Sixers: “Run It Back” or Switch It Up?

Josh Harris and the Sixers have committed to another year of Brett Brown, that much we know. As far as the rest of the offseason, there’s still a lot up in the air.

Should the team re-sign their core and “run it back” as everyone seems to be suggesting? Or should they get more creative with their $67 million (potentially) in cap space?

I think there’s a variety of arguments to be made for how the Sixers and Elton Brand should approach the offseason, and I’ll run through the two scenarios that the front office should explore.

I think if there’s one thing nearly everybody is in agreement on it’s that Jimmy Butler has earned (and is worth) a max contract, and it’s hard to imagine a scenario where he would deny a 5-year max offer sheet from the Sixers. For that reason, each of my scenarios includes a Butler max deal — $32.7 million in year one.

As alluded to earlier, Philly has just four players with guaranteed contracts heading into next season: Embiid, Simmons, Bolden, & Zhaire. Factor in Butler’s cap hold, the $1 million that Jonathon Simmons is still owed, and the cap hold for their first round draft pick, and this is what the team’s cap situation will look like going into each scenario (roughly).

Joel Embiid — $27,504,630
Ben Simmons — $8,113,930
Zhaire Smith — 3,058,800
Jonah Bolden — $1,698,450
24th draft pick — $2,190,720
Jonathon Simmons (waived) — $1,000,000
Butler Cap Hold — $30,668,669
TOTAL — $74,235,199
Cap Space Available (roughly) — $35 million

Scenario #1: “Run it back”

This is pretty self-explanatory, it would include re-signing Tobias Harris, JJ Redick, and  the gang off the bench. This starting five was historically productive in their short time together, so the idea of them having a full offseason and then 82-game season to mesh is a pretty scary thought.

However, to re-sign Butler and Harris to max deals (starting at $32.7 million) and Redick to what figures to be somewhere between $10-20 million, the starting five alone would be in the luxury tax when you include the impending Ben Simmons’ max (rookie-scale) contract that will kick in at $27 million prior to the 2020-21 season.

I realize this is the strategy that most fans appear to favor, but if the Sixers are going to go this route then they better be damn sure that this is the core group that can win multiple championships, because once the ink dries on these deals there won’t be anywhere to go for improvement outside of minimum contracts, cap exceptions, and draft picks.

The cap holds for Butler, Redick, & Harris will carry the team over the $109 million salary cap. Even if we’re more sensible and give Harris slightly below the max ($27 million?) and Redick around $10 mil (a $2.5 mil. decrease from ’18-19) that would leave the team’s bill at roughly $115 million before bringing back their bench.

Mike Scott made an impression in his short time here despite being a virtual throw-in in the Tobias Harris trade. He’s also made his desire to remain in Philly clear, but his ability to stretch the floor and switch on the perimeter for a ‘big’ will be sought after on the open market, and the team would likely need to give him more than the $5.1 million Non-Bird Exception to retain him. Maybe $7-8 million? We don’t own his bird rights, but we could use part of our Mid-level Exception ($9.2 million) here.

James Ennis also emerged as the most trusted wing on BB’s bench throughout the playoffs, and he’s (apparently) due for a raise from his league minimum salary — the team could use some of their exceptions to bring him back — maybe the bi-annual exception ($3.6 million) or the traded-player exceptions ($2.4 million) from the Fultz trade. Anything more would simply be overpaying for a guy who shoots 30% from three and is average defensively.

That gives the Sixers the same seven-man rotation they used in the playoffs, including Zhaire Smith, the 24th overall draft pick, Jonah Bolden, and a minimum-contract backup center to round out the top 11 on the roster, leaving them with salaries totaling between $126-132 million depending on the type of discounts you think Tobias and JJ would take, and how much the league will value Scott.

That’s a lot of money to bring back a team that just underachieved on their way to another second-round exit. And again, that number will jump to $146-152 million with Simmons extension in 2020, leaving Josh Harris with a tax bill somewhere between $40-50 million.

Personally, I would hate to see the team hit a ceiling with this roster and be handcuffed moving forward all because we felt an emotional pull to keep this team together. We owe it to ourselves and to The Process to exhaust all available avenues this offseason — the idea that there isn’t a scenario out there that will put us closer to a championship than “running it back” is actually pretty silly.

