Plans A, B, and C
So, Plan A is to sign an elite free agent, ideally LeBron James but Paul George would also be a great fit, and of course if Kevin Durant or Chris Paul wants to shock the world by coming here that would be of interest to many of us. There are some intriguing plans out there involving trades, but we all know it would, in principle, be far preferable to obtain talent by using just our cap space, rather than having to use cap space and also sacrifice assets.
So while recognizing that obtaining Kawhi Leonard or Kemba Walker or whomever via trade is also a possibility, I’m going to designate as “Plan B” the plan where we sign players to one-year deals this summer — recognizing that such deals may require an overpay compared to the per-year price of the same player on a multi-year contract. That keeps us in the running to add a superstar free agent in the summer of 2019, when not only will players like Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, Kawhi and Kemba be potential free agents, but megastars like LeBron, PG13, KD and CP3 may also be once again in the mix. I actually think this plan is attractive enough that there’s a case that it’s preferable to making a long-term deal with Paul George, but, you know, bird in the hand and all that; we’ll let PG keep his Plan A status!
There’s also a non-trade Plan C, which is to give up on signing an established star and instead use the fact that we’re one of the few teams with real money to spend this summer to try to scoop up, on long-term deals, a bundle of fine-but-not-currently-star players at reasonable prices. That could lead to us having a very deep team led by stars Ben and Joel, and stars-if-we’re-lucky Dario Saric and Markelle Fultz plus perhaps one or more other up-and-comers. A future post may examine our Plan C options.
Right now the Sixers have around $25M under the projected cap. Under Plan B we could spend that much on one-year deals, or we could do something about the Bayless contract and create more space (but at a price in either future space or future assets).
Non-Center Free Agents
Here’s a list my friend A was kind enough to send. It includes the top free agents available this offseason, sorted by weighted 3-year average RPM. The usual disclosure applies; RPM is far from perfect, feel free to rank players as you see fit. But I am a fan of adjusted plus-minus statistics like RPM, and so is A, and so we’re going with an RPM-based list. The 321 column is equal to:
So half the weight on the season that just ended, one third on the year before, and one sixth on the year before that.
Two other notes. First, I’m leaving off pretty much all restricted free agents. RFAs are relevant to Plan C, the plan where we give up on established stars and instead make a long-term bet on a young player like, say, Aaron Gordon. But this article is about Plan B, where we sign one-year deals, and although it is possible for an RFA to sign a one-year deal — Nerlens Noel and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope did so last year, for example — such occasions are rare.
For what it’s worth, the highest-ranking RFA by far using our methodology is Kyle Anderson of San Antonio; he’s a Covington type and since I love Cov, it’s no surprise that I think highly of Anderson. We could take a shot at a one-year overpay to Anderson and hope the Spurs don’t match. But realistically, someone is going to offer Kyle a four-year deal, and almost for sure he’ll take that over a one-year offer from us, and if he did sign a one-year offer sheet with us, the Spurs would probably match. So we’ll focus on the unrestricted guys. Also, I’m leaving centers off this list; we’ll discuss them separately below.
NBA Unrestricted Free Agents That Could Matter — Non-Centers
|Name||POS||Age||RPM 321||RPM '17-'18||RPM '16-'17||RPM '15-'16||17-'18 Salary|
|Name||POS||Age||RPM 321||RPM '17-'18||RPM '16-'17||RPM '15-'16||17-'18 Salary|
|Luc Mbah a Moute||PF||31||0.71||1.19||0.76||-0.85||2116955|
*No data, we used 0 which probably means Harris is rated a bit higher than he deserves.
I left in the superstars so you could get a feel for the size of the gap between them and the others. Yes, Chris Paul is at the top, he’s amazing. No, I wouldn’t rather have him than LeBron. No, that doesn’t prove on-off stats like RPM are silly; look, we all know LeBron goes less than all-out in the regular season so he has energy for the playoffs. For that matter, I think everyone now recognizes that the same is true of Durant. Obviously that’s a flaw of all regular-season stats in the modern NBA; even if one player is clearly superior during the regular season, we should still have the discussion as to whether playoff performance has been, or will be, a different story.
Anyway, as you can see there is quite a gap; the “superstar” group ends with Paul George, whose weighted-average RPM is over 3 (that is, per this stat he adds over 3 points per 48 minutes compared to an average player). No other player on the list makes even 2, and only a couple of them, Ariza and Tyreke, are above 1!
