Very few things are currently certain for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Who will be the coach?
Who will be the decision-maker in the front office?
Who among the players from this past season’s embarrassment will return?
At this point, I think we can only truly expect two things: change (be it big, foundational change in the team’s front office or minor tweaks to executive and player personnel), and that the Sixers will be a team completely strapped for cash.
Few teams in the league sport a more bloated cap sheet than the Sixers, and even if they should be able to shed the giant salary of a player who doesn’t fit (Al Horford), the team would need to receive a similarly large payroll number in return to make the deal work.
With this being the case, the team will most likely be bargain-hunting this offseason. While the starting lineup will be outfitted with remaining starters and whomever the team acquires via trades, the bench will need some rejuvenating.
The Sixers, I remind you, currently have a league-leading five draft picks in November’s draft. Between whatever asset tax the team will need to pay to get off of Horford and the annual second-round-pick-for-cash, everything-must-go Joshua Harris doorbuster, we can rest assured that team will not be rostering five rookies in 2020.
Kyle O’Quinn, Alec Burks, Glenn Robinson III, Raul Neto and Ryan Broekhoff (!) are all due to hit unrestricted free agency this fall.
The Sixers are going to have to get a little bit creative and a little bit lucky in free agency, as they’ll need to explore which players they may be able to bring in on veteran-minimum contracts. These contracts, as confirmed with former Liberty Baller and current writer for The Rights to Ricky Sanchez Sixers Adam, can be added by any team at any time, should a player agree.
So here are five players who are set to hit free agency who could both provide the Sixers with some quality minutes off the bench, and seem to be in line for a veteran-minimum-level deal:
1. Nerlens Noel
Starting things off with a Process favorite. Noel has had a rough go of it since being traded to Dallas by Sixers GM Bryan Colangelo in 2017. Noel and Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle clashed, and he never really found his footing in Dallas. The center also received some really poor counsel from his representatives upon entering restricted free agency in 2017. He rejected a five-year, $70 million contract offer from Dallas, and instead countered by requesting a max deal. Mavs owner Mark Cuban was none too pleased, and removed his extension offer altogether. Noel wound up accepting the qualifying offer of one year, $4.2 million. Following his calamitous stint in Dallas, Noel signed with Oklahoma City as the backup center to Steven Adams. His most recent contract was worth $2 million for one season.
While there have certainly been character concerns about Nerlens, and he never developed his offensive range or scoring repertoire as some may have hoped, he has remained a very effective and versatile defender in the league. Last year, he averaged 1.5 blocks and 1.0 steals per game in only 18.5 minutes per contest. Assuming the Sixers are able to deal Horford, the team will need a reliable backup center so that the defense doesn’t crater when Joel Embiid sits. A reunion on a veteran-minimum deal may make some sense for both sides. It should also be noted that Noel and Embiid were especially good friends toward the end of Nerlens’ Philadelphia tenure.
2. Andre Roberson
This would certainly be a buy-low proposition, but Roberson is only a few years removed from being one of the most consistent and disruptive defenders in the league. Roberson was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 2017, and subsequently signed a three-year, $30 million deal to stay in Oklahoma City. In January of 2018, the swingman ruptured his achilles tendon. It was a brutal injury that forced him to miss almost two full seasons, only recently returning to play in the Orlando bubble.
It is possible (and unfortunate) that the Sixers may need to use Matisse Thybulle in a trade this offseason if it wants to retool its starting lineup and optimize its window of contention. If so, some perimeter defense off the bench would be nice, and Roberson won’t be able to ask for any more than a veteran-minimum deal to prove his utility once again in the league.
3. Courtney Lee
Another former Maverick, Lee would bring consistent shooting to the end of the Sixers’ bench. After an injury-plagued year limited the guard to only 24 games last season, he rounded out his tenure in Dallas shooting a scorching 44 percent from 3-point range in the games he did play. Lee just played the last of a lucrative four-year contract he originally signed with the Knicks that was paying him $12 million a season.
Heading into his age-34 season, one would think Lee may be willing to sacrifice a few million dollars for the opportunity to give minutes to a team with a chance to contend. If his price range does fall into that of a veteran minimum, he would be a solid shooter and capable defender to round out the rotation.
4. E’Twaun Moore
Long an under-the-radar object of trade-machine-tactician Sixers fans’ affection, Moore might have a price tag that disqualifies him from this list. I’m including him anyway, since the financial ramifications of COVID-19 could well turn the market for players who would usually receive $5 million into the veteran-minimum area.
Entering his age-31 season, Moore has been the picture of consistency in 3-point shooting throughout his stint in New Orleans. Throughout his four-year tenure there, Moore shot 40 percent on 3s, and 50 percent on twos. As he’s on the wrong side of 30, my hope would be that his asking price becomes low enough to come to Philly on a vet minimum. While he won’t add much in the way of impactful defense or offensive creation, his consistent shooting would make him an ideal rotation pairing next to Ben Simmons and Embiid.
5. Mario Hezonja
Similar to the Sixers’ signing of Trey Burke last summer, signing Hezonja would give the team a look at a still-young player (he’s only 25) who was recently a very highly regarded prospect. The fifth overall pick in the 2015 draft, Hezonja flamed out in Orlando and has yet to fully find his footing in the league at subsequent stops in New York and Portland. He lacks consistency with pretty much every area of his game, and at times, can be caught somewhere in between guard and forward.
For the Sixers, it would be a no-risk proposition to bring him in and see how he takes to the coaching and environment of (what should be) a contending team. Hezonja definitely has some Dion Waiters syndrome to him — he can appear to feel that the right shot on any given possession is a shot by him, contested or not. But maybe the Sixers — a team with so few people who think that way — could use a guy with some irrational confidence. If his raw skills reveal themselves in a more honed fashion, he could be a boon to the team’s rotation.
Honorable mention: JaKarr Sampson.
C’mon! I love JaKarr, and he’s a legitimately menacing, multi-positional defender in the NBA. Would love a reunion.
Rest in Peace, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Oppression and injustice are everywhere, if you care to look. Those who devote their lives to fighting injustice and dissenting from oppressive systems don’t just deserve to be revered, but to be emulated by the rest of us in an effort to live in a way of which they’d be proud.
Thinking of her loved ones on what must have been an incredibly tough holiday weekend.