With Free Agency set open up tomorrow night, here are my predictions for how the summer will play out for the Sixers.
1. Cut Richuan Holmes (Bring in Jonah Bolden)
This move saves $1.6 million
This one has been discussed a decent amount, but with Jonah Bolden set to join the team this season—he’s been developing in Israel—there won’t be room on the depth chart for Holmes.
Bolden should be able to fill the ‘tweener big’ role that Holmes did. At 6’10’’ 215 (7’3’’ wingspan) he has a similar combination of size and athleticism to Holmes, but with a more polished overall game. His jump shot seems to be developing well (32% on 2.5 attempts per game from three this season with Maccabi Tel Aviv) and he has decent handles for a big man.
Defensively, Bolden will have the versatility to switch onto smaller wings while being able to hold his own against the leagues bigger players. Despite playing just 21 minutes a night he ranked 5th in rebounding, 9th in steals, and 8th in blocks in the Euro League.
Ultimately, a lack of awareness on defense is what will cost Holmes his roster spot, and as long as that isn’t a concern for Bolden, he should be an upgrade on both sides of the ball.
I don’t anticipate Bolden playing every night, but I also don’t expect him to be stashed at the end of the bench. My guess is he appears in roughly 50 games at 15 minutes a night—similar to Homes.
2. Cut/Trade Justin Anderson (Zhaire Smith fills his role)
This move saves $2.5 million
The reality is, Justin Anderson never fit into the Sixers long term plans. His decent athletic profile and high energy defense gave him some value on a Sixer team that severely lacked defense on the wing, but the addition of Zhaire Smith all but eliminates that value.
Smith should be able to fill that role, and better, too. While I’m personally not too high on Smith on the offensive end, there’s no denying that his tenacity on defense is his calling card. He’s only 6’4’’ (if that) but his long wingspan and freakish athleticism allows him to hold his own up and down the lineup.
He played a lot of small-ball big at Texas Tech, which speaks to his ability to hold his own in the post if need be. On the wing, Smith is expected to provide better on-ball defense than Anderson, and his 4.8% block percentage (good for 9th in Big 12) speaks to him being a threat as a help defender. (For reference, every player in the Big 12 that had a block percentage over 4% was at least 6’9’’).
I don’t expect Smith to fill a major role in the rotation immediately, but by season’s end I think he’ll be playing 15 minutes off the bench every night.
3. Stretch-provision Jerryd Bayless
This move saves $5.7 million
Like Holmes being cut, this has been widely reported, and is expected to happen. Bayless simply has no value to a Sixer team loaded with depth and youth at the guard spot.
Bayless has one-year remaining at $8.5 million, and if the Sixers need to clear that space then this is their best option. The idea of trading him away in a contract dump has been widely discussed but seems unlikely considering there aren’t many teams with cap space to spend.
Waiving him and stretching his last season over three years cuts his number from $8.5 million down to $2.8 million—saving the team roughly $5.7 million this season.
In summation, all three of these moves will save the team about $9.8 million, raising their available cap space to roughly $36 million.
In turn, the team will use that space to execute the following moves:
1. Re-sign JJ Redick at the MLE (approx. 3-year $27 million)
Redick has been open about his desire to commit to somewhere long-term, and the Sixers have been open about their desire to maintain cap flexibility beyond this offseason. That makes a mid-level exception (non-taxpayer) the most likely path. His salary won’t count against the cap, and he can lock-in on a solid pay day for the foreseeable future.
I’m pretty sure the mutual interest is there, it’s just about getting the money right. Redick was vastly overpaid last offseason ($23 million), which has led some pundits to speculate that he’ll be willing to take a deal less than market value. Others have discussed the possibility of adding him via a mid-level exception (non-taxpayer), which would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $8.5 million, escalating 500K each subsequent season.
I don’t see any reason why Redick would decline such an offer. If you include last season, a MLE-contract would net him $50-million over 4 years—that’s a deal he gladly would have taken a year ago.
The question is if the Sixers value Redick enough moving forward to spend their exception on him. In my opinion, his shooting will always have added value around guys like Simmons and Embiid, similar to the way a guy like Kyle Korver thrives around LeBron and Kevin Love. For that reason, I think the front office finds a way to bring JJ back.
I don’t think his workload will be as heavy moving forward. Depending on the development of Fultz and who they add in free agency, he may find himself coming off the bench. Which in my opinion is the ideal role for him long term—you’re not winning any championships with Redick logging 36 minutes a night, sorry.
2. “Over-pay” to sign Wayne Ellington to a 1-year deal worth $15 million
Ellington is a Philly-native (Episcopal Academy) who would be a clear upgrade either at shooting guard or off the bench for the Sixers.
