How do you effectively build a championship contending team? What trades could/should the Sixers make? What guys should stay and who should be dangled on the market as available through trade? Those are some of the things I’ve been thinking about lately and how that relates to the Sixers. A few things spurred this: all the recent trade talk, watching last year’s NBA Finals again on NBATV and thinking back to previous NBA champions.
When building a team the goal is putting together a perennial winner. Not just that but a team capable of winning it all. So every move, big or small should be 100% supportive of that goal. I don’t think the Sixers trade proposals have been thought through with that particular frame of mind.
Many are just trades to make a trade because the team is bad right now. Trades to get rid a player people have a personal dislike for or bias against. Lateral moves that at best slightly improve the team, but not necessarily in the direction of a champion. Nothing more than band aid trades that fix the problems of a terrible team. Only taking the Sixers from horrible to “not bad” or “just OK”. Well “not bad” and “just OK” isn’t the goal. Merely competitive but still always short isn’t good enough, is it? It’s not for me.
Now don’t take that last paragraph personally; it’s just my opinion. It’s just not how I would go about it if I was a GM. The problem is it’s much easier said than done. But here is the framework I would work within when trying to build a contending NBA team.
The Anatomy of a Champion
I think there are a minimum of 9 types of players or roles that must be effectively filled in order to be a championship contending/winning team. If you look at past champions and even runner ups I think you would find most, if not all of the below types of players on the roster. The names are pretty self explanatory but I will give a bit of a description.
Here is the thing: you don’t have to have 9 different players either. A single player can play more than one role as I will try and give examples for below.
- Unquestioned Superstar – This is pretty easily defined. We are pretty much talking about a hall-of-fame player. The likes of Kobe, LeBron, Wade, Duncan, Jordan, Bird, Magic, Kareem, Shaq, Hakeem, Moses Malone, the Doctor, Barkley, KG etc. This is unquestionably the best player on the team, often the best player on the floor most nights. This player is extremely versatile and can do just about anything on the court. And he’s the guy you trust when the game is on the line and you need ANYTHING. A bucket, a three, free throws, a defensive stop, doesn’t matter. One way or another he gets it done. Not to mention he’s the clear leader as well. This is the single most important piece and, in my opinion, mandatory if you want to be a NBA champion. I said it before: the Detroit model is an exception, and you have to look back a long way to find another team without an unquestioned superstar that won a title. But acquiring this player is obviously the hardest to do as well. Takes a combination of a keen scouting eye, savvy GM work and luck to make it happen.
- Super Sidekick – Best example for me personally is Scottie Pippen. This guy has the respect and trust of the superstar player and is as trusted by the head coach as the super star player. This guy very well may be a hall of fame player and on equal footing as the super star but takes a slightly lesser role for the good of the team. At the very least he is an all-star and steps up when the big man is having an off game. He kills opponents when they try to simply key on the unquestioned superstar. When the main guy gets hurt you are still confident the team will succeed and stay afloat because you have this guy who can step into that leading role for a while.
- Reliable Third Banana – We’ve heard a lot about the “big three” lately, well this is #3. The caliber of this player varies by team, but for the most part champions have that 3rd guy. On Boston it was Ray Allen, on the Spurs it could be Tony Parker or Ginobili on any given day or playoff series. On the later Bulls teams it was Toni Kukoc, during the first three-peat it was Horace Grant. You can probably pick your favorite from your generation of basketball viewing as well.
- Inside Scorer – Stability on offense in the half court with a player that can score inside is a necessity. Duncan, Shaq, Kareem, the Dream, Barkley the list goes on and on. Championship teams have that guy. The Bulls were an execption, but Jordan filled that role as the dominant post player on those teams especially during the 2nd 3-peat.
- Clutch Sharpshooter – For me this one has a distinct definition because most people just say you need a shooter. No, you need a “clutch, I got balls of steel” shooter. I am talking about John Paxson, Steve Kerr, James Posey, Robert Horry type shooters. Guys that don’t just make a lot of threes in practice or meaningless regular season games. I am talking about when the game is on the line and the defense sends 2 and 3 dudes at Jordan or Kobe or doubles Shaq or Duncan in the post they have enough trust and confidence to pass that guy the ball. They know he will hit it. I think this was sorely lacking on the Lakers last season. Sure Sasha is a good three point shooter, but when Kobe needed someone to make a shot for him no one came through. Whereas Posey made big shot after big shot when he got an opportunity. Ray Allen also played this role as well as Eddie House for Boston last year. You can never have too many strong shooters.
