THE SIXERS HOSTED the Denver Nuggets last night at the Wells Fargo Center.

Next to the home team, the largest contingent of media had driven down the New Jersey Turnpike from the New York Metropolitan area.


Because the only top-level NBA superstar in the house last night was Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony.

If you believe the rumors, there are strong indications that Melo's next destination is going to be the team that plays in the Big Apple or the team across the river that will soon relocate to Brooklyn. But this isn't about whether Anthony will end up with the Knicks or the future Brooklyn Nets. That's a New York City alley-cat fight.

A possible Anthony move to NYC coupled with the upgrades that have already happened in Miami, Chicago and Orlando leaves the Sixers in a position where something bold and risky is the only way to simply have a chance to catch up to the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

The East has changed dramatically, and it hasn't worked in the Sixers' favor. The Heat, Bulls and Knicks got big-ticket players in free agency. The Atlanta Hawks were able to keep a developing roster together. The Magic responded to the offseason shenanigans by making a huge early season trade that reworked the cast around All-Star center Dwight Howard for the better.

And now the Knicks and Nets are trying everything they can to make a move for Anthony.

Look at the reconstructed Eastern Conference and tell me where the Sixers, improved as they are under Doug Collins, stand for the next few seasons.

They are already light years behind Miami, Orlando and Chicago and if the Knicks add Anthony to Amare Stoudemire . . .

If the Nets don't get Anthony, they still have a billionaire owner, tons of pending salary-cap space and a boatload of first-round picks to use in an attempt to upgrade around young big men Brook Lopez and Derrick Favors.

It is highly likely that New Jersey will get much better really fast.

Even the lowly Washington Wizards have a potential megastar in rookie point guard John Wall.

And these teams aren't old. Among the top teams in the East, only the Celtics can be considered old.

What can the Sixers do to catch up?

The terrifying answer is possibly nothing.

At a minimum, the Sixers would have to make a desperation gambit and give swingman Andre Iguodala away below market value in the slight hope that they can get lucky with a free-agent superstar or impact draft pick in the next offseason or two.

As much as some fans might think it, the Sixers, logically, don't think that makes sense.

"I've put in 40-some years in this stuff," Sixers president Rod Thorn said. "To just give a good player up just to give him up doesn't make sense.

"They are too hard to find. Sometimes you'll give up a good player because they are a bad guy and not get some value for him. Otherwise, that is tough to do."

It's the quagmire for the Sixers.

If trading Iguodala guaranteed that the Sixers could acquire a young, superstar big man, Thorn likely would pull the trigger.

But the only guarantee from an Iguodala trade is that the Sixers would weaken a young team that has shown remarkable improvement under Collins.

I look around the East and think I'd probably do it anyway because getting lucky on an all-in gambit is the only way I can see this franchise reaching the next level.

Of course, I wouldn't have to deal with the repercussions of it blowing up in my face.

Trading Iguodala just to trade him is not a sound business strategy, especially with so many other teams in the East having the assets to make better trades or better offers to pending free agents.

"It's hard to make trades involving good players unless you get value for value," Thorn said.

Again, that is the dilemma.

There is no question that the Sixers have improved dramatically this season. Last night's 110-99 victory over the Nuggets, who are still a playoff team in the West despite the distractions surrounding Anthony, again shows that.

They are slowly starting to reconnect with a fan base that appreciates watching a young team develop with hope for the future.

But we all know that sooner not later, the Sixers have to become a viable championship contender to maintain interest. That's the entire point of this professional sports thing.

Collins seems to be the perfect coach to take young players like Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams to the next level.

What does that mean, however?

Can you honestly say that if those guys reach their maximum potential, the Sixers will have the stuff to run with Miami, Orlando, Chicago and Atlanta anytime soon?

I can't, and I don't think the Sixers can either.

Now tell me what happens if Carmelo Anthony ends up in New York or New Jersey.

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