Paul George would have been phenomenal.
LeBron James would have been legendary.
And Kawhi Leonard is still out there, if the Sixers decide to package players and picks for the disgruntled San Antonio superstar. I don’t think it happens though, and a summer of star hunting instead shifts to Plan B: running it back.
That might be disappointing to most fans, and I can understand why you might be underwhelmed with yesterday’s reports that Amir Johnson will be re-signing with the team. The pro-Richaun Holmes crowd and the portion of folks who would really like to see what Jonah Bolden has to offer – myself included – saw the Amir thing as another lateral move at best. At least Amir will give you good defense, be a veteran leader, execute the game plan, and set solid screens, though you’d like to see some growth at the backup center position as the season progresses.
Still, lateral moves aren’t bad for a 52 win team that really only has to deal with the Celtics and the Raptors in the east. LeBron’s westward move removes the Cavaliers from the equation but brings Toronto back into the picture as a team that no longer has to run face-first into their playoff kryptonite next spring.
Among the Sixers other “lateral moves” is the re-signing of JJ Redick to a one-year deal reportedly in the $12 to $13 million range. That’s super value for your second leading scorer, a veteran shooter who was critical to this past season’s success. Getting a 34 year old on a single-year deal at that price range doesn’t junk up your future cap and confirms to me that JJ was being honest when he told us that he really did enjoy playing here.
On draft night, I was one of the people who thought they should stay put and take Mikal Bridges as a two-way wing who could play switchable and erudite defense while being able to shoot a bit. I think Mikal would have made the Sixers a better team THIS YEAR, but it’s hard to deny the athleticism and upside Zhaire Smith possesses, and from what little we’ve seen of him in minicamp, his shooting form looks better than I remember it being at Texas Tech. Plus, the future 1st round pick acquired in the draft-night trade provides a ton of value going forward and might be the asset that tips the scales if the Sixers do re-enter the Kawhi sweepstakes this summer or mid-season.
Beyond that, you’ve added Wilson Chandler in a Hinkie-esque move, absorbing the final year of his contract while getting Denver to send a 2021 second rounder and offer a 2022 second round pick swap as well. On the floor, he’s a 6’8″ veteran small forward who started 71 games for a good Denver team last season, a guy who can hopefully replace Marco Belinelli and/or Ersan Ilyasova’s bench scoring while giving you more than Marco as a defensive wing. That’s an upgrade, for sure, and I think this pretty much sums it up:
Plenty of Wilson Chandler hot takes from Sixers fans, so here is my lukewarm logical take:
1) They can trade him if they want.
2) If they keep him, he helps to make up for the losses of Ilyasova and Belinelli.
3) He’s also a better defender than both of them.
— Jonny Loquasto (@JQuasto) July 3, 2018
The Sixers also signed 26th overall draft pick Landry Shamet, who we’ll see alongside Smith and Bolden in summer league.
As of July 5th, 2018, here’s next season’s starting five:
- Ben Simmons (“point guard”)
- JJ Redick (shooting guard)
- Robert Covington (small forward/utility man)
- Dario Saric (stretch power forward)
- Joel Embiid (“center”)
It’s one of the NBA’s best, hands down, the core group of guys that earned a three-seed in their first season playing together. And the quotation marks are a way to say that we’re playing position-less basketball here, highlighted by a 6’10” point guard with limited shooting range and a 7’2″ center who likes to chuck threes. Both of those things probably need to skew in the opposite direction to move this group forward.
- T.J. McConnell (point guard)
- Markelle Fultz (shooting guard)
- Zhaire Smith (small forward)
- Wilson Chandler (power forward)
- Amir Johnson (center)
I know it looks like that second unit doesn’t have much three-point shooting or pure scoring, and I’m bumping Chandler down to the four, but I really think that middle trio has a lot of potential. I also think your best bet is to play Markelle as the off-ball guard coming off the bench.
Well, if you’re looking at having him play alongside Embiid and Simmons at some point as Redick’s future replacement, Markelle isn’t going to be playing the point, he’ll be the two-guard. I liked how Brett Brown made him the backup PG late last season to force the ball into his hands and put him right into the fire, but with McConnell on the roster and Shamet in the pipeline, it seems like off-ball shooting guard is the role they need him to fill the most. They desperately need a shot creator and someone who can score off the dribble.
Beyond those two units, you’re completing the roster with Justin Anderson, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Furkan Korkmaz, and Holmes. Jerryd Bayless is the 15th player under contract. You’ve also got second round pick Shake Milton dealing with a stress fracture in his back, plus the room mid-level exception to sign another free agent, if you wanted to take a shot at the ageless Jamal Crawford or somebody like Wayne Ellington.
(Edit: I wrote this just before the Bjelica news dropped)
There were rumors of a Bayless buyout agreement, which would be significant. Otherwise, you’re keeping him on the roster and trying to package him into a salary dump, allowing his contract to run its course, or using the stretch provision to waive him and streamline his ~$8 million salary over three seasons. That would free up something like $5.7m immediately, but you’re already up against it with roster spots (limit of 15, though they can operate with 20 spots during the offseason).
So if you take a step back and think about what the Sixers needed this offseason, you’d obviously say a superstar to get them over the hump was #1 on the list. They didn’t get that, but they did get a couple of athletic two-way wings in Chandler and Smith who should help combat the Celtics’ lopsided advantage in that department. Chandler is a huge bench wing upgrade over TLC and Justin Anderson, and while he won’t knock down off-balance three pointers like Belinelli did, you can work him into a ton of lineups that help you solve the back court trio of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Kyrie Irving. Amir is a steady, if unspectacular defensive presence, Smith has the athleticism to do mostly anything, and Fultz can’t be any worse than he was last year. This really is his season to shine.
Ultimately, yes, I think the Sixers got better this summer. They certainly didn’t get worse, and if you’re the pessimistic type, you could make an argument that this is the same damn team. But that same damn team features a starting unit with two superstars, a third-year underrated power forward and a veteran sharp shooter. That unit had one of the best defensive ratings in the NBA and is only going to be more deadly at full health with a year of experience playing together.
Looking ahead, you kick the can down the road, keep an eye on the Kawhi situation, and start to think about next summer’s free agent class, which could feature Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Kemba Walker. Or, maybe Markelle figures it out and you don’t need much of anything at all, and turn your attention to paying your stars and weaving everybody into the cap instead.
I think it’s fair to be disappointed about this offseason specifically, but I still see the outlook of this team as incredibly positive moving forward.