Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The (Half-Baked) Plan to Fix the Sixers

I think we can put a fork in the 2009-2010 Philadelphia 76ers. When you blow 20 point leads to the Minnesota Timberwolves that’s pretty much the end of any real serious contention for the playoffs, let alone anything else. I consider that the final straw.

Which is a disappointing outcome to be sure, considering this team, at least at face value, has the talent to compete for a playoff spot. It is essentially the same team from last season, minus the swap Allen Iverson for Andre Miller, and the team from last season grabbed a 6 seed and had a legit (though long) shot at the 4 seed in the final month of the season.

Numerous problems have contributed to the drop-off, from the hiring of Eddie Jordan, who’s “Princeton” offense is a disaster and defensive schemes resemble matador training for Spanish bullfighters, to the great production Elton Brand has never delivered, as well as injuries to promising young guys Marreese Speight’s and Lou Williams. Still, the excuses aren’t good enough to explain the 4th worst record in the NBA at 13-27.

But the Sixers struggles aren’t the point of this blog. Instead, were here to rebuild the Sixers, which could be a relatively short process before the Sixers can become at least relevant, though a tad long to become elite once more. Stay with me, it’s about to get complicated.

The first order of business is to drop the bad contracts of the Stefanski era (By the way, someone please explain to me why he is plagued with same problems that Billy King had. $80 million for Iguodala and $82 million for Brand, as well as dealing for Jason Kapono at $6.2 million this year and player option next year at $6.5 million, and it doesn’t help that Kapono never plays. I at least thought that he couldn’t be worse than King and while he hasn’t been worse, he certainly isn’t any better). Houston is dangling Tracy McGrady’s $22.8 million expiring contract to the highest bidder and the Sixers have the pieces to make the deal.

Houston likes Iggy and it has been reported that they are willing to take on one more bad contract. So you can deal Iguodala and Brand’s cadaver for T-Mac and Brian Cook’s expiring contract (at $3.5 million). Any deal with Houston has to include Brand but shouldn’t include Sammy Dalembert because (gulp) I want to keep him. I know this doesn’t make any sense considering I have railed on the guy since the Larry Brown era but I have two legit reasons why. First, his contract expires in 2011, which could be used as part of my future plans and second, he’s just playing well. He finally understands his role as rebounder/shot blocker and he’s executing that really well, while his offensive game should only consist of put backs (though he occasionally thinks he’s Chris Bosh and drifts out to 15 ft. for jumpers. Baby steps people, baby steps).

And if you’re interested Los Angeles, you can have Jason Kapono for Adam Morrison straight up, so we can get Morrison’s expiring contract and you can get a shooter to come off that abomination you call a bench. Especially considering Sasha Vujacic hasn’t played a productive minute since June 2008 and looks like neglected step-child of Billy Ray Cyrus (This isn’t really a part of my plan, I just wanted to unnecessarily make fun of Vujacic).

With a roster now completely devoid of any offensive talent or defensive want-to, as well as a sideshow backcourt with Iverson and McGrady, which makes the year 2002 cower in fear, we can execute part two of my plan. Tank city for John Wall!

A minor digression: Even though it is a part of an elaborate tank scheme, you can’t help but be excited to see Iverson and McGrady in the same backcourt. A pair of former greats on what appear to be their last legs who could never be confused with guys who get their teammates involved. What could be better? Watching those two awkwardly play off each other leading to a gluttony of poor shots and defense that would make Keith Van Horn embarrassed would be comedy almost worth the deeply discounted price of admission at the Wachovia Center. Almost.

Anyway, I already think the tank plan is in effect given the Timberwolves debacle but just to be safe, we’re saying it anyway. Now, I understand that this is a tenuous idea, given the whole draft lottery thing. But the Sixers, with the fourth-worst record are already in good position for the first pick in theory. The last team to win the lottery after having the worst record were the Magic in 2004 and teams have gotten the top spot having the 6th, 5th, 9th and 3rd in the last few years.

Plus, I’m sure that David Stern wants to rig another draft lottery. I know it must sicken him to see all the number one picks in recent years go to small markets like Toronto, Milwaukee, Portland, or Hell (the Clippers), with the exception of Derrick Rose to Chicago. But even if the Sixers can’t get the first pick, there is tons a talent in this draft as opposed to last year’s nuclear waste site, including my personal man crush Evan Turner of Ohio State (He’s got a great feel for the game where, every time I watch him, he’s 3 steps ahead of the defense. He knows what they’re doing and he’ll create something where he may not get the assist or the basket, but he created the situation for the assist and basket to be made. It doesn’t make sense reading it, just watch him).

