For the first time in several seasons, the Philadelphia 76ers are expected to be players in free agency once July 1 rolls around. They obviously won't be in the hunt for big fish like Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant or Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley, but Bryan Colangelo is certainly expected to throw some money around at mid-tier free agents.
One of the players expected to command a max contract under the new salary cap despite not being in a class remotely close to Durant or Conley is Golden State Warriors small forward Harrison Barnes. Whether or not he's deserving of a deal worth $23.5 million a year has been a big talking point since his disappointing NBA Finals, but one team that may be willing to look past his recent poor play are none other than the Sixers. From ESPN's Marc Stein:
The Sixers plan to be serious suitors for Golden State restricted free agent Harrison Barnes at the start of free agency, league sources say— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) June 28, 2016
The Warriors would have to shed Barnes if they're fortunate enough to win the Durant Sweepstakes; Barnes has made it clear he hopes to stay.— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) June 28, 2016
Barnes, who was recently named to USA's roster for the 2016 Olympics (which The Ringer's Chris Ryan believes is a Sixers related conspiracy), averaged 11.7 points per game while shooting 44.6 percent from the floor and 38.3 percent from three-point range.
A max contract for a player with 0-6 years of experience is 4 years, $94 million, as their yearly salary would take up 25 percent of the $94 million salary cap for 2016-17. On the surface, there seem like worse moves than maxing out a 24-year-old wing who shoots the ball well and can defend multiple positions, but Barnes may not be the best way to spend that money.
Other than his dismal playoff run, there should be some serious concern about him being the product of a Golden State system that has three game changers in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. The general focus on those three resulted in a defender not being within four feet of 59.1 percent of Barnes's shots, according to NBA.com. He would certainly be asked to create more on this Sixers team, and that's something he's not used to and may not be comfortable with.
Barnes has spent a good portion of his career as a small ball four in the Warriors lineup, and 55 percent of his minutes were played at the power forward position in 2015-16, according to Basketball Reference. The Sixers are already loaded in the front court with Ben Simmons, Jerami Grant, and the expected arrival of Dario Saric. Taking Barnes out of that role would be like when the Sixers had Nerlens Noel guarding the perimeter last season; he can do it, but you're probably not going to get the best out of him.
On a competitive playoff team like Golden State, you can see why Barnes thrives as a fourth or fifth option. But put him around a young Sixers core that is yet to find someone to carry the bulk of their offense, and Barnes is probably going to struggle. The new salary cap is going to change the meaning of a maximum contract, and every team is going to end up "overpaying" for free agents you wouldn't expect to see get such big contracts. But it's important to be wise with that kind of money, and Barnes looks like a poor fit just weeks removed from playing some of the worst basketball of his pro career. Philadelphia should think long and hard for making a splash of this caliber.