Dear Sixers: Pick Up The Phone, Call Mitch Kupchak, Make This Offer

Dear Sixers: Pick Up The Phone, Call Mitch Kupchak, Make This Offer

Sixers CEO Adam Aron has previously offered me -- well, all of us -- the opportunity to play fantasy general manager for his basketball team. Today, I'm accepting his invitation.

Pau Gasol.

Andre Iguodala.

The Sixers have every reason to call. And the Lakers have every reason to listen.

Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak is openly shopping Gasol in an effort to reshape his roster following the second round beating delivered by the Thunder. You may also remember that Gasol was nearly traded to the Rockets immediately before last season, and would now be in Houston if not for the controversial rejection of a three-way deal that would have sent Chris Paul to Los Angeles -- the other Los Angeles.

Of course, moving the remaining two years of Gasol's contract, worth $38 million, is also a motivation for a Laker front office with well-documented tax concerns. That said, unless they're going to work out a multi-team deal with some wonderful trade exceptions and a whole lot of moving parts, they're going to have to take a fair portion of his salary back, per league rules.

Andre Iguodala fits the Lakers. His name has been brought up in discussions describing potential deals for Gasol, but it's never seemed like anything more than a "this guy's name is bantered around quite a bit, his salary matches close enough to work, and he fills a legitimate need for L.A." kind of suggestion. Then again, why does there need to be anything more?

I'll repeat: His salary matches close enough to work, and he fills a legitimate need for L.A. Then there's what Gasol brings to the Sixers. Let's take this apart in sections.

The Terms
A straight up Iggy-Pau swap wouldn't have worked previously. Last year, the deal would have pushed the Sixers over the Luxury Tax and the salaries would have fallen $500,000 outside the 125 percent + $100,000 threshold that needs to be satisfied once a team heads beyond the cap . If the deal was going to happen, the Sixers would have had to send something extra, like the $1.6 million they were paying Nik Vucevic during his rookie year. This decision, both financially and on the floor, made sense. More on it in just a second.

But once these contracts rollover to their 2012-13 values, they get close enough to work on their own. Gasol receives an only $285,000 raise while Iggy's contract escalates about $1.2 million. It's a gap larger than $500k, which means it works.

That said, if Vucevic isn't included in the deal, the Sixers have a logjam under the basket and the Lakers get a lot shorter. His contract clears a bit of extra salary for the Sixers, prevents the logjam, and provides the Lakers with height in return and a team option to terminate after just one year. His addition is obviously a negotiating point and there are other options. (Note: Just as a matter of full disclosure, and as reader Stu points out, Gasol does have a 15% trade kicker if he were to be swapped, bumping his salary to around $22 million per as a Sixer. The kicker does not impact the salaries matched in the deal, however).

Why It Makes Sense for Los Angeles
Starting with the Lakers, they desperately need a primary defender to take shift responsibilities away from an aging Kobe Bryant. If Los Angeles is going to maximize what's left of Kobe's career, they're going to need someone to lessen his burden on his own side of the timeline. Iguodala is an elite defender, one of the five best at guarding the perimeter in the league and is in serious consideration for an Olympic bid because of it. For 82 nights a year, plus the playoffs, he can cover the other team's best player, assuming his knees allow him to, though potential injury is part of literally any scenario. Worst case, he and Bean split it even at 41.

Moreover, the Thunder have clearly emerged as the new power in the Western Conference. The Lakers will, more likely than not, have to go through OKC if they're getting back to the Finals in pursuit of Kobe's sixth ring and their 17th NBA title. Bryant isn't going to get a pass on playing D for the rest of his career, nor, with the way he's wired, would he want one; so when it comes time to match up with Durant, Westbrook and Harden on D, they will be better prepared than they are now.

