The Philadelphia 76ers, like many NBA franchises, face great uncertainty this offseason. Jimmy Butler, JJ Redick and Tobias Harris are free agents, while Adrian Wojnarowski recently reported that the Sixers could get a free agent meeting with Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.
Sixers general manager Elton Brand was proactive last season, trading for Butler and Harris while sending picks, Landry Shamet, Dario Saric and Robert Covington to the Clippers and Timberwolves. Brand was busy again on Thursday’s draft night, moving picks around, including moving up in a trade with Boston to acquire Matisse Thybulle.
Max out Butler, Harris
The ‘run it back’ option sees the Sixers hand Butler and Harris contracts – almost certainly max deals – and fill out the rest of the roster from there.
With hefty luxury tax payments inevitable for several years to come, and with very little flexibility, this is a big a gamble as the status quo can ever be. Keeping Redick would be tricky if they retain Harris and Butler, particularly with teams like the Lakers in such dire need of veteran three-point shooting.
Of course, it would still be possible that Butler and Harris opt to go elsewhere. Butler has been linked with several teams, and the Brooklyn Nets and Harris reportedly have ‘mutual interest’.
The fit with Butler, Harris, Simmons and Embiid was okay. Harris didn’t have his best time in the playoffs, but as a stretch four he should slot in nicely if given more time. Butler took over in the postseason, getting buckets when the rest of the offence floundered.
The Warriors’ injuries could play a part in Brand’s decision-making here. The Sixers were a bounce of the ball from beating the eventual champion Raptors, and ‘running it back’ would make them genuine contenders in 2019/20.
Look elsewhere, maybe Kawhi
Wojnarowski’s report on Thursday changed the conversation. The prospect of even getting a meeting with Leonard makes it harder to just max out Butler and Harris, but it also presents a risk.
Say the Sixers go all in on Leonard: Do they leave Harris and Butler waiting, knowing there’s a good chance they sign elsewhere?
The timing of Simmons’ inevitable extension means this is the big offseason for Philadelphia. Assuming they are locked into the star-chasing path, missing out on Leonard, while seeing Butler and Harris leave, would be a major disappointment.
Perhaps Butler and/or Harris get lured elsewhere. Maybe Philadelphia don’t fancy giving Butler – with his injury history – the full five years.
Bird rights – giving Philadelphia an advantage with Butler and Harris – make it unlikely this is the route they’d choose to take, but they could yet be forced into it.
Focus on role players
Philadelphia’s postseason demise was as much about a lack of depth as it was Leonard’s brilliance.
With just four guaranteed contracts for next season – Embiid, Simmons, Zhaire Smith and Jonah Bolden – the Sixers have flexibility to do whatever they like. They could go the depth route, bank on Simmons taking the next step, and fill out the roster with well-suited veterans like Terrence Ross and Nikola Mirotic.
The trades last season (and Brand’s moves on Thursday) make this improbable. With Golden State depleted and the balance of the league changing, the Sixers will see this as their time to push for a title – a third star with Embiid and Simmons is probably the best way to do that.
Whatever the top of the roster looks like, though, Brand and Brett Brown must give Embiid and Simmons a competent supporting cast and a bench that can be competitive in the playoffs.