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

Jun 30, 2012, 11:24 AM EDT

This franchise needs to make a bold move to escape mediocrity. They need to pick up the phone. They need to call the Lakers.

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.

Background
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.