No Incoming Brotherly Love
Philadelphia is surprisingly well behind in the ‘super-team’ era.
by Doobie Okon | @doobieSLAM
In the next two years, big stars are hitting the free agent market. Players including Dirk Nowitzki, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Andrew Bynum, Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, Amar’e Stoudemire and Zach Randolph (to name a handful) can dip into free agency in 2013 and 2014 through regular unrestricted free agency or early termination options. I can guarantee you one thing: None of ‘em are putting the Sixers on their wish-lists.
In fact, the team probably won’t even be in the conversation to land them. It doesn’t shock me. Despite being a big Philly supporter, it doesn’t frustrate me anymore. I’ve been inured to this madness for at least a decade now. Let’s look around Broad Street and ponder.
On Wednesday, Cole Hamels, one of the premier left-handed pitchers in baseball, signed a colossal six-year, $144M extension with the Phillies. In his press conference, he attributed his decision to the city, the fans, and the organization for taking a chance on an immature, injured 18-year old. It’s clear that the signing came with ease.
Last week, Shea Weber, arguably the best defenseman in the NHL, inked a humongous 14-year, $110M offer sheet with the Flyers. Nashville somehow managed to match the sheet, much to GM Paul Holmgren’s chagrin, and they ended up retaining Weber. But from his agent’s comments, Shea very much liked the idea of nearly a decade-and-a-half in Philly.
Last summer, the Eagles began building what Vince Young would call a “Dream Team” through free agency. The regular season ended up being a total bust, but being an Eagles fan was as exciting as it could be last summer. While many teams courted Oakland’s Nnamdi Asomugha, the tall, soft-spoken blanket cornerback who probably plays the position to his bent better than anyone not named Revis, the Birds swooped in behind everyone’s back and landed their new ace in the secondary. And surrounded by almost a dozen other signings that week, the Eagles also managed to acquire free agent Cullen Jenkins, another defensive star, from the champion Packers.
These are just a couple of recent examples, but the clearly the message that Philadelphia has become a hot-spot for superstars hasn’t yet reached the NBA.
I just can’t figure out why the Sixers, who at one time harbored Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Mo Cheeks, Andrew Toney and Bobby Jones all on one team, aren’t following in the trend that the other three Philly teams are setting. They don’t even make it on the radar most of the time when the national media is considering potential landing spots for big names.
For instance, Dwight Howard should consider the Sixers.
Not that he should or would come here, specifically. But doesn’t Philly deserve at least some contemplation?
Philadelphia is the fifth-biggest city in the country, and our sports market is almost axiomatic. Without someone who even resembles a superstar, we made it to game seven of the second round against the Celtics, whom we could’ve defeated had a couple bounces gone our way in the fourth quarter. The Sixers are very young, very athletic and already very good at defense. Dwight would fill the biggest need we have, and have had since freaking AI was tearing the floor up, and he’d sync very well with PG Jrue Holiday. Plus knowing the NBA today, Dwight could hopefully recruit another star or two to Philly within a couple years. But we all know this isn’t going to happen. The Sixers won’t even be a blip on the radar.
Granted the team doesn’t have the cap space to lure him as a free agent, but they do have a handful of young assets. Had Philadelphia been listed on Howard’s wish-list, perhaps a trade could have been made to get DH to the 6ers.
Currently, the real nature of the NBA lies in the big market cities and a small group of superstars—or at least players that can truly carry teams to deep playoff runs. This is a league where adding one or two special players can swing a franchise from forgettable-to-relevant. And when one of those esteemed few is up for free agency or demanding a trade, which two or three teams do you think they’re looking at?
Well, back to you Mr. Howard. We’ve been talking about you in Lakers gold and Nets black & white for a while now. Those are two favorites.
Other superstars want the Heat. Or the Clippers. Or the Celtics. Or the Knicks. Or the Bulls. Or the Mavericks.
Obviously, there are exceptions to this, but doesn’t it seem like these are the teams that are generally always in play for the best players right now?
And not just with free agents either. It’s no secret that the trade system in this league has been adulterated with superstars’ ability to pretty much pick which team they are dealt to. And that’s when their precious ‘wish-lists’ come into play. Ah ‘wish-lists,’ my favorite. Please, give me a break.
Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, two of the biggest free-agent NHL stars this offseason, together signed mega-deals with the Minnesota Wild a couple weeks ago. You think the TWolves are showing up on Dwight’s wish-list?
Chris Paul ain’t hopping for the Jazz.
Andrew Bynum ain’t jetting for Memphis.
Sorry, Cleveland, but it doesn’t seem like any big time FAs will be signing with the Cavs. You ain’t on nobody’s ‘wish-list’. Better hope Kyrie works out.
So the question is, “where is Philly?” Even if we had Dwight Howard, would he stick around? I’m not so sure. We had Iverson, but, throughout his career, lacked a sidekick for him. We were never able to bring in that complimentary piece to go along with one of the League’s truly great scorers.
I know Philly—the city itself—has its flaws. The nightlife doesn’t quite match up to, say, New York, L.A., or Miami. We’re not sitting on any beaches (although Atlantic City is close). The climate is not so friendly three-quarters of the year.
But Philadelphia has also greatly improved its look, condition, shops, and inhabitability in the last 20 years. We’re always known for our great restaurants, museums, and history. There is a good nightlife, and recently a bunch of exciting, nascent neighborhoods on the outskirts of center city have started flourishing in unique ways.
And all the stars who come to Philly in the other three leagues love it here. Cole Hamels certainly does. So the answer to why NBA stars don’t want to play here can’t be the city itself.
It’s not like we don’t have NBA lure. Sure, the Sixers don’t have as many ‘ships as the Celtics or Lakers, but we sported plenty of legendary squads back in the day. Look up in the rafters. History is not lacking in this organization.
The biggest transaction the Sixers have made in the last decade was signing Elton Brand to a 5-year, $80M deal in 2008. Listen, I respected the organization for taking a risk on someone of Brand’s stature, especially when the city had been clamoring for the front-office to reel in a big-name free agent for years. But EB was turning 30 and coming off a ruptured Achilles.
Not to say Elton didn’t do some great things here, in terms of leading the younger guys and playing his heart out every night, but he wasn’t exactly the guy we were all shouting for at 80 mill. Elton—while I love him—was never going to lead the Sixers to a championship.
And since then—and well before then too—the Sixers haven’t joined the party. It’s bizarre, especially in this League, and especially when it seems like the Eagles, Phillies and Flyers are always in contention for the top players on the market.
There is new ownership now. A young, energetic, and smart group led by Josh Harris and Adam Aron—and it’s looking like Tom Penn will be brought in as the new general manager any day. They want to win—they’ve made that clear. Maybe there is hope. Maybe they can figure out a way to make Philly desirable to the difference-makers. Maybe mediocrity will soon be a memory.
But probably not. Because that’s the nature of the NBA today and the big-market Sixers are really nowhere to be found. And ironically, while the other three Philly teams have been able to land big-name players, the Sixers sit in the League where one player can change everything. Too bad.