It’s been a long time coming but the Sixers have finally reached the point of The Process where they are not only active players in free agency but an attractive destination for free agents looking to compete for a Championship. With most of the roster on team-friendly contracts (for one reason or another) and about $32 million in free cap space, the team is well positioned to spend.
If there’s one area where the team needs to improve it’s on the wing. The Sixers lack a true 3-and-D wing and in the modern NBA you need multiple of them to compete for a championship let alone win one. Covington doesn’t hit threes at a high enough rate and JJ Redick (while he’ll likely return) doesn’t defend well enough to properly complement our lineup. With Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid being the cornerstones of this franchise, the most obvious path to a dynasty would be to surround them with three knock-down shooters who can switch across the board on defense — much like Boston.
The idea is to play position-less basketball where the line between the 2 & 4-spots are essentially blurred. Brad Stevens and Steve Kerr treat their lineups as if there is only three positions: point guard, wing, and center. Take that for what it’s worth.
Here are four unrestricted free agents who the Sixers should (and will) take a serious look at over the summer.
Paul George – SG/SF
This is the marquee free agent who is without a doubt atop the Sixers free agent wish list. The only problem is PG13 is a Cali boy who has flirted with idea of returning home for a long time now. He owns homes in LA, and the Lakers are in the perfect position to take on a star whom they can build around. As it stands right now George looks like he’s finally going to be a Laker, but it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility for him to be wooed to Philly in a similar fashion to the way Golden State persuaded Kevin Durant to join them.
You could make the argument that a star with the tools of Paul George is the perfect complement to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. You don’t need to put the ball in his hands to unlock his full value, and he’s the perfect floor spacer at 40% from three. If he can find a way to average 22 points (52.1 eFG%) with Russell Westbrook dribbling the air out of the ball then he would have absolutely no problem producing those numbers here.
What’s probably even more valuable is his defense. He’s a lock down defender who actually provides more versatility on that end of the floor than Covington. His natural position—contrary to popular belief—is shooting guard. While he gives you equal, if not better defense than Cov at the thee-spot he is ten times more capable in defending guards. I’ve talked about this in the past, but because Ben Simmons struggles to stay in front of the league’s premier point guards (and Redick struggles to stay in front of anyone) the Sixers were forced to use Covington, their top perimeter defender, out of position quite often. The problem there is he isn’t nearly as effective on guards as he is on forwards. The antidote to this would be to add someone who can play the 3-spot offensively while defending the 1 or 2-guard on the opposing team; a description that fits Paul George to a tee. This allows Simmons to defend forwards, which is more natural for him. For as perfect as the fit is on offense, and that will undoubtedly get all the attention, the way he could change the Sixers on defense is equally as valuable.
Tyreke Evans – PG/ SG/ SF
Out of all the second tier options in this free agency pool this will be the name linked to the Sixers the most. The team was close to trading for him at the trade deadline and that interest should go both ways with Evans being a hometown kid from Chester.
After spending most of his career searching for a reliable jump shot (29% from three in his first eight seasons) Evans has become a serious threat from deep. He shot 40% from three last season with Memphis while averaging 19-5-5. He’s the type of player who will quietly fill up a stat sheet and that’s a testament to his versatility, as he’s a natural fit at point guard or on the wing. At 6’6’’ he provides similar defensive versatility to the way Paul George would, and he could replace Covington seamlessly. He’s not a high level individual defender, but he would immediately become the team’s best option for defending the Kyrie Irving and John Walls of the world. Beyond that, he’s an excellent fit for anyone who thinks Ben Simmons should be paired with an off-ball player who is capable of spelling Ben at point guard from possession to possession. He could start or come off the bench for the Sixers and he would be the most reliable two-way wing that the team has had in the Process era.
Trevor Ariza – SF
Ariza is another prototypical ‘3 and D’ wing who will hit the open market this summer. He shot 36.8% on 6.9 attempts per game from beyond the arc with Houston this season. On the other end of the floor he’s an excellent defender who spends his time disrupting the opposing teams’ star. He would immediately supplant Covington for the starting small forward spot, and would create much needed stability at the position. While he isn’t a huge upgrade on paper, he’s not nearly as streaky of a shooter as Covington, and is much more capable when forced to drive to the basket—an area where RoCo is wholly inept.
It’s unclear if Ariza would be willing to leave Houston at this point considering the team’s success and his rock solid relationship with his teammates (he played a huge role in persuading CP3 to join them over the summer). On the other hand, Houston seems to have found a slight upgrade over Ariza in the likes of PJ Tucker. With Tucker shooting 37.1% from deep (46% in the playoffs) while playing equal, if not better defense it’s fair to wonder if Daryl Morey would be willing to sign the 33-year old Ariza to the contract he wants. As it stands right now he only makes $8 million annually—which is a steal relative to his value.
He wouldn’t be a long term solution but as a 14-year veteran with NBA Finals experience he would be the perfect stop gap if the team wants to replace Covington but is unable to sign Paul George or trade for Kawhi Leonard.
Will Barton – SG
This likely won’t be a name you hear connected to the Sixers often but it’s worth exploring. Barton is relatively unknown to the common fan largely because he’s spent the past four years of his career in Denver, which has been marred by mediocrity for close to a decade now. But the truth is Barton has been a reliable scorer for a while; he has a deep arsenal of moves and can beat you from beyond the arc or at the rim (37% from three).
Barton wouldn’t start for the Sixers but he would be one of the first guys off the bench. He’s a natural two-guard who’s capable of sliding down to a forward spot if need be. The Celtic series exposed the Sixers for lacking individual players who can create off the bounce, which is really the only way to beat a switching defense like Boston’s. Obviously this is the role that Fultz is supposed to assume, but with just 14 professional games under his belt it would be foolish for BC and Brett Brown to go into next season without a contingency plan beyond TJ McConnell off the bench. What sweetens the pot is that Barton is versatile enough off the ball to coexist with Fultz or McConnell (or both). Not to mention he’s a much more athletic and capable wing defender than either of Redick or Belinelli (who were practically black holes all season).