Speaking of what they have now, they get an immediate upgrade at the small forward spot by replacing Ron Artest. Quick stats from last season:

    Artest: 26.9 MPG, 3.4 Reb, 2.2 Ast, 7.7 Pts
    Iguodala: 35.6 MPG, 6.1 Reb, 5.5 Ast, 12.4 Pts

Of course, if this hypothetical deal were to go through, the Lakers would need to come up with a solution for the remaining two years and $15 million on Artest's contract. How they handle that is their business.

As for the benefits of Vucevic, in return for the departing Gasol, the Lakers get back a 7-foot big, who can back up center Andrew Bynum, a guy with a litany of injury issues, and some usable height at the 4, should they opt to use him in that capacity. Of course, he was also a first round pick in 2011, so we'll finish with the word "upside."

Oh, and they save $4 million over the next two seasons assuming Iggy plays both years. If he goes early termination in the summer of 2013 (unlikely, but you never know), they save a boatload. Actually, go read that link about their tax situation. It's horrifying.

Why It Makes Sense for Philly
Gasol immediately becomes one of the five best bigs in the Eastern Conference and makes the Sixers very long and very versatile. A backcourt of Holiday and Turner (plus additions) is paired with any combination of Young, Turner and Harkless at the 3 and Young, Gasol, Moultrie, Allen and possibly Vucevic between the 4 and 5 (I'm leaving Elton Brand out of his equation for an obvious reason, which we'll get to). Moreover, Gasol fits this team both in transition and in the half-court. Not only can he run the floor, but he creates passing and scoring options out of the post.

The Sixers will need to fill out the rest, particularly in the backcourt, with or without Gasol, but this trade would suddenly make Elton Brand and his contract even more interesting. The Sixers could keep Brand if they wish, so long as their additions don't force them to the tax, and have great depth under the basket, or trade him or amnesty him.

The trade or amnesty options are the fun parts. Truth be told, I'm not trading for Pau Gasol just to stop there.

Look at the teams you consider title contenders around the NBA. Now look at your Sixers. I love this team and loved watching them give the Celtics everything they had, but they're not a serious threat with this roster and we all know it. To win a championship, they need a serious paradigm shift and Gasol gives them that shift. For two seasons, Pau Gasol gives the Sixers a window to change their immediate future, because Gasol makes Philadelphia, almost overnight, a destination.

There are two roads through the Eastern Conference, one is through Miami and the other through Chicago. On the next tier down, Boston is on the decline, Indiana the incline, New York the always possible incline and Atlanta constantly middling. The Sixers, even if they prove to hang with the Celtics, Pacers, Knicks and Hawks, are not, at current, in the same league (almost literally with the way the NBA is structured between top and bottom) with the Heat and Bulls.

A trade for Gasol and the options presented by Brand's contract help to change that. By himself, absent any other moves, Gasol makes the Sixers more competitive in the East. But with someone else, a real someone else,
a real someone else now affordable given the $18 million they would have to spend or send, and a real someone else who might now consider Philadelphia an actual option to compete with Miami and Chicago, the Sixers won't be picking in the very middle of the first round any more, where they've been stuck for years, adding complementary pieces that fractionally improve a roster at an exponential disadvantage. And the downside? Assuming they aren't able to attract that extra someone, Gasol is off the books in another two years and the Sixers have another $$22 million to play with in 2014.

This franchise needs to make a bold move to escape mediocrity.

Pick up the phone. Call Mitch Kupchak. If he says no, you offered. If he says yes, then at worst, at absolute worst, the Sixers become relevant again in the National Basketball Association.

And, if he makes a counter-offer, well, now at least we're talking.

I'm sold.

