Now that the Sixers have decidedly ousted the Brooklyn Nets in 5 games in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, the team has set their sets north of the border as they ready themselves for Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors. In the coming days prior to game 1 on Saturday, my esteemed colleagues will pen a great many pieces on the intricacies of that matchup. Each of them will assuredly be better than the piece you’re currently reading. But, hey, while we’re here, I figured we might as well take the temperature of the Sixers many impending free agents, from least to most important. It’s a long list, replete with players of varying league-wide recognition and demand. I came up with 8 players, excluding Shake Milton (two-way contract), Haywood Highsmith (two-way contract), Greg Monroe (who cares) and Jonathon Simmons (player option, but also who cares). James Ennis III also has a player option that he could well pick up, so we won’t dive into his case here either.
Unfortunately for the Sixers veteran big, his one noteworthy moment this postseason was a lowlight: when ESPN cameras caught the 31-year-old checking his cellphone while sitting on the bench, showing Joel Embiid. After the game, Embiid vouched that Amir was checking on his daughter at home, who had fallen ill. I believe that, while also maintaining that as an inactive player, Johnson should’ve left his phone in the locker room and visited it intermittently to check on his daughter if need be. The phone snafu notwithstanding, Johnson has been an exemplary teammate and leader for the team over his two seasons in Philly. As a player, however, he now seems best suited for pregame hi-five and bench celebration duty, after playing poorly in 51 games (10 minutes apiece) in 2018-2019. For a Sixers team that could very well soon be slim on cap and roster space, the team will almost certainly not re-up Johnson this summer. Methinks Elton Brand and co. will think better of their current roster construction (they have 5 centers) in subsequent seasons. That will spell the end of Amir’s tenure in Philadelphia.
The writing is on the wall for Furkan as well, it seems. Once the Sixers declined the forward’s option earlier in the season, they seemed to be stating in no uncertain terms that the second-year Turk was nowhere in the team’s plans. That, combined with Korkmaz incurring the league-mandated Sixers Meniscal Tear of The Season all but ended his Sixers career. The injury and the surgery it begot couldn’t have come at a worse time: February, when the battle of attrition for the Sixers lead bench wing took place. In the end, Furkan played only 48 games with the team this year, never distinguishing himself as the high-level shooter he was overseas prior to the draft, as he went 32% from beyond. If he’s not making threes, it will be tough for Korkmaz to stay in the NBA- I saw relatives at Passover with better lateral quickness. The one thing he has going for him is his age- he won’t be 22 until July. Perhaps there is a 5% chance the Sixers take a flier and bring him into training camp next year, but I wouldn’t count on it. Farewell, Furkan.
Unlike his two aforementioned teammates, Boban is firmly in the Sixers regular playoff rotation as the primary backup to Joel Embiid. The 30-year-old, fourth-year center played quite well against the Nets in the first round, averaging 11 and 6 in 15 minutes per game off the bench. He crashed the offensive boards and then scored over Nets players time and again, as if they were his children playing on a Fisher Price hoop. The true test for Boban is yet to come, however: whereas Brooklyn bigs Jarrett Allen and Ed Davis couldn’t punish the slow-of-foot Serbian by dragging him out to the three-point line, the Raptors play exclusively stretch centers in Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. In a perfect world, I’d bet the Sixers would prefer an Embiid backup upon whom they could expect to switch on defense and knock down catch-and-shoot threes on offense. Boban does neither of those, unfortunately. As a result, I would peg his likelihood at being resigned around 35%. The team and coaching staff certainly love to have the eminently likable center around, and a variable in Boban’s favor could be his best friend Tobias Harris. I wouldn’t be surprised, if the Sixers decide to retain Tobi (stay tuned!) that he’d ask them to keep his pal Bobi around as well.
Recently, I wrote a piece counting the many reasons why I’ve grown so fond of Sixers journeyman sixth man Mike Scott. I’m not alone- Scott has become such a fan favorite around these parts that Liberty Ballers writer Matthew del Rio is getting ‘Mike Scott Hive’ tattooed on his body next week. This is not a bit. But other than being a cult hero of sorts, what kind of basketball sense does it make for the Sixers to resign the 7-year vet? On the whole, he’s shot the ball very well as a Sixer, 41% from three with the team during the regular season. While he largely struggled from beyond versus the Nets (and exited game 5 with a heel contusion), Scott did hit one of the biggest shots in recent history for the team- a corner three with :18 left in game 4 to give Philly the pivotal victory. As a stretch-4 off the bench, Scott fits nicely among any of the Sixers rotations, shooting consistently from beyond and more often than not switching adequately onto smaller players on defense. He’s grown fond of his new teammates and coaches, according to a recent Sports Illustrated profile. The guess here is that the Sixers value what Scott has brought to the team, and vice versa. While I’d bet he commands more than the $4.3 million he got last offseason, the two parties ought to continue their partnership into 2020.
