That’s essentially the role of the Sixers these days, while the rest of the world awaits tomorrow night’s decision to come down from on high from LeBron James, cream of a bumper free agent crop.
All they can do is observe the scene, just as people do when a car wreck occurs on the other side of the road. They slow down, turn their heads to see the extent of the damage, then cautiously proceed. But they’re powerless to do anything more than that.
That’s the plight of those teams who aren’t playing this high stakes game of poker, where whoever wins the big pot could be set for life.
Since the Sixers are well over the salary cap—largely due to max deals to Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala—they’re relegated to being sideline observers, while the Bulls, Heat, Nets, Knicks, Clippers and of course hometown Cavs woo LeBron.
Now that the dominoes are starting to fall, with ESPN reporting that Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are set to call South Beach home, while Amar’e Stoudemire has decided to set up shop on Broadway, the shape of the League is beginning to fall into clearer focus. That’s got to be a helpless feeling for the vast majority of teams, who must wait—like the rest of us–for King James to decree his intentions at 9:00 tomorrow night on the so-called “Sports Leader.’’
Whether LeBron announces then he’ll play the ultimate loyalty card and remain in his home town…that he’ll join Wade and Bosh in Miami… that he’ll become a international icon and a very rich man to boot by following Stoudemire to the Knicks or Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov and good friend Jay Z to the Nets… or that his new address will be Michael Jordan’s old stomping grounds in Chicago, clearly someone will be devastated.
After all, they’ve known this day has been coming for three years, ever since LeBron, Wade and Bosh signed short term contracts with opt-out clauses with their respective teams to make them free agents in 2010. Now that it’s here only one team can be the ultimate winner, although it’s hard to feel sorry for the Heat if they don’t get the big prize.
But for teams like the Sixers, vastly improved Thunder, Bucks, Timberwolves and many more, they’re simply innocent bystanders on the other side of the road. Of course they can’t help but stare across with curiosity. But after that they’ll try to plot their own course and steer clear of any debris that crosses over to their side.
Most likely, though, they’d all prefer the status quo. The idea of LeBron joining Wade and Bosh—and who knows who else once other prospective free agents see what kind of team they’d be playing for—has to be frightening. While the Sixers definitely seem to be on the road back to respectability, with top draft pick Evan Turner flashing his potential at the Orlando Summer League and new coach Doug Collins confident he can eventually produce a winner, there’s no telling how formidable that challenge would be if Miami really stacks the deck.
Better for LeBron to stay in Cleveland, where at least the balance of power will remain somewhat the same. Then, at least they’d know what they’re up against.
Speaking of Turner and Draft Night, Collins was asked then if the Sixers were essentially done putting their team together. He made it clear that was not the case, implying that when the free agent frenzy was over the Sixers might swing into action.
Collins reasoning was that somebody would lose out the LeBron, Wade, Bosh sweepstakes and then need to make moves to assemble a club for the coming season. Presumably, they might want to unload a hefty contract or even take on some salary to remain respectable. That’s where the Sixers could come riding to their rescue, offering either short term cap relief with Willie Green or Jason Kapono or a long term fix.
It’s hard to believe any team would take on Elton Brand’s albatross of a contract, which still has three years and $51-plus million remaining. But they might be tempting to take a shot on Andre Iguodala (four and nearly $56 million including a 2014 player option) or offensive-minded guard Lou Williams (three and $17) who might be expendable now that Turner and Holiday seem set as the Sixers’ backcourt for the foreseeable future.
Packaging one of them with a Jason Smith, Marreese Speights or especially Thaddeus Young might bring back more than you’d think.
Whether or not Collins and team President/General Manager Ed Stefanski have someone specifically in mind should come into focus shortly. For now, though, they’re content to be gapers to the LeBron spectacle, confident when the wreckage of some of those other teams is cleared away and the damage is calculated, they’ll be able to use it to their advantage.
Until then we’ll all be held hostage until tomorrow night when LeBron James—in the height of arrogance—will finally set us free. Something tells me by the time traffic finally clears that it will be the “gapers’’ like the Sixers and other teams looking on from a distance who might turn out to be the winners.
Because at least no matter where they’re headed, they’re setting their own course