Embiid Liives: Sixers lose opener but Process secured

Embiid Liives: Sixers lose opener but Process secured


852 days after Joel Embiid was drafted -- a number becoming as familiar to Sixer fans as any Cubs fan could tell you how many years it's been since their last World Series -- he actually played in a regular season game for the Philadelphia 76ers. He lives. He exists. He has a Basketball-Reference stat line. It looks like this: 

The feeling of triumph was tangible at the not-Wells Fargo Center well before it became clear that the Sixers might actually have a shot at beating the Oklahoma City Thunder last night. Embiid's every move was treated with breathless anticipation and rapturous cheering, as well it should have been. Even Dario Saric got his name chanted at him in the first quarter, during his very first regular-season trip to the free-throw line. It was less a basketball game than a Bar Mitzvah, celebrating that these two guys we'd waited a combined four years for were at last becoming full-grown Sixers before our very eyes. It couldn't have mattered much less whether or not we won the game. 

That said, hey, we almost won the game! The Sixers led most of the way, including by six fairly deep into the fourth quarter. If not for the Internet-pandering greatness of Russell Westbrook -- 32-12-9 on good shooting, including a handful of tough pull-ups to make the difference late -- the Sixers might've won their first home opener since Process Genesis three years ago. It didn't happen, and a couple highly flustered 76ers possessions late in this one would probably make this loss pretty frustrating if it happened in February, which it probably still will. Last night? W/e. Let's watch those Embiid highlights again. 

And oh, were they high. It was a night that I imagine will soon become typical for our Jojo: He didn't have a great game, and he was still amazing. 6-16 from the floor with four turnovers and 0 assists is hardly the most efficient night Joel will have for us; a couple times he tried to do way too much in the half-court, and it would've been embarrassing if how much fun he was having even in his screw-ups wasn't so inspiring. He didn't know what spots to run to in transition, he was a non-factor on the boards late, and he probably needs to cool it with his coast-to-coast experiments for a little bit. (Actually, what am I saying? Do You forever, Joel, just watch for those tiny dudes sneaking into your blind spot.) 

But he did get to the line for eight FTs (including two on a rip-through move that most ten-year pros can't successfully execute) and made seven of 'em, he did grab nearly every rebound in sight in the first quarter (even though he only ended with seven for the game), he did get an early swat on Russ (and deterred countless other shots), and yes, he did hit his first-ever three-pointer (and even sent the not-WFC crowd into a frenzy with a couple he missed). Even on an off night, where Thunder big men Enes Kanter and Steven Adams — who my mother now hates — got the best of him on multiple occasions, and he radiated a total lack of NBA experience, he still scored 20 points in 22 minutes and kept us in a game we had no right being anywhere near. He is going to be DOMINANT. And soon. So soon.

Technically there were also ten other Sixers who took the court for us last night, so it's probably worth humoring a couple of their contributions as well. For all the shit that I gave him about cruising through the preseason, I thought Robert Covington was awesome last night — super-active on defense, making good decisions on offense, and hitting a couple huge three-pointers. Jerami Grant was similarly impressive, causing his typical chaos under the basket on both ends and even hitting a couple jumpers; probably shouldn't get super-used to that. And even though Gerald Henderson's night was most memorable for him bricking a three and coughing up the ball in critical late possessions, he also set the evening off with a gorgeous alley-oop slam, and played tough perimeter defense — the kind we just haven't had available to unleash on opposing point guards the last few years — on Westbrook, even if he was ultimately undone by Russ's sorcery.

Special kudos to a couple of our backcourt guys, though: In his first regular-season start for the 76ers — and his first regular-season start for any NBA team in seven seasons — Sergio Rodriguez was exactly what we needed: He attracted the Thunder trap but was able to easily navigate out of it, getting good looks and driving lanes for our perimeter guys, and he hit open shots when passed out to himself. He finished with 12 points, nine assists, and no turnovers, just what we'd hope for from our imported point guard. And Nik Stauskas packed a little extra heat for the bloggers who called for his dismissal all summer (as well as some of the fans that booed him — booed him! — last night), attacking the basket like his roster spot depended on it, finishing with an eye-catching 13 on 5-6 shooting. (I never stopped believing in you, Sauce.) (Well, maybe I sorta did, but at least I was rooting for you to make the team, if partly for selfish reasons.) 

