I’m bringing you this week’s mailbag. I received some repeat questions that I’ve done in the past about free agency this summer, which you can check out here. On to this week’s questions...
@Anthony_Capelli: My good sir,,,,, would you trade Ben Simmons for Markelle "I'm talking baby like face" Fultz
@EaglesRewind: How much would you give up to swap with Boston?
I’m going to tackle these two together since there’s some overlap. I like Ben Simmons. A lot. I think he could even be a superstar. When I evaluate him as a prospect against Markelle Fultz, however, my decision comes down to their weaknesses.
Simmons’ flaw, his lack of shooting ability, has potential to be fatal. No, he doesn’t need to even shoot a league-average percent from three to be a star. LeBron James shot 30.9 percent from three in 2016 and led his team to a championship. Giannis Antetkounmpo shot 27.2 percent from three this year and was a force unlike anything this league’s seen since, well, a young LeBron.
If Simmons is a complete non-factor from the outside, however, that weakness could be detrimental to his overall game regardless of his phenomenal court vision and potential defensive versatility. He did take just three three-pointers during his lone season at LSU.
Fultz reminds me of Karl-Anthony Towns as a prospect in a way. What was the knock on Towns during the pre-draft process? I can’t remember because I don’t really think there was one. No, he wasn’t elite in everything, nor is Fultz, but Towns didn’t have any glaring weaknesses. Fultz doesn’t for me either. He can pass, he can shoot off the dribble, he can play off the ball, he can attack the rim, and he locks in on defense when he’s engaged (not unlike the way Simmons did for a similarly bad college team). He just feels like the ideal lead guard for 2017.
Running pick-and-roll sets with Fultz and Joel Embiid where defenders can’t afford to sag off Fultz because of his shooting prowess would take the Sixers’ offense to the next level. Sure, Simmons might be able to just blow by defenders even if they start to sag with his athleticism, but Fultz presents more versatility there.
I think Simmons is going to be a great, great pro. I’m just slightly more inclined to believe that Fultz reaches that top tier of stardom in the NBA. You’re all welcome to save this and rub it in my face when Simmons is a perennial All-NBA guy and Fultz can’t get off the bench on a super-deep Celtics team too.
As for what I would give up instead of Simmons, I would include either the 2018 Lakers pick or 2019 Kings pick in addition to the third pick this year. I’m not sure if that gets it done, but I can’t stomach giving away two unprotected picks from dysfunctional teams. Is Dario Saric a throw-in here? If he’s the difference to give the Sixers a Fultz-Simmons-Embiid core, I think Bryan Colangelo would have to do it.
@ryne_jones: Each Killers album as process era sixers. if you don't answer this were not boys anymore
Given that we all just spent Tuesday night at #SamsTown, this is pretty fitting. I’ve also made about 6000 Mr. Brightside references on Twitter. For the sake of brevity, I’m just doing the Killers’ first two (and best) albums:
Hot Fuss: Joel Embiid
A blistering debut that combined the best of the 80s (New Order, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), 90s (Oasis, Hakeem Olajuwon) and the 00s (The Strokes, Tim Duncan) while throwing its own modern twist (lyrics tailor-made for AIM away messages, Embiid’s three-point shot) on something familiar.
It was also short lived. The first five tracks on Hot Fuss, the first five songs of The Killers’ career, can go against almost any band’s first five and hold their own. The rest of the album ranges from “ehh” to “pretty good.” Those first five songs though, man. They hit me so hard that I couldn’t wait to hear what was next for the band and to see what their superstar-level potential could amount to. That sums up Embiid’s 31-game season fairly well to me.
Embiid’s game-sealing block on soup dumpling-shaped Kyle Lowry against the Raptors on January 18 at the end of a 26-point, nine-rebound, two-block performance is the equivalent of the opening riff and first verse of “Mr Brightside.”
