an Andre debate, but there is no chance there's any way we get equal value for him. The only way you trade Iguodala is if it gets rid of Brand, and nobody's doing that without the 2nd pick involved, or at all. Bite the bullet, assemble talent, then figure out what to do with it.

CONCLUSION: We are going to miss Samuel Dalembert plenty. It will certainly be odd without him in the lineup night in and night out, and I wish him tremendous success in Sacramento.  Defensively, there are moves that need to be made to shore up the back lines. I don't think this trade plays a huge role in the Turner/Favors debate, but it certainly shook me from my Draft Zone and I'm still not all that sure how I feel about it. Pray for either Speights or Hawes to learn some defense soon. If they don't, you can bank on Ed Stefanski gone. At the end of the day, this was a money move to get under the cap for this year, and that's depressing to think about on a team as far away as ours. Thanks, Mr. Snider.

For your sake and mine, I hope you didn't struggle too much reading that mess. It was somewhat stream of consciousness and I was half-watching the Lakers/Celtics game the whole time. One day we'll celebrate like that.

Go Sixers. We don't say that enough.

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