Offensively, he’s similar to Redick and Belinelli, as he’s best served running off screens and floating around the arc looking for catch-and-shoot situations. He shot a career-high 7.5 three-point attempts per game last season, and connected at a rate of 39.2%. Outside of that, he has a more potential on offense as a ball-handler or slasher than either of Redick or Belinelli.
On defense, Ellington isn’t anything to write home about, but none of Redick, Belinelli, Bayless, TLC, or Anderson set the bar high when it came to defending two-guards. It’s fair to say that Ellington would actually be an upgrade defensively.
As far as the contract goes, if the Sixers are concerned about maintaining cap flexibility for next offseason, then it’s likely that they’ll overpay on a one-year rental or two just like they did with Redick last year.
Considering Miami would need to go into the luxury tax just to re-sign Ellington near market-value, this is a viable option. Who wouldn’t want to make more money while playing for a contender? And in their hometown no less?
As far as the number goes, $15 million seems about right, as his value won’t be any higher than $10 million annually in such a bad market for free agents. If the Sixers need to go a little higher, say $20 million, the only thing that would keep them from doing so is the chance to sign or trade for one of the three superstars—James, George, and Leonard.
If it’s a 1-year deal, the number isn’t really a concern.
For a player his age (30) it would be wise to take a fat check this offseason and roll the dice on a bigger contract in 2019’s more promising free agent market. Again, that strategy seemed to pay dividends for Redick.
3. Let Amir Johnson walk, then, sign Ed Davis on a 1-year deal worth $10-12 million (above market value)
Sign him to a 3-year deal with a front loaded contract ($10.5, $7.5, $5 — 3 years $23 million)
I like Amir Johnson, and you can count me in the group of fans who acknowledges the value he brings that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet. But the truth is, he’s played 13-years in the league at 31 years old and it’s beginning to show. He battled injuries for much of last season and had the occasional string of poor outings to show for it.
Disclaimer: if the team re-signs Johnson, I’m in support of it. I just think Davis is a slightly better, younger option.
He brings everything to the table that Johnson does: decent rim-protection, solid post defense, good screens, capable finishing around the rim, etc… but where Davis separates is on the glass. He’s one of the best offensive rebounders in the game and that can be attributed to his plus-athleticism and high energy—two areas where Davis clearly has an edge on Johnson.
On top of that, Davis has way less mileage—just 8 years in the league—and is only 28 years old, meaning he could be a long-term stabilizer as a backup center for years to come; something that we can’t say for sure with Amir.
Davis brings just as little to the table on offense as Amir. He butters his bread cleaning up offensive put backs, and as a rim-runner rolling off screens. Again, his athleticism allows him to be slightly more dangerous above the rim than Johnson, giving Simmons, Fultz, Saric, or whoever a solid lob option when Embiid is off the floor.
Similar to Ellington, Davis is susceptible to a deal like this because of Portland’s poor cap situation and the relatively bad free agent market. It’s hard to imagine him getting any more than 3 years $23 million or $12 million for 1-year on the open market. I reiterate: who wouldn’t want to make more money while playing on a contender?
If the front office made this move, I would anticipate Davis would backup Embiid at center and be a mainstay in the rotation at roughly 16-20 minutes a night with similar ‘low key’ production to Johnson. My guess is he would also become a fan favorite in Philly.
** I also like the idea of signing Tyreke Evans, but I think he’ll draw considerable interest from other teams, and I’m also confident in Fultz ability to fill a similar role. For that reason, I think our money is better spent elsewhere.
I could see another team offering him a 4-year deal around $50 million depending on how much his suitors value him. In other words, I don’t think a 1-year deal worth $20 million would necessarily be his best offer.
Here’s our new rotation:
- Ben Simmons
- JJ Redick
- Robert Covington
- Dario Saric
- Joel Embiid
Backup PG 1 — TJ McConnell
2 — Shake Milton
I know some people are tempted to give Fultz the backup point guard minutes, but I think in the short term McConnell provides a steadier, more-proven hand than Fultz will. While Fultz’s top end potential obviously outmatches McConnell’s, the role of “floor general” when Simmons is off the court is no place for Fultz to work out the kinks in his game. McConnell is a proven entity at the position—and despite the negative bias he receives for being a small white dude, his Per36 numbers rank among the league’s top back up point guards. In the same way that Ellington and Davis provide steadier alternatives to Belinelli and Johnson/Holmes, McConnell is already that steady option at backup point guard.
I’m not sure what the popular opinion is on Milton yet, but despite him being a second round pick—usually long-shots to make the roster—I think he’ll find a way on the team. He’s long, versatile, and has a nice shooting stroke.