Sam’s Town: T.J. McConnell
McConnell and Sam’s Town are as much a slice of Americana as baseball and apple pie. Gone are the post-Joy Division synths, as Brandon Flowers and co. make way for Bruce Springsteen-tinged heartland rock. If he throws on a white t-shirt with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in the sleeves and a pair of jean McConnell’s haircut could leave him as supporting character in S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders.
Is there any Sixer more emblematic of the “All-American Guy,” and all the pretentiousness that goes along with that claim, than McConnell and his gritty play? The same goes for Sam’s Town‘s arena-tinged hat tip to 1970s American rock ‘n’ roll.
“Sometimes you close your eyes and see the place where you used to live... when you... were young...”
Here it is. @TJMcConnell's winner.— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) January 12, 2017
Buckle up. pic.twitter.com/ZVFmD0r8gV
@ryankelly: How would a Jackson selection impact plans to extend RoCo? How cld they fit together in a lineup? Does JE/BS/RC/JJ/shooter provide enough O?
This is a great question. I don’t think taking Jackson should affect the Sixers’ longterm plans with Robert Covington. The Sixers would be able to renegotiate Covington’s contract while also giving him an extension this year at the three-year anniversary of when he initially signed with the team, per Derek “Godner” Bodner. Here are some of the details of that:
The Sixers could extend Covington for four more years this summer, as well as renegotiate his 2017-18 salary after that anniversary in November. They could do both in November, but would only be able to give him an extension in July.
Here’s a sample of what that contract could like from a column Bodner wrote this month (you should also be subscribing to his Patreon page):
A figure frequently thrown out for Covington is in the $15 million per year range. That makes a renegotiate + extend contract like this possible:
- 2017-18: $20 million
- 2018-19: $12 million
- 2019-20: $11.1 million
- 2020-21: $10.1 million
- 2021-22: $9.2 million
(After the 40% drop from the renegotiated year to the first year of the new extension, subsequent years can rise or fall under the same per-year changes as a new contract would).
The ability to renegotiate here is key. With a huge cap hit for this upcoming season, a year in which it’s more likely than not that the Sixers will have an excess of cap space, and then declining salaries going forward, Covington’s deal could look like a future bargain. A player with his defensive versatility and the shooting stroke he’s displayed at times is found time and time again on championship-level teams. The Sixers need a Robert Covington. They should keep the one they have.
I think it should be assumed that Covington is a shooter closer in caliber to the one he was in his first two seasons in Philly (36.3 percent from deep on 928 attempts) than the one he was this past year (33.3 percent on 412 attempts). A player who can stretch the floor like that while also bringing it on the defensive side of the court the way he does fits with anyone.
A defensive lineup that contains Simmons, Covington and Jackson with Embiid in the paint can wreck havoc on opponents. I don’t really worry about the “Which player is a two and which is a three?” questions. As we’re seeing with a 6’10” primary ball-handler in Simmons, traditional position designations are becoming obsolete. Covington can guard players on the wing, as can Jackson. Covington, at least initially, will defender the better of the opposing team’s wings.
I don’t have concerns with Jackson’s fit next to Covington offensively as much as I do next to Simmons. Covington can’t really create his own shot. Jackson is a really nice passer who can. Covington can just hang in the corner and compliment whomever has the ball in his hands. A team playing both Simmons and Jackson needs at least one to be some semblance of an outside-shooting threat. As I wrote about yesterday, I have concerns over whether Jackson can be that player.
What could really be the determining factor here is who the fifth player is alongside this core. The Sixers would need a dead-eye shooting threat who truly stretches the defense out to leave room for Jackson and Simmons to slash and create, as well as for Embiid to battle down low when he’s not popping out for a three-pointer. A Malik Monk-type guy, hell, maybe even Monk himself through a Draft Night trade, would be welcomed here. Maybe Jerryd Bayless, yes, you may have forgotten he existed, can be that guy.