- Microwave - Does this need any further explanation other than pointing to ” THE Microwave” Vinny Johnson as an example? This is your go-to sixth man off the bench. Manu Ginobili also played this role as well as Toni Kukoc for the Bulls. The Lakers are hoping Lamar Odom is that guy for them this season and I think Boston is still trying to figure out who that guy is. Right now I would say it’s House.
- In-Your-Shirt Defender – Most teams have a perimeter player that is a handful to deal with so in order to combat that you must have a strong perimeter defender to make that offensive player work. Bruce Bowen, James Posey, Tayshaun Prince, Lindsay Hunter, Mario Elie. The Bulls actually had a few in Jordan, Pippen and Ron Harper. Kobe plays this role sometimes as well. Hell Paul Pierce slipped into it last year against Kobe and LeBron and did an admirable job.
- Rim & Paint Protector – You won’t win if you let guys walk down the lane for easy baskets. Sometimes you need to defend straight up in the post as well to defend against strong perimeter shooting teams. That means you gotta have a player or two that can block and alter shots at the rim, man up defensively in the post and rebound the hell out of the ball. KG played this role perfectly for Boston. Go down the line Shaq, Duncan, Ben Wallace, Hakeem, Rodman, Robinson etc. Ideally this guy needs to be tough as well. Meaning he isn’t afraid and is willing to mix it up inside and commit hard fouls when necessary. This is another area the Lakers lacked last season. Gasol is a very skilled Mr. Softee ice cream cone.
- Hustle Man – Brings a ton of energy, is a pest on defense and fires up the rest of the team and crowd with his hustle plays. Posey, Derek Fisher, Rodman, Ben Wallace.
Ok there you have it. This is certainly not perfect. There are always exceptions as well. First let me ask this: if you agree help me out, what did I miss? Second: if you disagree tell me how you think the task of improving the Sixers (or any team for that matter) should be attacked?
Looking at the Sixers Roster
Now thinking about the Sixers roster and potential trades, who do we have on the roster that could fill one of those roles EFFECTIVELY? That is how I would attack making changes, evaluating the current players and team fit. To get it started here is how I would categorize the current roster. Note: this is AT BEST what roles they could fill on a championship team in my opinion.
- Andre Iguodala - Third Banana
- Elton Brand – Super Sidekick/Rim & Paint Protector/Inside Scorer
- Samuel Dalembert – Rim & Paint Protector
- Thaddeus Young – Hustle Man/Third Banana
- Louis Williams – Microwave/Third Banana
- Willie Green – Microwave/Hustle Man
- Andre Miller – Third Banana
- Marreese Speights – Rim & Paint Protector/Third Banana
- Reggie Evans – Hustle Man
- Theo Ratliff – Rim & Paint Protector
- Donyell Marshall – Clutch Sharpshooter
- Royal Ivey – In-Your-Shirt Defender/Hustle Man
- Kareem Rush – N/A
- Jason Smith – N/A
Obviously some of the younger guys could improve but right now that is where I see their potential. Also, just because I put them in the category doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek to upgrade in any one area. Some are borderline as it is. Clearly we don’t have enough shooters, strong enough perimeter defenders and most importantly we don’t have the unquestioned superstar, which I repeat is mandatory.
Now thinking about trades what would you do with all that in mind? I look at trades in three ways:
- Cap space
- Improve the team immediately
- Future improvement/considerations
I would make moves that clear enough cap to aggressively acquire a superstar player to lead this team either via free agency or through trade. This team has no clear leader and no go-to player - two things that are a must if you want to compete for more than a first round playoff loss. The unquestioned star, super sidekick and third banana should represent 50% or more of your total payroll. Right now the Sixers have 4 players making $10M or more and none are a dominant player. That is a problem that needs to be corrected ASAP. Brand’s and Iguodala’s salaries right now really aren’t that bad (towards the end of the contracts is a different story) as second and third level supporting players. But Miller and Dalembert’s salaries (roughly $20 million this season) should really be going to that number one guy in my opinion.
The Sixers’ player moves have been ass backwards. Once they traded Allen Iverson away the #1 goal should have been to replace him with a different player of the same caliber. They have not done that to this point. You do everything in your power to get that franchise caliber player FIRST, then you build around him. It’s easier that way because you aren’t suck trying to find a superstar that fits in one or two positions you have open on your roster. You have to know the strengths and weaknesses of that guy in order to make the best personnel decisions in support of that player. I.E. surrounding LeBron with shooters, pairing a strong post player with an equally strong perimeter player etc.
Right now the Sixers are trying to build a contender using the Detroit model and I just don’t believe that is going to work. Their past drafting mistakes (passing on Dirk and Pierce) are still haunting us.