But this draft is crucial because I only want them to end up with either Wall or Turner, but mostly Wall. Wall is a franchise guy who is (close your eyes Bulls fans) better than D-Rose. They are pretty much the same when it comes to most things like vision, athleticism etc., but Wall separates from Rose in his killer instinct. While Rose seems deferential and unassuming, Wall takes control of games at the right moments, something that I haven’t seen from Rose at Memphis or in the NBA yet. Wall is can’t-miss, bonafide superstar in the making.

Then you fire Eddie Jordan. And hire him back, just to fire him again. And this time, we hire a real coach, like Jeff Van Gundy or someone with a winning pedigree, like Van Gundy. Van Gundy can have Jordan on his staff, but only to fire him within hours. I don’t like Eddie Jordan if you can’t tell.

When free agency starts, you target a power forward, most likely Amar’e Stoudemire, because of his reputation in the league makes him a stay away for most teams (kinda lazy, plays no defense, rebounds like Eddy Curry) but his talent fits in well with my vision especially as a secondary star (not having to play the lead role, really on here for offense, surround him with defense and veteran leaders), with a max deal that eat up most of the $20 million in cap space for this offseason, or Carlos Boozer as a second option though not for the max instead around $13-15 million. But we should be able to get at least one of the power forwards. The mid level exception is also in play for a defensive center like Tyson Chandler since we don’t plan on bringing Daly back after 2011.

Setting the stage for our big summer, 2011, where we send everything and the kitchen sink at Carmelo Anthony. This is based on a few things. First, with Dalembert, Kapono, and Willie Green (who now assumes the role of most hated Sixes) coming off the cap, we have the money for a max guy.

Second, the Nuggets are not built well to win in the long term. Chauncey Billups is getting up there and age and there aren't many guys in that cupboard. Third, I’m assuming that by 2011 J.R. Smith will have done something so utterly dumb to piss Carmelo off that he will want to leave (What could this be? I don’t know; the possibilities are endless given the brain power possessed by Mr. Smith. This is the part of the plan I’m most sure of).

Fourth, there won’t be a lot of bidders in 2011. So many teams have geared up for years for the summer of 2010 that when the great talent goes away, they will be forced to overpay fringe talent like Joe Dumars did this summer and leave us pretty much all alone (This part of the plan is where I am the second-most sure. NBA GMs are so awful that out of fear for “having to do something” with the money in 2010, they will make wrong decisions. Works like clockwork, every offseason).

Fifth, and most importantly, Carmelo is coming into his own. After years of struggling to deal with the LeBron/Carmelo, new Magic/Bird hype and a lot of other problems, but now he just gets it. He really grew up in last year’s playoffs, committed himself on defense, made good plays down the stretch of games, basically he became a guy you can build a championship team around. I want him leading my franchise.

So in the most ideal situation we have John Wall, Carmelo, Thaddeus Young, Amar’e/Boozer and Chandler as a starting five with Lou and Speights coming off the bench. Or more likely it would be Lou, Evan Turner, Carmelo, Amar’e/Boozer and Chandler and you can use Thaddeus Young as the key piece in a deal to pick up impact player A from struggling franchise in need of cap relief B. Tell me one of those teams isn’t ready to be serious in the NBA, and have a legit shot at the title in two years. That’s what I thought.

Carmelo is your alpha dog, with Amar’e playing second fiddle. Then you have the young developing backcourt guy in either Evan Turner or John Wall, both guys who are unselfish and get their teammates involved, have high basketball I.Q’s, and are NBA ready. You have a defensive centerpiece in Chandler (who is the biggest risk in this whole solution. If there is another defensive center on the market, we go after him instead. Given how Chandler’s play has dropped off in the last two years, I almost considered bring back Daly. Almost) and young guys you already have in Lou, Speight’s and Young, who can be dealt to get a guy if you feel you’re ready to make a run at a championship.

You surround those teams with the buyout guys that come through in March and another veteran swingman for the minimum in the summer and boom, the Sixers are back. Ed Stefanski can thank me later by giving me 50% of his salary.

But in the off-chance that this doesn’t work and we can’t get a power forward this year and Carmelo wants to come here as much as he wants herpes, well, we can always blame Billy King for not winning when Iverson was good.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

It's Time for Change in Philadelphia

I really don’t know how much more of this I can take. Even my optimism will eventually run out.

