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John Smallwood: McGrady could help Sixers

DESPERATE TIMES call for desperate measures. And let's face it, few professional sports franchises are as desperate as your Philadelphia 76ers.

Houston Rockets guard Tracy McGrady (3) drives around Orlando's Vince Carter. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Houston Rockets guard Tracy McGrady (3) drives around Orlando's Vince Carter. (AP Photo/John Raoux)Read more

DESPERATE TIMES call for desperate measures.

And let's face it, few professional sports franchises are as desperate as your Philadelphia 76ers.

Whatever the Sixers are selling these days, only a scant few are buying.

The Sixers rank 27th in the NBA, with an average attendance of 13,469. They are last in attendance capacity, filling only 66.3 percent of the Wachovia Center.

But that's what happens when your fan base has little faith that things will turn around in the near future.

So for the umpteenth time since they lost in the 2001 NBA Finals, the Sixers need a change in direction.

Bad decisions, failed gambles, missed hunches have left the Sixers with a mishmash roster of fading veterans, disappointing underachievers and uncertain young talent.

The problem is that even though the Sixers are 22nd in the league in team salary, their bloated payroll of $62.9 million is still well over the NBA cap of $57.7 million.

And for the 2010-11 season, when the cap is expected to drop, the Sixers' payroll is expected to rise to $65 million.

That's why the Sixers should do whatever it takes to win the Tracy McGrady sweepstakes. The Houston Rockets are ready to part ways with McGrady and his league-high $23.2 million salary.

The Sixers should make the winning offer - not because the oft-injured McGrady suddenly will regain his All-Star form, but because his contract expires at the end of the season.

The only way to dramatically change your fortunes in the NBA is either to get lucky with a once-in-a-generation draft pick or create flexibility in your payroll.

Sixers fans aren't stupid.

This isn't like in 1996, when the Sixers struggled with Iverson, but were OK because fans knew the rookie sensation had the abilities to lead them to something greater.

They look at the current roster and question whether the young players such as Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, Jrue Holiday and Marreese Speights will ever become true franchise players.

They see Elton Brand, with a $14.8 million salary that will rise to $18.1 million over the next three seasons, and understand that's too much invested in a guy who not only failed to be a franchise changer, but can't even stay in the starting lineup.

They watch Samuel Dalembert, who still has another year on his contract worth $12 million, and again curse former president and general manager Billy King.

I admit, I was on board with some of the moves that have put the Sixers in their current state of limbo, particularly the signings of Iguodala and Brand to long-term deals.

For whatever reason, Brand has not been a good fit, and while I believe Iguodala, who will turn 26 next month, still could make an All-Star team, he is a nice part of a machine, not the engine.

So you reassess. You look at how far you are from what you thought you'd be and determine it's time to change.

This is the opportunity for Sixers president and general manager Ed Stefanski, if he has the boldness to change his vision of the core of his team.

The Rockets will not make a bonehead deal for McGrady, so you can forget about unloading Brand. Houston knows the value of a $23 million expiring contract.

Iguodala, however, could be a different story.

A lot of Sixers fans might not have faith in Iguodala, but he has the right abilities and is the right age for this deal.

Houston wants a young, All-Star-caliber player to go with franchise center Yao Ming, who is scheduled to return from foot surgery next season.

Iguodala, who averages 19 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.6 assists, would be a valuable addition to a team already with an established big man that could use an all-around player to complement.

The fact that Iguodala has 3 years left on his contract that rises to $14.7 million in 2012, with a $15.9 million player option for 2013-14, might make the Rockets pause.

But Yao can opt out of his contract for 2010-11, and Houston might need to show it is committed to keeping talent around him.

The Rockets might even be persuaded to take Dalembert, and his $11.1 million contract, to make this deal work within NBA salary guidelines.

Dalembert maybe overpaid for what he contributes, but he is a 7-footer who can play defense and rebound. Besides, his contract expires after next season.

If the Rockets won't take Dalembert, the Sixers could offer a package of Iguodala and other young players.

The only Sixer who should be marked as untouchable in this deal is 21-year-old Young.

A lot of teams reportedly are interested in acquiring McGrady's contract, but few are willing to give up a young core player to get it.

The Sixers could jump to the front of the line by offering Iguodala.

A trade for McGrady's contract wouldn't guarantee the Sixers are in for better fortunes.

Still, the way things are, few people believe this team is going anywhere good, now or in the near future.

Change for change's sake is rarely good.

This could be an exception. *

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