Scenario #2: “Shooters on deck”

The NBA is currently defined by three-point shooting. So much so that Greg Popovich has essentially reduced the game of basketball into one simple axiom: the team who makes more three-point shots will win the game. He’s made a habit of referring the “three-pointers made” column in post-game press conferences because, more often than not, that stat in the box score will correlate with the final score. (Note: the top three teams in the NBA in three pointers made per game? Houston, Milwaukee, & Golden State. Top two in three-point attempts per game? Houston, and Milwaukee)

The Sixers ranked 10th in the league in three-point shooting percentage (35.6%), but just 19th in attempts per game (29.9) and 19th in threes made per game (10.7). It’s no secret that the team can best unlock the potential of Simmons and Embiid by surrounding them with dead-eye shooters who can space the floor, yet, for whatever reason, the front office has willfully failed to do that.



Well put.

The Sixers front office should strive to build the type of offense around Ben and Embiid that the Bucks have been able to place around Giannis. Look at the comparison of each team’s ‘supporting cast’ in terms of three-point shooting:

  • Middleton shoots 37.8% on 6.2 attempts per game
  • Mirotic – 35.6% on 6.2 attempts
  • Lopez – 36.5% on 6.3 attempts
  • Bledsoe – 33% on 4.8 attempts
  • Brogdon – 42.6% on 3.8 attempts
  • Connaughton – 33% on 3.3 attempts
  • *Hill – 39.4% on 3 attempts in the playoffs

Vs. what the Sixers were working with around Ben & Embiid in the Playoffs:

  • Redick – 41.4% on 7.3 attempts
  • Harris – 34.9% on 5.3 attempts
  • Butler – 26.7% on 3.8 (shot 33% in reg. season)
  • Scott – 35.3% on 3.4 (41.2% in reg. season)
  • Ennis – 28% on 2.9 attempts
  • Bolden – 25% on 1.6 attempts

The Bucks’ group blows the Sixers’ away in both volume and efficiency, and when you watch them against Toronto in the Conference Finals it’s clear that Milwaukee’s shooters have the gravity that nobody for the Sixers has outside of JJ, and it’s obvious how that spacing stresses the Raptors defense in ways that Philly couldn’t.

I reiterate: this is what we need to emulate around Embiid and Simmons. The roster as constructed in the ‘run it back’ scenario is light on spacing, and until they’re able to surround their two stars with a cache of sharpshooters then we haven’t seen this offense anywhere near it’s full potential.

In this scenario, instead of paying Harris the max contract (or something close to it) the team would parcel that money up to add shooting at a few different positions. Here’s what the team’s cap situation would look like, including cap holds for Butler & Redick:

Joel Embiid — $27,504,630
Ben Simmons — $8,113,930
Zhaire Smith — 3,058,800
Jonah Bolden — $1,698,450
24th draft pick — $2,190,720
Jonathon Simmons (waived) — $1,000,000
*Butler Cap Hold — $30,668,669
*Redick Cap Hold — $15,925,000
TOTAL — $90,160,199
Cap Space Available (Roughly) — $18.8 million

  • Exceptions Available
    • Mid-level (Non-taxpayer) — $9.2 million
    • Bi-Annual — $3.6 million
    • Traded Players — $3.2 million


  1. Begins with re-signing Redick to below his cap hold at $10 million (3yr/$30mil?) *this would free up roughly $6 million from the projected numbers above*
  2. Stretch provision the $1 mil. guaranteed to Jonathon Simmons *freeing up an additional $667,000*

New Cap Space: $25.5 million

  1. Sign Nikola Mirotic to a contract worth roughly $11.5 million annually in year one (2yr/$24mil.)
  2. Re-sign Mike Scott to a contract worth roughly $7.5 million in year one (4yr/$32mil.)
  3. Sign Ed Davis to a contract worth roughly $5 million in year one (3yr/$18mil.)

These moves would leave the team with roughly $107.5 million in salaries and 10 players. I’m no CBA-expert, but I believe that we would also have two cap holds of roughly $800,000 that would “count” against the cap (to get the team to the 12-man minimum) and that would carry the team right up to the $109 million limit (I realize my math is off by like $150,000, but I’m sure someone more qualified than me can finagle that in the Sixers’ books somewhere).

At this point, the team would begin operating above the cap, where they can start using bird rights to re-sign their own players and various ‘exceptions’ to add free agents.

