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Sixers Mailbag - What will the Opening Night starting lineup be?

“What if I told you... you could rewrite your legacy?”

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NBA: New York Knicks at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Your favorite mailbag writer is back this week! Check out my first mailbag from earlier in the month here. This week I delve into the free agent point guard market, a recent Sixers history lesson and a surprising pick for one of my Opening Night starters.

@legsanity: Assuming the Sixers don't get Lonzo or Fultz, how much would you throw at George Hill?

@kai_tremoglie: Which free agent point guard would best fit the team if the Sixers don't get a top 3 pick?

I’m going to handle these two questions simultaneously since there’s some overlap. Which point guard is the best fit? I don’t think there’s a more perfect player in the history of basketball to be a guard on a team with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid than Steph Curry. There’s a better chance of me getting the Dallas Cowboys star tattooed on my forehead than there is of Curry leaving the Warriors for Philly though, so let’s scratch that.

Next best fit? The guy who’s statistically the best point guard of the millennium in Chris Paul, but again, no shot he’s coming here. The NBA fan in me wants him to go to San Antonio and play underneath Gregg Popovich. The Sixers fan in me is scared he’d flee to an Eastern Conference team like Milwaukee to escape the deathtrap that is the West playoffs. Paul also orchestrated the latest collective bargaining agreement as the players’ representative to be favorable to older players staying with their incumbent team, which could cause him to re-up with the Clippers.

Moving on, the next three free agent point guards who could be even remotely interested in signing with the Sixers are Kyle Lowry, George Hill and Jrue Holiday.

While it might be more conjecture than anything tangible since I live in Philadelphia, the idea of Lowry coming back to his hometown and reuniting with his former Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo is considered in play. I’m fearing that contract, which would be a max deal worth approximately $154 million over four years. The idea of a 34-year-old, 20-pounds-overweight Lowry clogging up the Sixers cap with a salary of $41 million in 2021 is nauseating. By all means, Lowry should try to get as much money as possible this summer. It would be in the best longterm interest of the Sixers if that was somewhere else than Philly though. What’s the need for a ball-dominant guard with a history of putrid playoff performances on a team with Simmons running the show?

Lowry is a little over a month older than Hill, but Hill has played roughly 3600 less minutes than him, equal to about a year-and-a-half of play. That’s somewhat significant. Hill turned down a three-year extension worth approximately $75 million earlier in 2017 with the intention of signing a max deal this offseason. With extensions already handed out to Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert, as well as the pending free agency of Gordon Hayward, the Jazz will be in a tricky financial situation come July.

If Hayward bolts, the Jazz don’t seem as much of a playoff contender as they would’ve otherwise, but would have more financial flexibility to offer Hill a five-year max contract worth roughly $177 million. The most a non-Utah team could offer Hill is a four-year deal worth about $132 million.

I’m not sure I’d want to lock the Sixers into Hill for that much money when he’s on the wrong side of 30. Just because the Sixers have cap space doesn’t mean they need to spend it this specific summer. Sixers management seems hellbent on making a splash summer, so I wouldn’t put it past them to make an unwise move here. There’s no harm in leaving yourself financially flexible and making a play for someone like Avery Bradley in 2018 or even a star in 2019 if the team has progressed enough with its current core.

Holiday, who turns 27 this summer, would be eligible for a similar contract to that of Hill. Holiday wouldn’t command a max deal, one that will assuredly be cheaper than Hill’s. Holiday isn’t as good of a player as Hill at the moment, but by the time the hypothetical four-year deal Holiday could sign with the Sixers expires, he’d be younger than Hill is right now. This deal may coincide with Holiday’s peak years the same way Hill’s most recent contract did for him.

The former Sixer also presents a Patrick Beverley-esque three-and-D archetype at point guard as a 36.6 percent career three-point shooter who finished third in Defensive Real Plus-Minus among point guards this season. Holiday is pretty perfect before realizing that he’s missed 122 games due to injury (and personal issues, specifically, this past season) over the past four years. Could the Sixers real bank on another injury risk given the way the team’s medical report has looked over the last five years? Holiday presents a nice mixture of youth, price and fit for them if they’re willing to pull that trigger.

Who would I sign? As Will Hunting once said, “I’m holding out for something better.”

@TheWizWit: If you could add any non-allstar sixer from the last 20 years to the current roster, who would it be?

I love this question. This eliminates Holiday (2013), Andre Iguodala (2012), Dikembe Mutombo (2002), Theo Ratliff (2001) and Allen Iverson (2000-2006, 2010). For the sake of the argument, I’m going to remove players who were All-Stars on teams other than the Sixers as well. That takes away Kyle Korver (one-time All-Star), Chris Webber (five times), Glenn Robinson (two times) and Derrick Coleman (one time) as options.

If you’ve been unfortunate enough to watch the Sixers over the last two decades, you know this leaves me with a piss poor pool of players to choose from. Is it too soon to say Nerlens Noel here? I’ve made it clear in the past that I wouldn’t have traded him in February. A versatile defender and rim protector who acts as Embiid insurance is certainly valuable.

Ignoring him here, I’ve whittled down my list to five candidates, regardless of whether their best years were with the Sixers: Thaddeus Young (2008-2014), Lou Williams (2006-2012), Raja Bell (2001-2002), Toni Kukoc (2000-2001) and Aaron McKie (1998-2005).

Kukoc had the best prime of any of those guys, being a key cog on the second Bulls three-peat in the the 1990s, but another point forward who doesn’t offer much in the ways of defense seems redundant on a team with Simmons and Dario Saric. Young is a good role player and was a fan favorite in Philly, but a power forward who doesn’t space the floor isn’t the best fit alongside Embiid in the frontcourt.