Sadly, I fear it may be time to bid adieu to one of the true heroes of The Process. Despite playing in 76 (hey!) games for the team during the regular season, TJ has fallen out of the playoff rotation to date. He was no match defensively for the Nets bigger, faster guards, and his refusal to shoot from long range makes him a tough fit next to the Sixers most integral pieces. Against the Nets, the Sixers decide to forgo McConnell’s non-garbage-time minutes altogether, instead running Jimmy Butler at point guard a good deal. There is still a chance TJ carves out a role versus Toronto- it’s possible that Brett Brown will like the guard against Fred VanVleet, and it’s possible Mike Scott’s injury is more extensive than we hope and the ripple effect that occurs avails the Arizona alum of some newfound minutes. But in free agency, the Sixers and McConnell will almost surely part ways. The team will likely opt for a bigger, better shooting backup point guard, and TJ will get a nice contract from a point guard-needy team- perhaps the Phoenix Suns. Although it will be the right move, it’ll be hard to watch Timothy John Jr. go. In the immortal words of Boyz II Men: It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.
After two consecutive balloon contracts from the Sixers front office over the past couple free agency periods, JJ and the Sixers will renegotiate with one another once again this July. The partnership has been a fruitful one for both sides. JJ has surrounded himself with a young, athletic, contending team; and in return the veteran guard’s shooting and constant offensive movement have greatly behooved the team and namely it’s most important player, Joel Embiid. Redick is a prolific shooter and subpar defender- despite his top-locking shutdown of the Nets Joe Harris in round 1. With bigger fish to fry in this year’s free agency, another reunion will require some flexibility on the part of JJ and his representation. The Sixers will no longer be as well-equip to offer a one-year, eight-figure contract to the guard. Instead, they may compromise and offer him a two-or-three year deal at a lower number. This would allow the team to keep Redick and the gravity he carries with him on offense, while enabling them to maneuver elsewhere in free agency as well. For Redick, he would reel in one final contract that ensures the remainder of his basketball life will be spent in a situation from which he’s greatly benefitted.
Despite what is sure to be a hefty price-tag, all indications from the Sixers are that they feel comfortable paying the price to keep Tobias in Philly. Odds are that that price-tag is in the range of 5- years and near the max, given the robust market the forward is likely to command. As I recently wrote, a number of factors go into the Sixers infatuation with Harris. First, he’s a fringe All-Star- you can pencil him in for around 20 points per game every season, and he’s improved by leaps and bounds every year he’s been in the league. He’s become an extremely consistent three-point shooter, and is remarkably savvy at operating as the ball handler in the pick-and-roll. While his defense on the perimeter leaves much to be desired, Harris is a fine defender in the post. Secondly, not only his play style, but his age fits perfectly with the rest of the Sixers core. Harris is 26, entering the prime of his career. And lastly, he’s extremely well-liked by seemingly everyone in the organization, and a tremendously hard worker. He’s a glue guy with the skill to warrant big dollars. I’d be shocked if Elton Brand let Tobias walk this off-season.
Well, here’s the toughest call. What will the Sixers do with the 29-year-old swingman? The reputation of Butler’s corse personality preceded him long before the trade that brought him to Philadelphia. Since becoming a Sixer, the returns have largely been positive. He had some tremendous late-game moments during the regular season, including game-winners against Charlotte, Brooklyn and Boston. He also coasted pretty heavily during the season on the defensive end, seemingly saving himself for the playoff run. In the first round against Brooklyn, Jimmy did just what was asked of him. He was a swiss-army knife for the team- he played very good defense against the Nets bevy of potent guards, passed well as a secondary ball-handler (4.6 assists to 1.6 turnovers) and generally made winning plays throughout the first round. Butler provides ISO scoring and ancillary creation skills the team longed for prior to his arrival. Publicly, his personality has almost completely been a non-issue- he held an Easter egg hunt for Sixers staffers, for God’s sake. The crux of the dilemma is what contract the Sixers ought offer. While his play has proved vital for a Sixers team desperate to take the next step into contention, how comfortable is the team with offering what it might take to keep Jimmy- a player who’s personal and injury history are both far from spotless? Butler will be 30 next year, the first year of whatever contract he signs. Spike Eskin of Sportsradio 94 WIP and The Rights to Ricky Sanchez recently opined that Butler and the Sixers ought to settle on a contract similar to Eric Bledsoe’s recent 4-year, $70 million extension. But it only takes one team to offer more to force the Sixers hand. It’s a tough decision. I think it will come down to this Toronto series. If Jimmy proves himself invaluable- scoring, passing, guarding Kawhi Leonard- in the ways he’s capable and vaults the team into the Eastern Conference Finals, Elton Brand will have no choice but to retain the Marquette alum. If not? If Butler and the team flounders in the second round? Jimmy would likely walk to the highest bidder. 50/50.
My preference? Let’s go beat Toronto and push back off-season chatter as far as possible. Trust the Process.