By Justin Diaz
Last season, the Sixers were one of the best stories in the NBA. Doug Collins inspired a previously underachieving team to overachieve, rebounding from the infamous 3-13 start to finish at .500 and give the Heat some serious trouble in the first round; while they knocked us out in five, every game besides Game Two was close, and I like to think Doug Collins discovered the blueprint for beating the Big Three (you're welcome, Dirk). But none of that will matter if the Sixers stay stagnant; 41 wins was very exciting, but the ultimate goal of the organization has to be to win a championship. To do that, June 23rd's NBA Draft will be crucial. In addition to any picks the team may make, they could also trade some players; the Iguodala rumors have been running rampant lately. With that in mind, here are some options the Sixers could consider, both with their pick and any potential trades.
Markieff Morris, PF, Kansas: This has been the popular pick for the Sixers per most mock drafts, and for good reason. While brother Marcus is more heralded, Markieff packs more size into his frame and could be a great presence in the post for the Sixers. 13.6 points per game with 8.3 rebounds in the Big 12 is nothing to sneeze at; he has the potential to be a solid starting option at the four for years to come. Some experts believe he could be as good as Rasheed Wallace; while Morris is slightly smaller, he too has shown the ability to knock down an open three (42.4% from three-point territory in 2011). The similarities don't end on the court; like Wallace, Morris is a Philly native, born and raised in North Philly and a graduate of Penn Charter. Morris could step in day one and know what the expectations are in this city, and meet them.
Kenneth Faried, PF, Morehead State: While most mocks predict Faried to go later in the first round, he could be a steal at 16th. Faried is the most prolific rebounder in NCAA history; he surpassed Tim Duncan's career record this past season. This past season, he averaged a staggering 14.5 rebounds a game, and scored 17.3 points a game to go with that. 2.3 blocks a game further show his defensive dominance. While these numbers all look good, some are worried that Faried may simply benefit from the lesser competition he faces in the Ohio Valley Conference. These fears are unwarranted; in Morehead's first round upset over Louisville in March, Faried scored 12 points and pulled down 17 rebounds. Faried reminds me of a more talented version of Reggie Evans, who was beloved here in his short tenure. He always hustles, is a monster on the glass, and can inspire the team with his play. He would immediately play coming off the bench, and could work his way into a starting role at some point.
Nikola Vucevic, C, Southern California: Noticing a trend yet? The Sixers need some big men, and Vuvecic certainly fits the bill; at 7' even, he is the tallest player in the draft. As his eastern European (Montenegro, to be specific) name would suggest, Vucevic can shoot the ball, knocking down 34.9% of his three-point attempts last season. That does not mean he lacks the ability to be a traditional big man, however; he averaged 10.3 rebounds a game last season at USC, and packs 260 pounds into his frame. Vucevic, like Faried, would be a bit of a reach, but for a team whose most glaring need is at center, he could very well be worth the risk here.
Trades for Iguodala:
Monta Ellis, G, Golden State: Of the rumors to surface regarding Iguodala, this was the first and most popular. Ellis is a scorer first, averaging 24.1 points a game last season, but the main complaint against him is his defense. Critics of the potential move say that he is simply a more expensive version of Lou Will, but that is not quite accurate. While Williams provides great scoring off the bench, he does so against other teams' benches; Ellis knows night in and night out that he is the primary concern of the opposition, and he still produces. Also, while Williams' size automatically makes him a defensive liability against larger players, Ellis is not necessarily small; at 6'3", he has the stature to play solid defense, he just needs a coach to inspire him to do so; Doug Collins fits that bill perfectly. My main holdup on this deal, however, would be that it could hurt Evan Turner's development; he is poised to start at the two next year, and Ellis is a two as well; while Turner could slide to the three, it would take the ball out of his hands more. Despite this, Ellis is still an intriguing option in a trade.
Chris Kaman, C, Los Angeles Clippers: Kaman is one of the most underrated players in the game today. While he battled a myriad on injuries last season, when healthy he is good for about 18 points a game and 9 rebounds, as he was in 2009-10. This trade makes sense for both teams; as Iguodala has become expendable here due to the growth of Thaddeus Young, so too has Kaman in LA with Blake Griffin's dominance and the emergence of DeAndre Jordan as an athletic big. Kaman would immediately step in here and be a massive improvement over Spencer Hawes, who frustrated us so often with his soft play in the low-post. While the Clippers have said they fully intend to keep Kaman, don't be surprised if a deal gets worked out by the time the Draft comes around.
While the Sixers don't seem ready to fight for a championship yet, the window of opportunity may be much closer than it seems; Boston grows older by the day. Dwight Howard may not even be a member of the Magic by the time the season starts (a dream would be for him to become a Sixer, but let's be realistic). Who knows where Miami's heads are at after their collapse in the Finals, and the Bulls remain unproven. The Eastern Conference may very well be wide open, and if the Sixers play their cards right next Wednesday, they could become legitimate contenders.