Last week, the Sixers' season mercifully came to an end. A season that started with high excitement and great anticipation ended with far more questions than answers. Andrew Bynum, the team's prize acquisition, never played a game. Jason Richardson missed the majority of the season. Evan Turner was wildly inconsistent. And the team parted ways with its coach. Now we are left to wonder, "Where do we go from here?" and "How do we get there?"
Of the four major professional sports, the NBA is the one in which it's hardest to recover from mistakes. And the Sixers have made plenty of those over the years. They've done a poor job of evaluating players and an even poorer job of handing out contracts (Elton Brand, Samuel Dalembert, Spencer Hawes). Despite the terrible season and the disappointment of never getting to see what this team looked like with Bynum anchoring the middle, the Sixers finally have themselves in a position where they have a little flexibility, and they absolutely must avoid making the same mistakes of the past.
Despite the fact that Bynum never played and the season turned into a disaster, the Sixers were correct in making the move. You could argue that it was a mistake to trade away Nic Vucevic, as he had a solid season in Orlando where he was finally afforded the opportunity of steady minutes, but I'll get back to that later. Before the trade, the Sixers were mired in the pack of borderline playoff teams, and that is the absolute worst place you can be in the NBA. You make the playoffs as a 7 or 8 seed, are quickly dismissed by a far superior team, and then you receive a middle-of-the-pack draft pick where you get more of a project type player than the impact player you need. This cycle continues to repeat itself, and your team finds itself stuck in irrelevancy.
The Sixers recognized this and made a bold move in hopes of breaking this cycle. Obviously the hope was that Bynum would be healthy, the team would thrive and become a top-four seed, only a piece or two away from becoming a serious contender.
We all know it didn't work out like that, but the team is still better off than they were as a perennial 8 seed. Bynum's contract is off the books. I am of the opinion that you shouldn't re-sign him, but that isn't my job to decide, so we will see.
If you decide to not re-sign him, you have a decent amount of money available. And this is where make-or-break decisions lie for the Sixers, and where my argument for patience comes into play. The upcoming free agent class doesn't have the cornerstone, immediate turnaround type player you are looking for. A list of free agents is available here. The 2014 free agents are also listed there, and you may not find the player you need there either.
And so you may have to wait until 2015 or even 2016 to find that player. And if you are the Sixers, you cannot be afraid to exercise that patience. You cannot be afraid to stink, or at least struggle, over the next few seasons. Do not sign a player just for the sake of signing a player. Do not sign a player just because you felt pressure to make a move.
If you play your cards right, you may even have the ability to bring in two impact free agents from one of those later classes. You should have been able to add a few solid players from what should be pretty decent draft position over the next 3 or so drafts. And you should still have your franchise point guard in place, Jrue Holiday, the lone bright spot from this lost season. And at that point you could finally be in a position to become a legitimate contender again.
The other part of this equation is the hiring of a new coach, and what to do with the front office. I won't throw out any names for the coaching vacancy, but I would like to see a young, energetic, hungry guy get the job. Whoever gets the job should get a vote of confidence from management that he will be given the opportunity so see this process through. That way he can navigate the next few seasons without constantly looking over his shoulder, and can have the confidence to adequately look at his young players during game action. Doug Collins seemed to outright refuse to give his young players a look in game situations, and that may have come back to bite the Sixers in the Vucevic situation.
And to go along with my new young, energetic coach, I would like a few great, pure basketball minds added to the front office. Joshua Harris and Adam Aron seem to be pretty bright businessmen, so let them handle the business stuff. Get some guys in the front office that know basketball, know basketball players, and know how to evaluate talent. This would improve the Sixers' drafting abilities as well as help them avoid handing out the crippling contracts that have handcuffed them in the past.
I know this is a tall order. I know it will be tough to sell the fan base on a "take two steps back to take three forward" type plan. I know that people who make it to the NBA level, whether they be players, coaches or front office personnel, get there by being ultra-competitive, and that seemingly accepting mediocrity or losing for two or three years won't sit well. But there are no quick fixes in the NBA, and this may be the Sixers best opportunity to return to relevancy.
And it wouldn't hurt to nab a player the caliber of Allen Iverson, like they did way back in the '90s. (Still miss you, A.I.)