A lot of you are probably pretty stressed. It’s OK. You’re not alone. This could very well be a franchise (and Process) defining free agency period. Let’s re--cap where we’re at. On paper, things recently could not have broken better for the Sixers. It’s almost as if the basketball gods looked down on them and said “now is your time, Philadelphia.” As devastating as it is for the entire basketball world, the injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson may have put the breaks on the dynasty out by the Bay. It may have also derailed the “super team” talk that the Knicks and Nets were competing for in the Sixers’ own division. LeBron James and Anthony Davis may have made their way to a super-lucrative and sunny market, but their “doofery” ridden-front office (to borrow a term from our former in-house-celeb Mike Levin of the Rights to Ricky Sanchez pod) could be what prevents them from also recruiting a final superstar to the glamour franchise Lakers. The Celtics may not have crumbled, but losing Kyrie Irving and Al Horford will certainly make title contention more difficult. The Clippers have yet to emerge as favorites for the two superstars it would likely take to thrust them into a final four. The Bucks could lose one of Malcolm Brogdon or Brook Lopez. And even if the champs bring back Kawhi Leonard, they won’t be unbeatable. Four bounces right? What we’ve got here folks, is the makings of true parity! The likes of which we have not seen since... well I guess before Kevin Durant went to Golden State 3 years ago. But parity in the NBA is not something that often exists! And you know who could be one of the top 3 finals favorites? That’s correct. Your home town group.
That leaves Philadelphia, who the rumors suggest might have a leg up on retaining their team if they were to offer full five-year max deals to Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. Depending on what Kawhi Leonard decides to do, the Sixers could literally wind up with the best “big-four” in the NBA, and potentially have that in place for 4-5 years down the road. Whatever they were lacking in chemistry last season, and whatever bench deficit they dealt with, could potentially be fixed with a few cheap signings and some practice time. (All they’d have to do is upgrade over the unplayable second-round guys like Boban Marjanovic, Greg Monroe, T.J. McConnell, Jonathon Simmons and Furkan Korkmaz). Zhaire Smith, Shake Milton and Matisse Thybull alone could be a huge lift. They could even limit players like Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler to about 64 games a piece and save their legs for playoffs, also significantly mitigating the risks of any 5 year deals. In fact, if they go over the cap, but under the “apron,” they would get a $9m+ exception, instead of the smaller room exception if they let one of their big free agents walk or trade him. That might allow them to chase guys like George Hill, Seth Curry, Maxi Kleber, or Noah Vonleh, or... use your imagination, there will probably be some very good values coming our way.
It almost feels like the Sixers are on the one yard line with the fan-base screaming “you want Philly Philly? Let’s run it back!”
And all an ownership group who has vowed repeatedly they would pay the luxury tax (a very wealthy ownership group who hasn’t had to spend too much because of “The Process”) has to do now is make good on their promise! It has become clear to most of the deft basketball minds they’d be best off doing so. Think of ESPN’s Zach Lowe, who has argued the most logical thing to do is try to run it back because:
“They’re really good. They’re close to being a championship team now. Better than I thought, better than the Raptors thought before that series. Better than anyone thought.”
So are they gonna punch it into the end zone and lock this championship caliber core in for the foreseeable future? Do they have the faith in the group Elton Brand assembled using the lion’s share of Sam Hinkie’s assets, ones he only used because his bosses told him they’d be willing to pay for it all? Do they have the same moxie that Jeff Lurie, Howie Roseman, Nick Foles and Doug Peterson recently had?
It feels like the Sixers have made headway on a deal with Tobias Harris. There is “back up the truck” chatter from Dallas reporters and the lord of the day, Adrian Wojnaworski of ESPN appears to echo this sentiment as well:
Pretty big report from Woj: “It seems unlikely that Philadelphia is going to five years with Jimmy Butler... Tobias Harris remains a focus of that organization.”— adam (@SixersAdam) June 30, 2019
h/t to r/sixers https://t.co/klLqCrzitT
But you may also have noticed the Woj report above mentions the Sixers are not likely to offer a 5th year for Jimmy Butler, which is tantamount to simply not wanting him around; an almost absurd notion for a team who was potentially a few bounces away from a real shot at an NBA title. And now look:
Not that this is a surprise - or means anything - but Jimmy Butler is expected to tell Miami officials tonight that he wishes to play for the Heat, per source.— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) June 30, 2019
Jimmy said whaaa?? Is he just looking for leverage for the 5th year Woj has always said he truly desires? Do the Sixers have to cooperate? Could they get Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Tyler Herro? Is that even better? Would Pat Riley even dream of giving all of that?
For a team who reminded us in mid May they’d pay the luxury tax, and for a team who then got to see the same Raptors win the finals to further validate their hunch that this team is really good, not paying to keep Butler would be ... umm... is curious the word?
Woj mentions the sign-and-trade possibilities with Houston and Miami, two teams who both seem confident they can recruit Jimmy Butler. There are also rumors that the Sixers may be the “mystery” team who has a verbal offer for Al Horford in the realm of $112m dollars. Per Sam Amick, of The Athletic:
The Al Horford situation has been very tricky to figure out, but one team that I'm told has very real interest is Philly (moving parts there obviously with their own free agents, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris)— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) June 30, 2019
I'm so confused about Philadelphia's supposed interest in Horford.— Jeff Siegel (@jgsiegel) June 30, 2019
But that couldn’t be, right? No one would think that the team’s second best player these playoffs and only primary playoff initiator would be worth letting go (along with maybe JJ Redick and the larger MLE as well) to chase a second center who is 3 years older than Butler right? Given Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid’s age, that idea seems almost humorous, which is how most fans and media members seemed to take it when the rumors first started:
hal ortford to philly pic.twitter.com/jHseft3sbm— COOKIES HOOPS (PROCEDURE TRUSTERS) (@CookiesHoops) June 19, 2019
Surely in this modern game of tempo and transition and shooting they don’t want to spend almost all of their cap space on a point-forward, a stretch-four and two centers right!?
There are some league executives that believe the "mystery team" for Al Horford is...the Boston Celtics.— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) June 30, 2019
But keeping Horford's rights would require a number of complicated maneuvers, including a double sign-and-trade involving Kemba Walker and Terry Rozier. It wouldn't be easy. https://t.co/dCfSQcaEc4
OK whew! Maybe all the noise is just the type of intentional smoke screens you send out to not telegraph your interest, and the Sixers are just trying to save a few bucks on Butler’s 5th years. After all, Brand let us know he’d need “every dollar he can get” on draft day. Definitely not the type of thing you’d logically say if you didn’t expect to be over the cap. Far more palatable, and logical are other rumors from Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype where he has linked them to Quinn Cook, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Kyle O’Quinn.
That’s better! But ok let’s be real. If somehow Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris all went to the team’s front office and requested, nay demanded, that Jimmy Butler not be back because he is simply insufferable, it’s probably still worth trying to work out. It’s a star driven league and filling out the rest of the roster is easier if you’re smart. Look at what the Rockets got out of players like Pat Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, Clint Capela, Lou Williams, NeNe, Austin Rivers, Gerald Green, Trevor Ariza, and P.J. Tucker recently, all players they found for exceptional values while ponying up the bigger bucks for stars.
We’re under four hours away. And the ball is on the one yard line. The Sixers front-office has the type of legacy defining play call to make that Doug Pederson and Nick Foles had. I can’t wait to see what they draw up.