Most of Sixers nation rejoiced Wednesday night upon hearing the news that Al Horford and the remaining three years and $69 million guaranteed on his contract were heading to Oklahoma City. Danny Green fits much better alongside Philadelphia’s two stars, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and the three-time champion is on an expiring deal, offering the Sixers financial flexibility in the future.
However, Horford’s departure does mean the Sixers find themselves back to where they were at the beginning of the 2019 offseason in one regard: needing a backup to Joel Embiid. My Talking About Podcast co-host Daniel Olinger likes to refer to Amir Johnson’s on-court time in the 2019 playoffs as the worst minutes of his life. While most Sixers fans have certainly experienced more harrowing times on this earth, there was a reason the team was desperate to upgrade the position after being bounced (and bounced, and bounced, and bounced again) by the Raptors that postseason.
Following the trades, draft picks, and transactions of the past couple days, the Sixers’ current option for the role is mainly the mystery box of 58th overall pick Paul Reed. He might possess laudable rim-protection skills, but a Sixers team with championship aspirations would certainly like a more experienced player at the position. In his post-draft press conference, Morey hinted at addressing the issue via free agency.
Daryl Morey says he'd like to have "optionality" in terms of the backup center spot. He recognizes the Sixers have a perceived opening at that position and praised Doc Rivers as an excellent recruit.— Noah Levick (@NoahLevick) November 19, 2020
Also mentioned possibility of lineups with Ben Simmons as a small-ball 5.
With contracts already on the book for Philadelphia exceeding the luxury tax level of $132.6 million, the Sixers only have the ability to use the taxpayer mid-level exception (approximately $5.7 million) and minimum contracts. Here are some of Philadelphia’s potential options in that range:
Aron Baynes - Baynes made $5.5 million last season in what was a breakout year for him in Phoenix. The center shot 35.1 percent on 4.0 3-point attempts per game, and would instantly become the Sixers’ best screener by a large margin. More than likely, Baynes may have earned himself a pay raise, and the Suns are all-in on finally making it back to the playoffs this season, so they may try to bring back the big man. However, maybe Australian national teammate Ben Simmons could talk Baynes into coming to Philadelphia.
Meyers Leonard - Although he made $11.3 million last season at the conclusion of a four-year deal, Leonard has expressed the idea that contention matters more to him than money. Courtesy of South Florida Sun Sentinel:
“Now, it’s not even about the money or the one year for me. I know going into free agency, what I want is to compete in the playoffs and to compete for a championship, and I want to have a significant impact.”
Leonard is a terrific option to space the floor from the center position, having shot 41.4 percent on 2.5 3-point attempts per game last season. There may be mutual interest between Leonard and the Heat in a reunion, but if not, the Sixers should make their best pitch with that mid-level slot.
Nerlens Noel - A good friend of Joel Embiid, the former Sixer has long been a top target among fans to return to Philadelphia, as our Harrison Grimm demonstrated yesterday. The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey reported last night “there’s a real chance” Noel and the team could reunite. On a minimum $2.0 million deal last season with Oklahoma City, Nerlens shot a career-high 68.4 percent from the field and averaged 2.9 blocks per 36 minutes. A potentially less expensive option than most of the players on the list, it could behoove the Sixers to have the Process come full-circle.
JaMychal Green - Here is an area where Doc Rivers’ recruiting skills could definitely come in handy, as Green spent the last year-and-a-half coached by Rivers on the Clippers. Green declined his player option of $5.0 million yesterday. As a guy who shot 38.7 percent from 3 each of the past four seasons, he makes for a worthwhile Sixers target in the open market.
Robin Lopez - Robin seems poised to break up the Lopez twin duo in Milwaukee, having already declined his $5.0 million player option. Following his brother’s lead, Lopez attempted over 1.0 3-pointer per game for the first time in his career last season, connecting on 33.3 percent. His main value still comes as a post defender and hard screener, so if the Sixers are intent on maximizing floor spacing, they would likely look in a different direction.
Alex Len - Len is coming off a two-year, $8.5 million deal, but having struggled to find his footing in the league, could potentially be obtained for even cheaper. The seven-footer basically abandoned ideas of becoming a stretch-five after moving to Sacramento midway through last season, but looked more comfortable as an interior scorer and rim protector. I wouldn’t mind the Sixers taking a cheap flier on a 26-year-old who could still have room for improvement.