After years and years of constantly defending the Reid-McNabb era as always being right there, just a tweak or two away from a Super Bowl title, a break or two from finally breaking their string of coming up short in the big game, I can no longer do it. I’m officially done.

At some point it can’t be about what the Eagles don’t have and the breaks they haven’t gotten and the calls that the refs have blown. At some point it has to reflect on the two guys at the foundation.

I love Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb (most of the time). But I really can’t take any more of these playoff defeats. I need something new.

I should have known this day was coming earlier in the week when I had this feeling of impending doom surrounding this game, because even though I wanted to convince myself that the Eagles were going to come out with a different gameplan, that Jason Peters and Winston Justice would earn the money they don’t deserve and the secondary might considering jamming receivers instead of giving 8 yard cushions on 3rd and 3, I couldn’t do it.

So I was already preparing my generally logical assessment of the Eagles after their annual playoff loss around Tuesday: “I know that we are really one-dimensional with a defense that comes up small in the big games with a pretty inconsistent quarterback who likes throwing the ball at receivers feet and a coach who refuses to call timeouts, go for two, and go for fourth downs at the right time, but we are just 2 players away!” I think I’m going to stop lying to myself for once and say it loud, kind of like the Chappelle Show Black Bush skit.

“Can I be real son,” “Be real son,” “The Eagles cannot win a Super Bowl with Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb,” “Say it loud” “THE EAGLES CAN’T WIN A SUPER BOWL WITH REID AND MCNABB!”

I never wanted to be that typical Philly guy who called for the head of McNabb and Reid after every big playoff loss. I genuinely believed in this “process” and “system” and thought that we had what it took to get it done when it mattered most because all it takes is one time to get it done. And that they would eventually get it done because that’s what quality people like Reid and McNabb eventually do.

As successful as they have been in the regular season, all the wins they have accumulated, all that really means nothing. Because it is finally apparent to me that these two just don’t have the championship formula.

Something about the way they play (never running the ball, only being able to score off the big play, inability to stop the run or get pressure with the front four) seems perfectly suited to win in the regular season and just good enough to crush dreams in the postseason (As an unrelated note, there is nothing more annoying that seeing this from Donovan and watching him suck right after. Kinda like when he smiles at the defensive line right before he holds on to the ball too long before getting sacked).

If we were really content with being a 10 win team every year that loses to teams that it probably shouldn’t in the playoffs (Tampa, Carolina, Arizona are the ones that stick out to me. The Tampa game was the worst because that’s the Super Bowl they would have unequivocally won and that’s the game that closed down Veterans Stadium), then this foundation can continue until the end of McNabb’s career. But after a while, the disappointment just gets to be too much. I can only take being the early 90s Buffalo Bills redux for so long.

The consistent choking in the biggest of games has made it abundantly clear and this latest debacle against the Cowboys has only solidified the point. They made Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek look like a return to the Freddie Mitchell, James Thrash, Todd Pinkston days, while the run defense had me longing for the Darwin Walker, Dhani Jones, Michael Lewis core. It was a beatdown in its truest definition.

It came after a less-severe yet equally disturbing loss last week against the Eagles, which makes this week’s no-show completely unacceptable.

This Cowboys game was the quintessential Eagles stinker. A slow start caused by predictability on offense. They never stay on the field for more than two minutes and their defense gets gassed in the first quarter because they can’t stop the run and it’s pretty much over from there. Completely unable to get anything going on offense, this snowballs into the monstrous beatdown that occurred on Saturday night.

I know it’s unfair, not right, whatever. But in reality, you can only take so much of one thing before you snap. I snapped last night.

I don’t know what the answer is but Reid and McNabb aren’t working the way they should. I’m not campaigning for Kolb or anything like that (because I honestly don’t know because they guy has been wildly inconsistent in his appearances) but I know what I don’t want. I want no more of this losing in the playoffs. I want someone who can do something in the biggest of games.

They are great guys who have done a lot of great things and have taken this Eagles franchise to heights that they have never achieved. You think that if you keep plugging along and plugging along that you would eventually get to the promised land. They do so many things right, but do so many things wrong at the most critical times, and that’s what’s burned into your memory.

They cannot win a Super Bowl. And that’s really all that matters. Because whether you’re the hapless Detroit Lions or the Philadelphia Eagles, if you don’t win the Super Bowl, nothing else really matters. And Reid and McNabb, for all their talents, just don’t have what it takes. And no amount of optimism will change that.