Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
After a number of moves this off-season that made it seem like the Philadelphia 76ers’ front office had a plan to compete with the top teams in the Eastern Conference, they made one that frankly doesn’t seem to make much sense.
As first reported by CBSSports.com, the Sixers and center Spencer Hawes agreed on Wednesday to a two-year deal reportedly worth $13.5 million, keeping the center in Philadelphia after averaging 8.2 points and 6.2 rebounds in 118 games (110 starts) over the last two years with the team. A true 7-footer with a decent jumper, Hawes will be entering his sixth year in the NBA following one year at the University of Washington.
Unfortunately, while the 24-year-old Hawes might seem to fit in with Philadelphia’s recent youth movement, there are a number of factors that make his re-signing a bit of a curious move by a team that hasn’t exactly been known for great front-office work over the last decade.
Hawes’ returning to the Sixers means the team will have four players capable of playing up front–including two first-round draft picks and a second-round draftee who just signed a two-year extension. Arnett Moultrie, picked No. 27 overall by the Heat last Thursday before being dealt to the Sixers, is a lottery-level talent who could be a future All-Star center with the right coaching staff; 7-foot Nikola Vucevic was taken in the first round in 2011 and averaged 5.5 points and 4.8 rebounds as a 21-year-old rookie. Finally, there’s 2011 second-round draft pick Lavoy Allen, the 6-foot-9 forward/center whose performance in the 2012 NBA Playoffs reportedly earned him a two-year, $6 million extension from the Sixers earlier this week.
The problem with all three of the above players is that they’re all desperate for the same thing–playing time. At their age and stage of basketball development, the only way to really prove that they can play in this league is to get out on the court and do so. Allen proved that last season showing he could be a better defensive option than Hawes against Boston’s Kevin Garnett, but now with Moultrie in the mix Allen’s minutes at center could be even more limited.
There is certainly the option for Allen and Moultrie to get minutes at power forward, as both of them are more athletic defenders than Hawes who are capable of staying with players like Garnett. However, doing so would mean moving Thaddeus Young down to small forward, limiting minutes for Andre Iguodala (who may or may not be traded) and Evan Turner, another player who needs minutes at this point in his career while he tries to fulfill the expectations normally laid upon a second-overall draft selection.
That’s all before even considering the role of Maurice Harkless, taken No. 15 overall by the Sixers this year after winning Big East Rookie of the Year while averaging 15.3 points in his only season at St. John’s University. It’s not just the fact that the Sixers have so many players who could play these roles, it’s the commitments they have shown to each of these players that says the franchise expects them to contribute in more than a minor fashion.
There’s also the case of Elton Brand, who’s due to make $18 million this season in the final year of his deal but is might be cut under the new amnesty exception in the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement. If Brand does indeed return, he’ll be by far the senior member of the team at 34 a year after averaging a career-low 11.0 ppg in 2011-12.
It seems like no matter how the Sixers try to spread their minutes around, someone who needs that time is going to get squeezed out of the rotation. Lou Williams’ departure at least clears up some room in the backcourt, and Jodie Meeks’ minutes might hit rock-bottom, but managing time at the three forward spots is going to be very difficult for coach Doug Collins, who has a team with no one both over 6-foot-8 and over 25 years old aside from Brand.
Finally, there’s the question of whether or not Hawes is actually a better option than the younger players at this point in their respective careers–and that question is not easily answered. Hawes drew a lot of criticism for his inability to guard more athletic big men, especially as his performance faded following a strong start to the 2011-12 season, and his offensive game is limited. The Sixers often lacked for a true presence in the paint and on the boards, and Hawes is not likely to make any drastic improvements on his career 5.8 rpg average.
If the Sixers let Allen, Vucevic and Moultrie take up the majority of the minutes in the frontcourt this season, by 2013-14 they could have a trio of forwards who can play with any team in the league. Any minutes that Hawes takes up from that trio could end up keeping the franchise from making the next step, but for $13.5 million there’s almost no choice but to send Hawes out as the starting center in October.
It’s just not clear that’s money well spent.
All signings can be made official on July 11.