This leaves Lou Will, Bell and McKie. Williams was simultaneously irritating and thrilling to watch during his Sixer tenure, as his “boss-y” play could shoot the Sixers in or out of a game instantaneously. He’s excelled this season as a bench scorer, however, with a true shooting percentage of 59.3 percent between stints with the Lakers and Rockets. He also averaged 18.8 points per game in Houston’s first round series win against the Thunder, almost single-handled swinging the series in his team’s favor.

People are excited about Malik Monk in this summer’s draft. Is it realistic to expect him to be any better than Williams is at his best? I’m not so sure. He could be the quintessential Irrational Confidence Guy every great team needs come playoff time for the Sixers. Imagine the entire Wells Fargo Center chanting, “Six man like Lou Will, two girls and they get along like I’m Lou Will!

Bell started for three-and-a-half years on Mike D’Antoni’s Seven Seconds or Less Suns teams. He shot 42.2 percent from three on 2.4 attempts per game in Phoenix. He would be the number two three-point shooter in Sixers franchise history behind Dana Barros (42.6 percent) with that rate. He didn’t offer much in terms of creation (career assist rate of 9.3 percent) nor defense. The Sixers could use any and all shooters, but he isn’t exactly the best guard to team-up with Simmons.

McKie might be that guy though. He shot about league average from deep (35.0 percent for his career). He was drafted in 1994 though. Guards weren’t bred to be the type of long-range shooters that they are now in that era. If McKie came up at this time with that three-point emphasis, I think he could’ve been a couple percentage points over league average for his career from three. In this hypothetical, let’s say he’s a 37.4 percent three-point shooter today.

The way the ideal guard to play next Simmons has been discussed isn’t entirely far off from the way McKie was used next to Allen Iverson under Larry Brown. McKie, the 2001 Sixth Man of the Year winner, played off the ball-dominant Iverson offensively while taking the tougher of the two defensive guard assignments at 6’5” on the other end of the court. His assist rate of 19.5 percent in Philly more than doubles Bell’s career mark as well. That’s the secondary playmaker the Sixers need. This feels akin to how someone like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a restricted free agent this year, might play alongside Simmons.

I think I’m taking the Simon Gratz grad and Philly native in McKie narrowly over Bell. Ask me again tomorrow and I might flip my choice.

@SixersMcgee: we know the process is over as of the lottery party, what will this new era be called?

As Sam Hinkie once said in Hollis 11:26, “And everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” As long as Embiid is here, it’ll be The Process.

@BrettBrownBeard: Hotdog; Sandwich?

Why is this still a thing in the year 2017?

@hinkiehive: Predict the starting lineup for opening night next season

This is something that Sixers fans have obsessed over constantly during the Process era. I’m pretty sure Danny Green was my projected starting shooting guard on Opening Night 2015. These attempts frequently go awry. While I could take the easy (and more practical) approach and add a guard like Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball or the aforementioned Monk to a core of Simmons, Saric, Embiid and Robert Covington, that’s not nearly as much fun as getting a little whacky with it. I’m someone who wrote a 1300-word pseudo-ode to Tiago Splitter this month. I like getting whacky.

So, let’s start with some givens for the Sixers’ Opening Night starting lineup in October. I’m going to pencil in Embiid as center, Ben Simmons as the nominal point guard and Robert Covington at one of the forward positions. In this Sixers alternate future, the Kings jumped to the top spot in the lottery, enacting the pick swap and giving the Sixers the winning ticket to the Markelle Fultz sweepstakes. He starts opposite Simmons in the backcourt. That’s four players, so who’s the second forward in this lineup?

Well, the drafting of Fultz and the organization’s plan to play Simmons at point guard prevent Colangelo and company from making a splashy guard signing in free agency like Lowry. The Sixers then look to the trade market to satiate Scott O’Neil’s burning desire for a “name” player on the roster. Just up I-95, a former superstar is disgruntled with his peyote-smoking boss. He’s going through a messy, public separation from his wife. Maybe, in one of the most tumultuous times in his professional life, this gunner remembers why he chose basketball. Carmelo Kyam Anthony was born to get buckets.

“What if I told you... you could rewrite your legacy?”

Embiid, through his mutual agent Leon Rose, makes a plea for Melo to waive his no-trade clause to join up with him in Philly. No other franchise is willing to take on Melo’s deal, worth $54 million over the next two years, as the Sixers don’t mind the two-year commitment with all of the rookie-scale deals on their books. Melo gives in and accepts a trade to the Sixers. The team declines Gerald Henderson’s player option this offseason and, with their league-leading amount of cap space, absorbs Melo’s contract in exchange for Jahlil Okafor, who can now play in the antiquated triangle offense he’s perfect for with the Knicks.

Melo is reborn as an Old Man Logan-esque mercenary and crunch-time scorer for the Sixers, as he allows Embiid and Covington to shoulder the majority of the defensive assignments while accepting his role as the Sixers’ offensive hitman. It’s the Melo the basketball world saw glimpses of during the Knicks’ 54-win season in 2013. He ditches the headband, shaves his head and grows a gigantic beard with a touch of grey in it. He becomes the Sixers’ eventual postseason guiding force much like Joe Johnson currently is for the Jazz.

A lineup of Simmons, Fultz, Melo, Covington and Embiid not only starts Opening Night 2017, but Game 1 of the 2019 NBA Finals, as Melo rides off into the sunset with a championship ring at the expiration of his contract.

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