In the world of professional basketball, timing is everything.
Were it not for Michael Jordan, dominant Hall of Famers like Charles Barkley and Karl Malone may have championship rings. If Magic Johnson and Larry Bird didn’t rule the 1980’s, more people may remember just how talented and significant Isiah Thomas was. Even now, LeBron James’ unprecedented rule over the Eastern Conference is keeping stars like Paul George from achieving eternal glory.
Simply stated, teams need to calculate when their window for success is, then strike when the time is right.
The window for the Philadelphia 76ers is not right now, and it certainly wouldn’t be opened with the signing of Kyle Lowry. In fact, bringing Lowry back to his home of Philadelphia could cause ripple effects that would hurt the Sixers chance at becoming championship contenders when James’ reign is over and their window potentially opens.
Since the Toronto Raptors’ season ended in a 4-0 second round series defeat (by the hands of James and his Cavaliers, no less) speculation surrounds what the 31-year-old All-Star point guard will do with his impending free agency.
There are a few options for Lowry. First, he could choose to return to Toronto alongside star backcourt mate DeMar DeRozan for a max contract worth $205 million over five years. Or, Lowry could decide his time in Toronto is up and move on to another club for a max contract worth $149.9 million over four years. Either way, Lowry will become a very rich man.
A report by Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer suggests that not only do the Sixers have an interest in bringing Lowry to the team, but that feeling is reciprocated by the former Villanova star.
But here’s where the problem of signing with the Sixers comes in. Lowry made a definitive demand following the season about what he wants to accomplish with his next contract.
“A ring,” Lowry said. “Nothing else. I just want a ring.”
Still in the midst of “The Process,” the Sixers (most likely) won’t be contending for a ring over the next four seasons. So, bringing on an aging guard whose goals are very clear, and very clearly won’t be met in Philadelphia, has the makings of a tumultuous dynamic, especially as his contract fades out. Heading from a perennial contender in Toronto to a team that won just 28 games last season certainly isn’t in the right direction for winning a ring.
The Sixers have pieces in Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric and potentially two top five draft picks in the upcoming NBA draft — with which they’ll most surely target a guard. But championship teams with championship chemistry aren’t built overnight. Embiid has only played in 31 NBA games, Simmons hasn’t touched the floor yet, neither have the potential rookies and Saric’s definitive role is still in question.
The team is young, and growing pains for them are most definitely still in order. That’s normal. Throwing Lowry into the mix — and while he’s a fine player, he’s more than likely on the back end of his prime — doesn’t help define the roles of the Sixers’ young core players.
Along with pushing guys like Embiid, Simmons and Saric into a pressurized “win-now” mode that could compromise their natural development as players, Lowry’s ability doesn’t close the gap on winning a title any more than it did in Toronto. James rules the Eastern Conference until further notice. Lowry couldn’t beat him in Toronto with another superstar, and a roster crafted around his abilities. Assuming he would be able to achieve that feat with players still learning the ropes is misguided.
What the Sixers currently have that allows their rebuilding situation to be fluid is their cap flexibility. This summer, Philadelphia could potentially wield an excess of $50 million in cap space for free agency. However, just because you have it, doesn’t mean you have to spend it. Starting next summer with Embiid, the young Sixers will become eligible for contract extensions. Over the course of Lowry’s proposed 4-year deal, Simmons and Saric will follow as candidates for their next NBA contracts.
Sacrificing cap flexibility by moving forward for a 31-year-old point guard could put restrictions on which in-house players receive max deals, and how to construct the roster around that core.
When Philadelphia set out on their tear down of the team’s roster to embark on “The Process,” the goal was clear and simple; become a legitimate championship caliber team. At 31, Lowry doesn’t bring that anymore. Especially to a team whose two best players have played a combined 31 games.
The last time the Sixers made the playoffs was in 2011-12 when the team made a run in the Eastern Conference semifinals by pushing the Boston Celtics to a Game 7. But they were in no way a legitimate threat to win a title. Lou Williams was the team’s leading scorer, averaging 14.9 points per game. The Sixers were barely over .500 and were stuck in NBA purgatory, not winning titles and not getting draft picks high enough to bring in elite talent.
Lowry pushes them right back into the realm of NBA mediocrity. A middle to low-end seed with a sure-fire first or second round playoff exit. That wasn’t the goal of the rebuild.
Achieving true championship contention status will come when the time is right. But it won’t come by speeding up the process only be to road-blocked by James.
Lowry isn’t the future for Philadelphia, and the timing isn’t right for him to be the present, either.
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