Wing-depth 1 — Markelle Fultz
2 — Wayne Ellington
3 — Zhaire Smith
** — Jonah Bolden
5 — Landry Shamet
6 — TLC
**Bolden is athletic & versatile enough that he’s a reliable jump shot away from being a threat on the wing. He’ll probably see some time at the 4-spot.
Fultz and Ellington (in no particular order) would be the first players off the bench in all likelihood. Ellington is a clear upgrade over Belinelli on both ends of the court, and will likely be better than Redick defensively while posting similar production on offense.
As far as Markelle goes, count me in what increasingly seems to be the minority of people who are optimistic about his return and ability to live up to his potential. If he can stay healthy and continue developing a modest jump shot to pair with his ability to get to the rim, then he’ll be of huge value to a second unit that sorely lacked players who could create off the dribble outside of McConnell.
Defensively, we know Fultz has good size and length (7’ wingspan) to pair with good instincts. While it was a limited sample size, he posted decent numbers on defense last year. His potential to contribute on the wing on that side of the ball could low-key be his most valuable impact.
After that, I expect Zhaire Smith to soak up any remaining minutes. I don’t expect him to contribute much on offense but he should immediately be a stopper on the defensive end while using his athleticism to wreak havoc in transition. He should be a slight upgrade over Anderson in this role.
Beyond those three, McConnell, and Ed Davis, it’ll be a grab bag for minutes between Korkmaz—who I like—Luwawu-Cabarrot—who nobody likes—and newcomers Landry Shamet, Shake Milton, and Jonah Bolden—who have a chance to contribute early if they hit shots and buy in on defense.
Backup Center 1 — Ed Davis
2 — Jonah Bolden
While Amir and Ilyasova filled those roles well last season, there is clear room for improvement. Amir was virtually unplayable in the Boston series because of his inability to defend on the perimeter (3 minutes in the final three games of the series), and Ilyasova often seemed outmatched in the 10-15 minutes he spent per night as a small-ball center, shooting just 29% from three in the playoffs despite over half his attempts coming from beyond the arc. And neither player did much of anything to deter the Celtic lay-up lines at the rim.
Suffice to say, the team shouldn’t settle for that production from their backup center, and Ed Davis is as solid of an option as anybody. I’ll refer to what I said earlier, Davis is a more natural center than either of Ilyasova and Johnson, and he’ll rarely lose the rebounding battle. And while he isn’t the ideal guy to have out on the perimeter, his athleticism allows him to defend in space more effectively than Johnson. His offensive game is practically non-existent, but the one trait he has—rim-running athleticism—is a perfect complement to a Ben Simmons lob.
Compare this rotation to the one we opened 2017 with:
- Simmons – 34 minutes
- Bayless – 27 min.
- Redick – 32 min.
- Covington – 29 min.
- Embiid – 26 min.
b) Saric – 22 min.
b) TLC – 18 min.
b) Fultz – 17 min.
b) Amir – 15 min.
b) McConnell – 14 min.
Or compared to our rotation against Boston:
- Simmons — 37
- Redick — 38
- Covington — 20
- Saric — 39
- Embiid — 38
b) McConnell — 37
b) Ilyasova — 17
b) Belinelli — 12
That seems to be a clear upgrade across the board.
- Ellington provides more reliable shooting and defense off the bench compared to Belinelli.
- Fultz should provide both an ability to create off the bounce, and an upgrade to our perimeter defense.
- Ed Davis is a true-backup center compared to Holmes, Amir, and Ilyasova. And will be a “blue collar” type presence in the paint that the second unit desperately needs.
- TJ McConnell is still that dude.
- And development permitting, Zhaire Smith will be the high energy two-way wing that Justin Anderson and TLC desperately wanted to be.
And let’s not discount the step forward the team is capable of making off development alone. Don’t forget that this was the first season that any of these guys have played together outside of the limited time Saric and Embiid were paired in 2016-17.
The fact that the team was able to gel the way they did after a rocky start to the season should speak to their potential to take a significant step forward without making a major roster change. After a full offseason to build off of their first season as a team, it’s not unrealistic to expect the Sixers to make a run at 60 wins, “superstar” or not.
Does that mean they can compete for the Finals with this roster?
Probably not… but outside of adding one of the three “superstars,” there isn’t a move that the team can make that would allow them to make that much of a leap. (No, Tyreke Evans isn’t enough to compete with the Warriors, let alone Boston).
But failing to land a “superstar” doesn’t make this offseason a failure.
As long as the front office can preserve cap flexibility while making marginal improvements on top of the step-forward the team is already bound to take, then you can consider this offseason a success.