The Key To Blan B
Looking at this list, I’d say one conclusion is clear: Plan B really only works if we are able to sign Tyreke Evans. I mean, of course it could end up working some other way; we could sign KCP or Will Barton and he could put up a monster year; anything is possible. But Tyreke is the only player below the line who was good enough last year to really move the needle for us. And of the players who have EVER had a year that good, he’s the only one young enough that it’s plausible he might do it again.
I pounded the table for Tyreke in the Spring and I’m still mad that we didn’t get him. I honestly believe that if we’d traded for him we would have been playing in the Finals, and on top of that we’d have the inside track on him for next season. Maybe Memphis’ ask was just too unreasonable, I have no way of knowing, but consider this: the guy we got instead, Marco belinelli, was a -1.7 player last year, Tyreke a +3.5. That’s a difference of 5.2 points per 48 minutes, around as big as the difference between an average player and someone like Giannis. I’d happily give up #26 to have had Giannis for this year’s playoffs, not to mention the increased chance of holding on to him looking ahead.
Now, Tyreke has never been a +3.5 before, so it’s unreasonable to expect that of him next year. But note that:
- He’s 28, in the middle of his prime
- Tyreke was a top-5 draft pick
- He won the Rookie of the Year award
In other words, everyone always knew he had this in him. He was held back by injuries, and perhaps those will recur, nothing is ever guaranteed. But with Tyreke you have an excellent chance to add a +2 player next year, and a decent chance to add a +3 or even +4 player.
What about fit? In my opinion Evans is ideal. There is some disagreement among Sixer-watchers about what was most lacking in the Boston series. The most common view is that the sorest need was for offensive creation; a player who could get his own shot. But many others, your humble correspondent included, felt the greater lack was two-way players; guys who could defend effectively while still contributing something — at least shooting/floor spreading — at the offensive end. We won’t resolve that here, but what’s great about ‘Reke is, he solves both problems. He’s a hard-working and effective defender. He’s 6’6”, so can guard 1-3. He hits high 30s from 3, on volume. And he’s also a guy who can create his own shot, or pass to others. Did I mention he rebounds exceptionally well for a guard? Remind me again why we didn’t go get this guy when he was available!
Looking at the rest of the list, there are plenty of useful players, but there’s literally nobody who both has positive weighted RPM and even a modicum of creation ability. If we want a creator and we can’t get ‘Reke, there are two guys we could gamble on, both former star point guards from our rivals up in Boston. I refer of course to Isaiah Thomas and Rajon Rondo.
You know everything I know about these guys. IT is very small and even in his near-MVP season the year before last, on-off stats saw him as more like a very good player than a superstar. And then he hurt his hip, so now he is not young, probably not fully healthy, still terrible at defense... it doesn’t look like a very appealing fit. But there is a chance — I’d say more like a 10% chance than a 50% chance but your mileage may vary — that he’s going to sign cheap somewhere, score 27 points per 36 minutes, and make everyone wonder how they missed the boat on him again. And positionally we’re a decent place for him, in that playing alongside Ben he can be an SG on offense while guarding the PG, which is probably his ideal usage. Still, in the end I think he’ll get run off the floor in the playoffs, so I’m not in favor unless he’s so cheap we’re just taking a flyer.
As to Rondo, he doesn’t spread the floor and hasn’t been a good regular-season player in years. But it’s now two years in a row that he’s really shined in the playoffs, and we are now one of those teams that only cares about the playoffs. And Since his game is so similar to that of Ben Simmons, you could make a case that he’s an ideal backup PG; in much the way Brett Brown liked that Marco Belinelli could do the same things JJ Redick did so he slotted in easily. Frankly if we didn’t have Markelle Fultz I’d be pretty interested in Rondo, but as it is I think Markelle will be better than regular-season Rondo next year even if he can’t shoot, and will be far better if his shooting comes along. Still, there’s that Playoff Rondo story; there really may be something too that, and consequently I wouldn’t be shocked nor especially unhappy if, in a Plan B scenario, we were to sign Rondo on a modest one-year deal.
Three And D
The list is thin on creators, but what it does have is 3-and-D forwards in the Covington style. The best of these is Trevor Ariza.
He’ll probably stay in Houston, but remember that if we’re in Plan B mode it’s because LeBron signed elsewhere, and post-sweep that probably won’t be Cleveland, meaning Houston is actually the most likely destination conditional on us pursuing Plan B. And if Houston is signing James, they can’t afford to keep guys like Ariza.
