Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Youth Brand

Ever since Rhoden's NYT article a few weeks ago the Brandon Jennings saga has been in the public eye, and I'm glad to see so many writers supporting Jennings in his decision to screw college and make money. He obviously deserves that right, and there's nothing the NCAA and NBA can do about it. While it's unfortunate we will not get to see Jennings play on CBS next year, the personal story of Brandon (and players like him) seems so much more vital and noteworthy. Anyway, cheers to the kid.

Now onto the Brand thing, specifically the Philly side of it, because the Clips' side is so up in the air. The 76ers were one of my favorite teams to watch last season, but I think there is some overreaction to how good the Sixers will now be with Brand on board. Once you get past the (possible) shock of Brand in the East, you realize that Elton is probably not enough to get the Sixers over the hump - unless a few things happen. One way they could become very good fast would be if Thaddeus Young or Marreese Speights becomes a star. That's not an outlandish idea - both are young and supremely talented, and if one develops quickly into an All Star the Sixers will be mighty scary. But the emphasis is on quick development, because if it takes them five years to become great players, Brand's window already would have probably passed.

The other, and I would say more likely, way Philadelphia can compete for a title in the next couple of years is to parlay their young talent for a superstar veteran in a trade, a la Ainge. The issue with this scenario is that what Ainge pulled off is hard to do - getting a top 10 player via trade is a small miracle. Ed Stefanski has said on multiple occasions that he hopes to model his team off of the Pistons - with super solid players at every position, as opposed to two constellations and a bunch of supporting characters. Brand's signing goes a ways in achieving Stefanski's vision; I just ultimately question the intelligence of aspiring towards the Pistons' model - it worked once in 2004, and every other championship team of the last 20 years has been led by a top 5 superstar.

The other issue with these Sixers is that they still will be not experienced enough to legitimately contend for a title in a few years. There's basically Andre Miller and Brand, with everybody else being a proverbial kid. A common thread of all championship teams is deep experience, and while I think Iguodala, Young and Louis Williams are excellent players, none of those guys have been through any real battles on the court. That matters come playoff time.

So all in all I am a little dejected by this free agent "coup" by the Sixers. Their weird, eccentric blend of athleticism will almost surely be tempered down by Brand's more traditional presence, and we will probably just be looking at a 48 win second round loser till 2011. Of course, Shavlik Randolph could finally reach his potential immaculateness as a 20-10 monster; then all bets would be off the table.

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