@Kurt_BSH: Say they take JJ at 3. What's the most you're willing to give up to get back in the top 5-6 to get a guard, and which guard is it?
Frank Ntilikina is my second-favorite guard prospect in this draft specifically for the Sixers. There’s a potential future where Ntilikina, the 6’5” point guard from France who still won’t turn 19 until after June’s draft, is the ideal three-and-D guard to have alongside Simmons and his passing ability. He’s a catch-and-shoot threat from deep who can defend the opposing team’s point guard. He could be the guy I was talking about earlier who’s the perfect fit alongside Simmons, Jackson, Embiid and Covington.
A lot of my talk about Ntilikina is projection, for sure, but what if Patrick Beverley was 6’5” instead of 6’1” and had a wingspan close to 7’0” instead of 6’6.5”? That’s the type of player who he could become. Maybe my infatuation with Ntilikina is because I love players like Beverley and Jrue Holiday, his two frequent comparisons, as well as the allure of the mysterious European prospect, but his fit is just too perfect with Simmons and Jackson’s ball-handling in a league predicated on defensive switching and three-point shooting.
As for what I would give up? That’s a lot tougher. Neither the 2018 Lakers pick nor the 2019 Kings pick should be on the table for him, nor any non-Fultz player in this draft. Some smorgasbord of second rounders and Jahlil Okafor or Richaun Holmes wouldn’t get it done. What about Saric? Should they sell high on My Large Adult Son? Am I so vain to trade in my faithful spouse for a younger, shinier, equally-European model?
There’s questionable fit with Simmons and Saric to begin with, as I’ve written about at length. That becomes even more apparent when you throw a guy with similar point forward traits like Jackson into the equation. I’m not sure how much sense it makes to have all three of those guys on the roster. The Sixers shouldn’t enter the offseason looking to move Saric, but acquiring Jackson may force their hand a bit.
It would hurt, but it might be the best move for the Sixers’ longterm roster construction for me to rebrand as “The Frank Ntilikina Guy.”
@agoldman79: Is a trade with the Celtics for Avery Bradley possible? Seems like they can't extend him with Fultz around
Danny Ainge is a smart guy. Yes, we all joke about him locking Terry Rozier in his basement and his constant assertions that he was this close to making a deal, but he’s not a dummy. Isaiah Thomas is an unrestricted free agent next summer, as is Bradley. Marcus Smart will be a restricted free agent is an eligible for an extension this offseason. Rozier hits restricted free agency in 2019. Something has to give.
Bradley is part of this archetype I keep coming back to as the complimentary guard next to Simmons. He shot 39.0 percent from three this season on 5.0 attempts per game and he’s likely going to make the All-Defensive Team for the third time in his career. He smothered John Wall at times in the playoffs. Ntilikina could maybe be this type of player one day, but Bradley doesn’t turn 27 until November and is doing this now.
It comes down to contracts and the inherent risk of trading for a guy who can walk for nothing next summer. Why give away something of value when it looks like financially Boston will be forced to not bring him back? The Celtics can’t afford to give both Thomas and Bradley contracts next summer where they’re making over $25 million per year while drafting a guard of Fultz’s pedigree with the top pick, plus all of their other big salary commitments.
It’s just hard for the Sixers to conjure something up that the Celtics would want. Boston doesn’t need more assets and picks. They need to start consolidating for better players. They need rim protection and rebounding. Saric, again, could provide the latter, but certainly not the former. He doesn’t seem like the best fit for them on top of the uncertainty of trading a guy in just the second year of his rookie contract for a player hitting unrestricted free agent. Holmes has those traits at moments, but isn’t nearly fair value on Bradley.
The Sixers would miss out on being able to offer Bradley more money next summer by not trading for him this offseason, but it might be the safest bet to keep their own players and have Colangelo give Bradley a phone call come July 1, 2018.
Editor’s note: some information above has been updated regarding Robert Covington’s possible contract extension.