I think he’d be terrific here. Ariza had an awful night in Houston’s last game of the season, just as Robert Covington did in a couple of playoff games, just as Steph Curry did in Game 3 of the Finals. That’s just how it works with long-distance shooting; even with no streakiness whatsoever, the binomial distribution predicts that a 40% shooter who takes 9 bombs a game will go 1-for-9 once in every 16 games. It’s frustrating, but, hey, that’s why they count them 1.5 times more than the close-in shots! And if foolish GMs overreact to it and let us have Ariza cheap, I’ll take him!
A more likely scenario, in my opinion, would be for us to add a different Rocket, former Sixer Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. LRAM has an additional attractive feature in that he is close with his countryman Joel Embiid. If Luc is available at around the pittance he earned this year (he got the minimum, $2.1M), we should grab him. I understand that he’s another guy like Covington who can’t create. But as I noted above, although I’d love to add more creation, what I think we really need is more two-way players, more guys who can both shoot and defend. Luc fills the bill, and perhaps at a very reasonable cap hit.
Ersan, JJ, etc.
I’d also like to bring back Ersan, another underrated player who probably won’t be offered meaningfully more than the veteran minimum (which is around $2.4M for 25-year veterans like Ersan!). If we can get Ersan and Luc for minimum deals, then we don’t even have to use our cap space on them, as teams can go over the cap for minimum players. Getting both that cheap is probably too much to hope for, of course. If Ersan isn’t available, Nemanja Bjelica fills a similar role at perhaps a similar price. But we probably have a much better shot at Ersan, who knows the team and system and who’s had good success here.
I left Carmelo Anthony on the list mostly for humor’s sake; he has a player option for another hugely overpaid year; he is no longer a very effective player and I’m confident he won’t be bringing his talents to Philly. There are only two other available UFAs with RPM321 above zero; i.e. who’ve performed at an above-average level recently. They are JJ Redick and KCP. KCP is still young enough to be intriguing; a decent 3-point shooter with solid defense. But he made $17M last season and, while I don’t think he’ll get as much on his next deal, he doesn’t solve enough of the Sixers’ problems to be a good signing at even $10M.
What about Redick? A few thoughts:
- JJ Redick is a solid NBA player
- And his value is probably somewhat higher than what’s reflected in his on-off numbers, because players with very clearly defined skills in important areas provide strategic benefits. Redick is a tremendous shooter from distance, he hits almost all his free throws, and he’s a vet who keeps his cool in high-pressure situations. That makes him useful; you can throw him the ball when the other team needs to foul and know he’ll do a good job at the line; if you’re down by 10 with 4 minutes to play you can get him shots and improve your probability of coming back due to the increased variance created by three-point shooting.
- But, look, he’s just not all that good! He’s basically an average NBA player, which is to say, a below-average starter. Now, if the alternative is a -3 player like TLC then, sure, thank heaven for JJ! But we shouldn’t kid ourselves that he’s some sort of borderline All-Star or something just because he scores and spreads the floor. Those things are super-valuable, which is why JJ is a +2 on offense. But he’s a -2 on defense, and those points count too!
- And if anything the playoffs exacerbate the costliness of his poor defense; that is, if JJ is a +0 in the regular season, playoff JJ is probably somewhat below 0, not somewhat above, as smart coaches will relentlessly exploit a weak defender with constant screens.
- JJ had perhaps his best season this year at 33, so there’s a tendency to assume he’ll be just as good at 34. But that isn’t how aging works! I mean, of course he could be great. But he could also fall off a cliff, performance wise. Or he could just lose 10-15% of his effectiveness, which is perhaps the most likely outcome, and since he’s just average now, losing 10-15% makes him, um, not so great.
- All that said, I’d still love to keep him if we can do it for the $4.5M room exception. Under Plan B we could afford to offer him more, something like the $8.5M folks expect him to get offered by others. But at that price, I have to say, I wouldn’t be excited to add him, though I wouldn’t consider it an outrage either.
Let’s mention a few other interesting names:
- I wrote extensively about my concerns over Marco Belinelli’s game back when we signed him. He hit some wonderful shots for us down the stretch, and I was much mocked for my criticisms. But the Cleveland game late in the regular season exposed the fundamental problem — when it really counts, teams will screen so as to get their star ballhandler matched one-on-one on Marco, leading to easy baskets. His offense is good, but not nearly good enough to make up for this. While JJ is +2 on offense, -2 on D, Marco is more like +1 on offense but -3 on D. And he is old and getting older. We absolutely should not bring him back.
- Carmelo isn’t the only aging star out there, there is, for example, Dwyane Wade. Though he had his moments against us in Miami, I think RPM tells the tale here; he isn’t good anymore. Same with Tony Parker. Oh, and, just making sure I cover everyone... Austin Rivers isn’t very good either.