  1. Re-sign Jimmy Butler to a max contract (5yrs/$190mil. — $32.7 mil. in year one)
  2. Sign Patrick Beverley using the full mid-level exception, starting at $9.3 million (3yr/$30+mil.)
  3. Sign Wayne Ellington using our bi-annual exception, $3.6 million

Based off my math, this leaves the team’s salaries at $124 million — $8 million under the luxury tax threshold.

Again, these numbers are approximate, and I’m not 100% sure if this is scenario is even legal under the CBA, but I did my best. In the event that it is legal, I believe this scenario is far more favorable than “running it back.”

Mirotic is a much better shooter than Harris — much, much better. His percentages may not be all that different, but he shoots threes at a much higher-volume, and he draws a lot more attention from opposing defenses. Where Harris prefers to dribble into his three-point looks, Mirotic is one of the most efficient catch-and-shoot players in the league, shooting 40.3% curling off screens and 49.3% in transition (hello, Ben Simmons). As one of the most lethal stretch-bigs in the game, he glues his defender to the perimeter and opens up the paint in ways that Harris (or Saric) simply could not. His defensive concerns are a little overblown, and he’d actually be an upgrade on the glass.

Beverley would give the Sixers the type of off-ball defensive point guard that they need to pair with Ben Simmons. Beverley is more than capable of running an offense, but has made a career spacing off the ball as a spot up shooter for more capable playmakers (in the past four seasons he’s shooting 39.4% on 4.1 3PA per game). And in case you were unaware, Beverley is one of the fiercest on-ball defenders in the league, and would give Brett Brown a lockdown defender to take pressure off Butler and Simmons on the perimeter.

He would fit in perfectly running the second unit offense, while likely replacing JJ to close out games with the starting group. It’s hard to say if he’ll leave Los Angeles, but if they’re able to pry Kawhi away from Toronto then it’s possible they won’t have the money to throw at him that you know other teams will. It’s also possible that another contender outbids us.

Ellington would assume the Landry Shamet-role from earlier this season. The Sixers could use another dead-eye three-point shooter to run off screens and DHO’s when Redick is on the bench, and while Mirotic can do some of that, why stop there?

Ellington has low-key been one of the best catch-and-shoot players in the NBA for close to a decade now, shooting 38% on 4.7 attempts from three since 2012. Last season he was third in the NBA in % of looks that came from beyond the arc with a defender within 4 feet of him (behind Harden and Korver), and he shot 39.4% on the three-point attempts with a defender 2-4 feet from him (tight), averaging two such attempts per game.

There aren’t many other players who could fill this role as well as Ellington. Because he provides little outside of shooting, he shouldn’t be too expensive and wouldn’t demand high minutes. As a local kid from Episcopal Academy who recently said he wants to play for a contender, I’m not sure who can make a better pitch than the Sixers. He’ll almost certainly be offered more than $3.6 million, so this would involve him taking a slight hometown discount.

Ed Davis doesn’t space the floor obviously, but he gives the Sixers a real backup center who can play 20+ minutes a night to take some of the load off Embiid. At $4.5 million the Sixers should have signed him last year, I begged them too, but instead they brought back the plodding Amir Johnson and the backup center position became a major issue almost immediately after the season started. Hopefully they don’t allow that to happen again. Davis may not be a great rim protector, but he can switch on the perimeter and owns the glass.

Here’s how this roster would look:

  1. Ben Simmons
  2. JJ Redick
  3. Jimmy Butler
  4. Nikola Mirotic
  5. Joel Embiid
  • Pat Beverley
  • Wayne Ellington
  • Mike Scott
  • Zhaire Smith
  • Ed Davis
  • Jonah Bolden
  • 24th draft pick
  • Shake Milton
  • Vet. min.

I like Tobias Harris as much as the next guy, but his skillset is only worth $25+ million per year if he’s being featured more heavily in an offense than he would here. Truthfully, there aren’t really any players who when asked to be “fourth fiddle” could still provide value worth that much of your salary cap — I think this is an inherent ‘Truth’ in all salary-cap leagues.

The lineup above provides Embiid and Simmons with four legitimate catch-and-shoot threats, up from just one a year ago in Redick. Add in the return of Mike Scott and hopefully the development of Zhaire Smith and Shake Milton and all of a sudden the Sixers have a supporting cast on par with Milwaukee’s.

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