The NBA Playoffs march on, but the 76ers' offseason is already two weeks underway. These few weeks in early May are often seen as the quietest for NBA teams (except recently for the Sixers, who've held a coaching search in the two off seasons prior to this one). But things are about to "heat" up in Sixer-land (pun intended), beginning with next week's NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. Because of this, we thought now was a good time to discuss what type of off-season player the Sixers could be this summer.
Obviously a lot of what happens going forward is dependent on the status of the CBA and the potential lockout, but since that's a topic we won't be able to address until next month, we'll be game planning as if the 2011-12 season will be played (otherwise we'd just leave this blog empty, kind of like the arenas would be next season if an agreement isn't reached).
Here's what's coming up in the next month for the Sixers: the draft combine in Chicago starting next week, running from May 18-22. Basically this is the official combine for teams, with all of the potential first-round picks working out and holding interviews with teams. By the end of the month, the Sixers will begin inviting players into PCOM for workouts before the draft. The NBA Draft is scheduled for June 23 and the Sixers currently hold the No. 16 pick, plus a second-round selection. Because consensus is that this is a relatively weak draft, talent-wise, most pundits feel it would be a wise strategy for teams to draft for need, not talent. In past seasons, the Sixers have held the philosophy that they'd select the best available player, regardless of his position, and regardless of whether they had any need for that specific player at that specific position. It still remains to be seen how the front office will approach this draft, but it's likely they'll focus on obtaining some interior help even if there is a really talented swingman on the board.
There are so many bases to cover, so before we try to touch them all, let's lay out the Sixers' roster and salary cap issues heading into the off season. The Sixers have only two significant players coming off the books (also Antonio Daniels and Tony Battie, but these are "significant" contracts): Jason Kapono and Darius Songaila. Let's just say there is 0 percent chance either of these players re-signs with the Sixers -- because there is, literally, 0 percent chance that happens. Combined, those two contracts equal approximately $11 million, meaning the Sixers have $11 million coming off the books. Before you start imagining what kind of player the Sixers could sign for $11 million a season, let's bring it back down to reality. Both Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes are restricted free agents and it's safe to say the Sixers will aim to re-sign both. With the rising contracts of Elton Brand, Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams, Evan Turner, Marreese Speights, Jrue Holiday (all of them have higher salaries for the 2011-12 season compared to the 2010-11 season), plus the addition of a first-round pick and his contract (should the team keep the selection) and the addiiton of a second-round pick and his contract (should the team keep the selection), and the Sixers essentially have little to no room on the free-agent market. Obviously, it remains to be seen whether the new CBA will keep the mid-level exception, which could provide an outlet for the Sixers to get something done on the free-agent market. And it remains to be seen what next season's salary cap will actually be, but when talking about what the Sixers might be able to do in free agency this summer, one must come to the realization that free agency isn't likely the road the Sixers can take to improve the team.
That leaves them with two paths: the 2011 NBA Draft (pick No. 16) and trades. Or, as is a distinct possibility, a combination of the two: a trade on draft day. Everyone knows the holes this roster has: interior play and an 82-game scorer. These are not easy holes to fill. The problem with trying to trade for a big man is that NBA teams are generally loathe to trade any effective post player because they aren't a dime a dozen. If you got one, you'll do anything in your power to keep him.
We'll have to assume the Sixers will approach this draft as their main shot at snagging some interior help. If they want to play it out with the hand they've been dealt, you're looking at the addition of a big man like Georgia's Trey Thompkins, who some draft experts have landing in the Sixers' No. 16 spot, although others have him going lower in the first round. Research of Thompkins -- and noticing comparisons to Channing Frye -- leave you thinking he's not quite what the Sixers need because he's solid on the block, but also has a feathery jumper and likes to face up. The Sixers had that with Jason Smith and, in some ways, have that again with Hawes. We all know they need a bruiser like Reggie Evans and a legitimate starting center, with Hawes being a very capable backup. Another name to keep an eye on is Lithuanian center Donatas Montiejunas (yes, I triple checked that spelling). He's a 7-footer that could go as a lottery pick, but who could also fall lower like Holiday did during the 2009 NBA Draft. Again, Montiejunas isn't exactly what the Sixers need, but that's what happens when you're selecting on the lower end in the draft.
The guy that could be the upgrade the Sixers need is Turkish center Enes Kanter: 18 years old, physical, good rebounder, and also slated to be drafted somewhere from No. 3-5. In order to climb the ladder that high, you're looking at the Sixers combining a trade with draft day, and that would cost them a piece of their puzzle. But without the free agency money to be players in their own right, the Sixers will look to get creative in combining trade value with draft day, which is when some of the league's most crucial moves transpire.
Also, as we head into the rest of May and the buildup to the draft, it must be noted that the Sixers will interact with Doug Collins about every potential move they make. Because this team relied so heavily on the chemistry and blended personality (in large part molded by Collins), he'll be included even more than most coaches regarding personnel decisions.
Hope this helps as a primer for the next six weeks of NBA off-season action. In watching the way the Miami Heat dismantled the Boston Celtics, it's clear that the Sixers' series with Miami was even more impressive than we thought at the time. Of course, the franchise was in a similar position after the 2008-09 season, when they played the Orlando Magic better than any other Eastern Conference opponent. It's a nice little reminder of how far the Sixers have come, going chest-to-chest with Miami, but unlike what happened after that 2009 Playoff series, the Sixers must make some legitimate franchise-changing moves so we're not sitting here in 2013 talking about another solid first-round effort.
More coming in the upcoming weeks. We'll be holding a Live Chat at 1 p.m. today on Philly.com. And if you want to follow on Twitter, you can do so here: Deep Sixer.
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