- There are some not-terrible wings in their prime, guys like Wayne Ellington, Will Barton, and Joe Harris. All of these would be potentially-useful bench players if they could be obtained cheaply enough; none of them moves the needle.
- Finally, I have to mention Avery Bradley. I may do a longer piece on him as part of my soon-to-be-initiated “Players I Don’t Want” series. People, Avery Bradley is a bad NBA player. He was bad under the Supergenius known as brad Stevens, and if you can’t be effective under Brad Stevens, then, man, you’re just not effective! Once he left Brad’s tender care he got even worse. I know he looks like he’s working hard on D, but he is not a good team defender. I know his 3P% is good, but he is not effective on offense. If we sign him, we will lose a bunch of games as a result. So, let’s not sign him! While we’re at it, I’ll mention Mario Hezonja. For the most part I’ve included only the highest-ranked unrestricted FAs, but I took poetic license to add guys that people here seem interested in. As far as the on-off stats can tell, he is absolutely terrible. He could turn it around, just as say TLC could turn it around, but so far he has not helped his teams, or come close to doing so.
We haven’t talked about centers yet. Here’s the list:
NBA Unrestricted Free Agents — Centers
Free Agent Centers
|Name||POS||Age||RPM 321||RPM '17-'18||RPM '16-'17||RPM '15-'16||17-'18 Salary|
|Name||POS||Age||RPM 321||RPM '17-'18||RPM '16-'17||RPM '15-'16||17-'18 Salary|
There’s That Man Again
Hey, would you look at that?! Other than the injured-and-probably-super-expensive Boogie Cousins, the #1 guy is our very own, much-maligned Amir Johnson! Even if you only count last year, he looks awfully good, with his 1.93 RPM (a number that suggests he was about 2 points per 48 minutes better than an average player, which is about 1 point per 48 better than an average starter). Longtime readers know that I have written something like 100,000 words about Amir on this site, enough to fill an average-length book. I think he’s really good at basketball. Many people don’t agree with me about this, but every year plus-minus stats like RPM reach the same conclusion, which is that his team did a lot better with him on the court than with him off. Maybe these stats are somehow biased toward Amir and his old-man game; I am wide open to explanations of why that would be. But your theory should explain why he did so well at on-off stats as a teenager in Detroit. And then again in his pre-prime and early prime in Toronto. And then in his late 20s in Boston. And now with the Sixers. Across I think 6 different coaches, two positions, starter and reserve, with stars and with scrubs playing his position when he wasn’t.
When I pointed out Robert Covington’s great on-off figures, people said it was because his backups were so terrible he looked good by comparison. That isn’t how adjusted +/- is supposed to work, but suppose it does in fact have that bias: then how do you explain Amir’s tremendous numbers? When he didn’t play this year, it was Joel Embiid in there; how did Amir benefit from that comparison? My theory about Amir’s numbers is: his team defense is excellent, and his offense, while not great, is better than it looks because he shoots for a high percentage and sets bone-crunching screens and takes a lot of offensive rebounds, and those things are all valuable. But if you don’t like that theory, feel free to share a different one and see if it fits the data.
Does that mean we should sign Amir to another one-year deal? It wouldn’t be crazy! He’s not old — he’ll only be 31 next year. He does have ankle issues which make him less spectacularly effective than he was a few years ago, and maybe it’s better to let him go a year early rather than a year late. But we do need a backup center for Joel, and, excited as I am about Jonah Bolden, a rookie second-rounder is unlikely to be the solution.
Other Options In the Pivot
There’s a lot of enthusiasm for Dewayne Dedmon, and I share that feeling as he’s had two straight solid-or-better seasons. But note that he’s only had one year in his career with an RPM above 1, a bar I believe Amir would have cleared for something like 41 of the past 42 years if they’d tracked the stat. And while in our minds Amir is a creaky old man and Dedmon is a springy young kid just learning the game, in reality they are only about two years apart in age, Amir was born in May 1987 and DD in the Summer of ‘89.
Essentially the DeWayne Dedmon question comes down to how much you believe in his three-point shot. Dedmon never shot the three until this year: 0-for-1 lifetime heading into this season, but then in 2017-18 he shot over 35% on over 3 attempts per 36. That’s really good for a rim-protecting center, and if that’s a true, repeatable skill, then Dedmon would be an ideal addition for us. But it’s based on a total of 141 tries; if just a few more of those had rimmed out we’d be looking at a low-30s bomber. So it’s a gamble; but, still, Dedmon on a reasonable one-year deal would be a very attractive option.
