Draft will offer clues to Sixers' offseason plans

Posted: June 27, 2012

While a selection in the middle of the first round (yet again) doesn't seem all that appetizing if you're a 76ers fan, the player the Sixers take with the 15th overall pick on Thursday might go a long way toward cluing us all in on the their offseason plans.

After their Game 7 loss to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals, coach Doug Collins said that despite the playoff run, which included a six-game first-round victory over the depleted Chicago Bulls, many changes needed to be made. Chief among them, he said, was getting more athletic and physical inside. In that Boston series, the team relied on rookie Lavoy Allen to supply much-needed inside power. And while Allen was a pleasant surprise, there's no doubt an upgrade there was paramount.

The Sixers hope to re-sign Allen, whose 1-year rookie contract has expired. They also are wary of losing starting center Spencer Hawes, who is an unrestricted free agent. The only real bulk they had consistently down low was power forward/center Elton Brand. Brand, 33, is scheduled to make $18.16 million next season in the last year of his contract. The decisions are whether to amnesty Brand, which means the team would waive him and pay him the final year but not have it count against the salary cap, or look to trade him to a team that wants an expiring contract. Or they could keep him because there isn't enough they could get in return that would satisfy them.

This draft is full of power forwards and some centers, but not really the type the Sixers need immediately. Despite his late-season struggles, 2011 first-round pick Nik Vucevic is a very capable backup with good offensive skills who can rebound. He is smart, which allows him to overcome some defensive liabilities. In Allen, should they keep him (which they want to), they have a formidable power forward with a very strong body, a soft shooting touch and a pretty good feel for the game. He could be a starting power forward in the league, but for now is probably better suited to come off the bench.

Should the Sixers decide to go with a true center in the draft, it probably means they don't think Hawes will return. They'll also have to find a serviceable starting center, whether it be via trade or through free agency.

The other glaring weakness for the Sixers last season, especially in the playoffs when the halfcourt game is so important, was an outside shooting threat. Jodie Meeks, who was removed from the starting lineup in the middle of the season for Evan Turner, was the team's only true threat from outside, but he won't be back. Lou Williams, a scorer more than a natural outside shooter, has opted out of the final year of his contract and is now an unrestricted free agent. With so many teams in the league having ample money to spend, one might offer Williams more money in a long-term contract than the Sixers are willing to match.

One of the first predraft workouts the Sixers conducted included University of Washington sharpshooter Terrence Ross. At 6-7, Ross has the size and long-range shooting that the Sixers covet. Like Williams, he can break down a defender and get himself a good shot. He can also spot up and force defenses to take notice where he is at all times, thus spreading the floor for the likes of Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holiday and Turner, providing some or all of them will be back.

If they so choose, Duke's Austin Rivers could be available at 15. Rivers, the son of Celtics coach Doc Rivers, is a scoring guard who can handle the ball, get to the basket and draw contact. If that all sounds familiar, it's because Williams possesses almost all those same traits. Should the Sixers take Rivers, it most likely means that they think Williams will be elsewhere next season.

Thursday appears to be the beginning of what could be a very active offseason. What will the team do with Brand? Will Hawes and/or Williams be back? Is Iguodala, so often the subject of trade talks, going to return for his eighth season? Is it too early to give up on Evan Turner? Could there be enough money, with an abundance of other moves, to land a quality free agent?

Or is this team going to look similar to last season, with few additions and subtractions? The pick on Thursday might go a long way into answering some of those questions. n

Contact Bob Cooney at cooneyb@phillynews.com.

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