This was not an easy week to be a Sixers fan. Trade rumors, sale rumors, more trade rumors and a media feeding frenzy swirling around the future of the team, on and off the court. The dust is far from settled, but now is a good time to take a step back and try to view all the news as one big picture, because on some level, it's all related.
The sale is the big thing here. Henry Abbott broke the story for ESPN. An investor group led by Joshua Harris was closing in on a deal to purchase the Sixers from Comcast-Spectator. Details trickled in from there and a clear picture emerged. It looks like this is going to happen, and it's going to happen sooner rather than later. Our days of seeing Ed Snider in Sixers warmups may be numbered.
Only three names have been attached to the investor group. Two financial guys Harris (from Apollo Global Management) and David Blitzer (from Blackstone Group), and a basketball guy, Jason Levien. Before we can figure out what type of owners they're going to be, we first need to look at why they're buying. Harris and Blizer both attended Wharton, so they have Philly ties, but those ties only go so far. Each has made his fortune in the private equity game. Their companies specialize in finding undervalued or mismanaged companies, buying them, turning them around and selling them. In its simplest form, they buy low and sell high. The Sixers, for a number of reasons, are a classic "buy low" opportunity right now. There are several reasons why they might be undervalued, but one stands out among them: The expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement.
If you've been paying attention to the details of the negotiations going on between the owners and the players union, it's abundantly clear the NBA is heading in a direction much more friendly to the owners under the new CBA. It'll be easier for teams to turn a profit which will make franchises more valuable. Harris and Blitzer won't have to do a thing to see a return on their investment, and there are other areas where they can easily increase their gains as well. The motivation for the financial guys is clear, but things get interesting when we look at the third man, Jason Levian.
Levien was a player agent who gave up that racket to go to work in the Sacramento Kings' front office. He was being groomed to eventually replace general manager Geoff Petrie, but was forced out after a disagreement over Ricky Rubio. Levien had aspirations when he joined the Sacramento Kings and it's not a giant leap to believe he still does. This is a guy who wants to run a basketball team, attached to a group that's about to pull the trigger on buying the Sixers. If you put two and two together, things look bleak for Rod Thorn and Ed Stefanski. This investor group is putting together the financing to buy the team and their own management team to take it over once they do. Keep that in mind.
Now, the trade rumors. Everything is revolving around Andre Iguodala, obviously. First, Ric Bucher resurrected the Iguodala for Monta Ellis rumor. Then we heard about discussions with the Clippers centering around an Iguodala/Chris Kaman swap. Orlando was even tossed into the conversation yesterday, though that seems more like old news. It all seemed like baseless supposition, and it might be, but Ken Berger added more fuel to the fire late Thursday afternoon by putting the odds of an Iguodala/Ellis swap at "50/50."
From an on-the-court, basketball perspective, each one of these trades would be an abject disaster. Ellis has the sexy points-per-game numbers the mainstream media goes gaga over, but his overall game is lacking. From a financial standpoint, Ellis doesn't save enough money to allow the Sixers to add a significant piece, and he's under contract for the same amount of time as Iguodala. Chris Kaman would be a moderate upgrade over Spencer Hawes, but overall the team would suffer in that deal as well. It's more of a financial move. Kaman's contract expires after next season. We don't even need to talk about the Hedo Turkoglu rumor. Hedo is a far inferior player signed for an extra season. That deal was absurd from every point of view.
Here's the thing, though. Comcast seems motivated to sell this team. The buyers seem to have their own management team ready to take over when the deal goes through. Does it really make sense for Rod Thorn to be making a major move that may define this franchise for the next several years as a lame duck general manager? Would Thorn even have the power to make such a move with a deal this close to completion? You'd think the last thing in the world Comcast would want to do at this point would be to devalue the team in any way. That's just bad business.
It seems unlikely that the Sixers would make any of these rumored trades before the sale is completed. If you're of the opinion that all the rumored trades would hurt the team, then you'll spend the coming days and weeks hoping the other shoe doesn't drop before the team can get some fresh blood in the owner's luxury box. If you aren't, and Kate Fagan, the Inquirer's beat writer, is leading the pro-Monta Ellis charge (or is it the anti-Andre Iguodala charge?), then you should probably hope Snider and Thorn throw caution to the wind, because I don't think the first move new ownership will make would be to downgrade their product. Then again, you never know.