In addition to Amir and DD, there are a number of other solid backup centers on the market. Some of them clearly aren’t coming here and/or would be too expensive (e.g. Nowitzki, DeAndre Jordan, Cousins). Of the rest, they split into those who spread the floor and those who don’t. Of those who don’t — Ed Davis, Greg Monroe, etc. — my view is that I’d rather have Amir unless they’re a lot cheaper than Amir would be. Of the floor spreaders, among the most intriguing is Brook Lopez. His RPM went from terrific to very good to OK over the last three years, and it’s hard to love that trend! And he’s been making crazy money lately. But if there’s little market for him and we had the chance to get him for less than $10M next year, he’d be worthy of consideration.
Can Plan B Work?
Putting it all together, I’d say there’s a pretty attractive Plan B here, as long as we can get Tyreke, but, frankly, not otherwise. As an example:
- Sign Tyreke Evans to a one-year overpay deal at $13-15M
- Sign either Amir or Dedmon to a one-year deal at say $6-8M
- Sign Ariza or LRAM to a one-year deal at say $4M; Ariza would be preferable as he’s more SF than PF while Luc is more PF than SF but Luc may be more attainable
- Hold onto Bayless as an expiring deal that can be traded along with picks or young talent at the trade deadline to add a needed piece. Hey, maybe we’ll get lucky and his wrist will finally heal, making him a useful bench player!
- Draft someone named “M. Bridges” at #10
- Hope JJ Redick will, for one reason or another, sign a deal for the $4.5M “room exception” and that Ersan can be signed for the veteran minimum. Failing that, we can almost certainly get Ersan for the $4.5M exception and settle for a less-than-JJ shooter on a vet-minimum deal; let’s suppose it’s Marco even though he is, um, not my favorite.
Here’s what I want to note about this plan: it doesn’t rely on any miracles! I mean, maybe I’m crazy to think we can get Tyreke Evans for mid-teens millions for a year, maybe someone out there wants to give him a four-year, $50M deal. In that case we’ll need to rethink. But I think what I’ve suggested above, minus the JJ signing, is something we could almost surely make happen. And if we couldn’t, then we almost certainly could if we gave up a pick to get rid of Bayless, which would create another $9M or so to spread around.
To be conservative, let’s assume we don’t get lucky on the JJ-Ersan thing, so we use the room exception for Ersan and get Beli on a vet-minimum deal
Plan B Roster
C: Joel, Dedmon
PF/C: Dario, Ersan, Bolden
SF/PF: Covington, LRAM,
SG/SF: Bridges, Justin, Beli, Furkan/TLC
PG/SG: Tyreke, Markelle
PG: Ben, TJ
I’m assuming here that Bayless is on the injured list; if he’s healthy then we don’t need to add Beli; a healthy Bayless is just as good as Marco (which is to say, not all that good!). I haven’t left room on the roster for the #26 pick or for any second-rounders; under Plan B we may use these picks on stashes, or trades, or, annoying as it is, sell them; or we may shed some of Justin/TLC/Furkan to make room for #26.
Arguably if we get LRAM and Dedmon we don’t really need Ersan; Cov and Luc can both play at the 4, and perhaps Bolden can as well, and since with Dedmon and Bolden we probably don’t need Ersan for backup-center duty, you can make the case that he’s superfluous in this scenario. That would open up the $4.5M exception to add another good-shooting wing; as noted ideally that would be JJ but if not maybe there’s someone else out there that would take that deal. Or perhaps we could trade for a better SG; as noted we really don’t have room for all our draft picks; for #26 and TLC we could probably get a pretty decent expiring-deal player; that’s more than Houston gave for Lou Williams not long ago!
Can that team win the East? Sure they can, if Tyreke can do 90% of what he did last year. We were playing a +0 player, JJ, in that spot, if we can have a +3 player instead, that makes us about 2 points better per game all by itself. If we could keep JJ as well, that would be even better, but even without him, the combination of Evans and LRAM — whose offense-defense combination is as effective as JJ’s great-O-littel-D work — means we are effectively replacing the -3 guys (Bayless, TLC, Justin, Beli) that we were playing at wing with Tyreke’s +3. As noted above, replacing a -3 with a +3 is like replacing an average player with an MVP candidate!
Moreover, Ben and Joel have played about 80 career games each and can realistically be expected to improve significantly. Even without Markelle or our #10 pick contributing anything, we should be among the Eastern elite if Tyreke delivers.
So, yeah, as a “placeholder” team to make next season interesting while we wait for another shot at the superstar brass ring, I like that squad plenty. If LeBron goes elsewhere, but we can get these sorts of players, Plan B is OK by me!