On the other hand, it was something of a rough night for Dario Saric. He did fight for seven rebounds, and should laudable toughness on both sides of the ball, but the looks just weren't falling for Our Friend Dario last night — just 2-12, and some of the misses were brutal — and he was late on a couple rotations that led to open Thunder jumpers (Thumpers?) early. And despite showing his advanced touch early with three consecutive scores, Jahlil Okafor ran out of gas pretty quickly in this one, ending with just eight points on 4-10 shooting (with three TOs), and stood virtually no chance against the Thunder on the boards and in the pick-and-roll. Better nights to come for both. 

In the end, though, only one thing really mattered for the Sixers and the 20,000 fans — about 10,000 of them clad in Sixers jerseys, and mostly non-Iverson ones! — at the Center last night, and that's Joel Embiid, our beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful boy, officially becoming a player of record in the NBA. When a full stadium of Philly Phaithful chants "TRUST-THE-PRO-CESS!" while JoJo cackles from the free-throw line line, it means Our Once and Always Dark Lord's work is finally done. Hinkie died for our sins. Embiid is risen. 

Look at how much fun this season is already, with Simmons still in street clothes and Nerlens still Netflix-binging in Alabama with his phone in the other room. What's left to trust, anyway?

Despite shooting struggles, Dario Saric impressive in Sixers' regular-season debut

Despite shooting struggles, Dario Saric impressive in Sixers' regular-season debut

After two years filled with will he or won't he speculation over joining the Sixers, this certainly wasn't the effort Dario Saric had envisioned for his NBA regular-season debut. 

"I felt comfortable, but sometimes it's not your day and this was my bad day," said Saric, who scored five points in the Sixers' 103-97 season-opening loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. "I'll try to watch the video and fix what I can fix and move forward."

The raw numbers look bad. The rookie forward shot 2 of 12 from the field, including 0 of 4 from three-point range. He did notch seven rebounds and two assists, but also contributed two turnovers.

But as you know, numbers don't always tell the story. 

Saric displayed the offensive versatility and headiness on defense that had the Sixers salivating over him for two years while he played for Anadolu Efes in Turkey. He was able to penetrate in the lane several times against the Thunder on Wednesday night and used pump/head fakes to get his defender off balance, but the shots just didn't fall.

"He struggled with his shot" Sixers head coach Bett Brown said. "But just the physical play, some of the intellect of guarding things suddenly that we all might not pay attention to that coaches do. You see him go out of his way to make a rotation, that he just felt the game. I think that some of his pick-and-roll reads on trying to hit cutters, trying to slow up rollers and still go back to shooters like (Ersan) Ilyasova is, stood out to me.

"He's intelligent. He is a smart basketball player. The stats will show that he didn't make some of his shots, but I think that just that gamesmanship, that intellect stands out to me." 

The only time Saric looked a tad overmatched is when OKC went to its mustachioed muscle tandem of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter inside. After the game, Brown lamented leaving Saric in for so long against that pairing, which combined for 33 points and 17 rebounds on the night.

Teammate Jahlil Okafor tried to come to Saric's aid in those moments, but returning from a torn meniscus and on a minutes restriction, his plan wasn't exactly met with enthusiasm by the coaching staff.

"I actually kind of hinted to the coaches that I wanted to play with him (Embiid) because they put Kanter and Adams in," Okafor said. "I was kind of hinting to the coaches that if they want to play big ball we can play big ball with them."

Their response?

"Stay disciplined. Have your lawyer call my lawyer," Okafor said with a laugh. "That's the go-to line."

Even with Saric's few hiccups on defense, Okafor is confident the 22-year-old Croatian will be able to hold his own against NBA players and get the buckets to start dropping on the offensive end.

"I love Dario. It's been a pleasure having him around," Okafor said. "He's such a selfless guy.

"He did struggle a little bit with his shot, but all of the shots that he missed are shots that we know he can make and shots that we've seen him make since he's been here. So we're good. We know what he's going to do."