The Sixers are running out of time
Today is June 19th, 2022. The NBA draft is on the 23rd. The Sixers are running out of time to put together a winning roster for the upcoming season. They need to lean heavily on the draft, which they will not do.
They need to lean heavily on the draft because they need to replace the SF position and the bench players who got most of the minutes last year. They, emphatically, do not need another star.
For the last few years, the Sixers have been bounced out of the playoffs for one or another of two reasons, sometimes a little of both. Neither is fixable by adding another star.
The Sixers are bounced from the playoffs because the bench players are so bad, or badly exposed during the playoffs, that the bench cannot hold a lead or maintain contact with the opponent. The bench hemorrhages points. Don't believe me? Greg Monroe. I believe, the starters have outplayed their counterpart units every year in the playoffs. Most Sixers' fans are familiar with the yearly whining and cringing about not having an adequate backup for Joel Embiid. Yet, right now, the Sixers lack an adequate backup for Joel Embiid. A stunning achievement for a front office supposedly staffed by professionals.
But, it is not just Embiid's backup that is inadequate. The main bench players are also inadequate: Shake Milton, Furkan Korkmaz, and Georges Niang. Milton and Korkmaz have contributed to multiple failed playoff runs. Could it be because they are totally inadequate on defense as is Niang? Yes, it absolutely could be. Of course, minimal offensive contributions do not help either. Matisse Thybulle's offense is arguably worse the the former players' defense. Although continually asked to launch threes at a higher rate for 3 years, he has done the opposite, attempting a career low 4.3 three point attempts per 36 minutes last year. Mr. Springer and Mr. Petrusev offered no help at all last year, as could have been (and was) predicted. Springer needs to be replaced by someone who can at least theoretically help during the playoffs. I assume Embiid's designated backup(s) are not returning (Jordan and Millsap). That is seven players that absolutely must be replace as they have each proven they cannot help during the playoffs despite the fact that the see the court less than in the regular season. If the Sixers want to win a championship they have to invest in their bench, the unit the losses each playoffs.
Injuries are the second reason that the Sixers lose in the playoffs. Losing a cornerstone like Simmons or Embiid is obviously too much to overcome. But, so is losing marginal contributors such as Danny Green and Matisse Thybulle. This is because their minutes must be replaced by bench players. The Sixers have no bench players capable of playing significant minutes at any position, outside of Paul Reed and Charles Bassey at 4 and 5. But, last year they were young, untrusted and susceptible to fouls limiting their minutes.
Most of these roster spots and minutes, outside of the SF starter, can be replaced by players in the draft. This is not only the cheapest way to acquire such players, but also the way to ensure that said players improve over time rather than having to be replaced every year like Embiid's backup. I believe the following draft picks could be acquired in exchange for the players that need to be replaced: 20, 25, 27, 31, 36, 38, 47, 48. Not all of them at once, but some number of them. Even number 5 might be available if Tobias Harris is moved as well.
Free agents, especially unrestricted free agents, are another way to go. However, the Sixers would have to significantly overpay to acquire many of the free agents being discussed online. I, myself, have my eye on 4 free agents. Each may require significant over-payment: Isaiah Hartenstein, Mo Bamba, Amir Coffey, and Jevon Carter. All but Bamba played for playoff teams last year, the Clippers and the Bucks, specifically. The Clippers being in LA and as yet to experience Powell playing with both George and Leonard are an extremely attractive team. Hartenstein and Coffey both played for the Clippers last season. I believe that means the Clippers can retain them even without Bird rights. That they can be resigned would make them extremely attractive to the Clippers. Not only did each player perform well, but the Clippers are otherwise limited to minimum contract players to replace them. The Clippers' payroll was slightly higher than Golden State's last year which makes me suspect there may be no functional limit on how high the owner will allow the payroll to go. Additionally, is a restricted free agent, I believe. Even so, the Clippers are probably closer to being a championship team than are the Sixers. Who would switch to the Sixers if not significantly overpaid?
Much the same considerations apply to Jevon Carter. The Bucks are probably closer to a championship than are the Sixers. I believe that Philly should be a more attractive destination than Milwaukee, but maybe not if one already lives in Milwaukee.
Mo Bamba should alleviate the perennial Embiid's backup problem for years to come. He is unrestricted. The Magic have already signed Wendell Carter to an extension, and are considered by some to be willing to let Bamba walk. That doesn't mean he will be free. Other destinations may be more attractive simply as destinations, may offer the chance for more playing time or a starting job. Therefore, the Sixers will have to overpay especially considering they want Bamba as a backup, others as a starter. However, paying the entire non-taxpayer mid-level exception for Bamba would be well worth it. Acquiring Bamba without giving anything up would arguably bring the Sixers closer to a championship than would acquiring Bradley Beal which would require relinquishing significant assets.
The non-taxpayer mid-level exception becomes available if the bench players are replaced by rookie contracts. Rookies I believe can help the Sixers this year include: Ochai Agbaji, Malki Banham, Nikola Jovic, EJ Liddell, Wendell Moore, John Butler, Jabari Walker, David Roddy, Jordan Hall, Hyunjung Lee, Johnny Juzang. These players should all be available between 20 and 46. One of the first three may drop to 20. The next three should be available between 20 and 25; two picks the Spurs have. The next two should be available in the thirties; the last three in the forties or may slip through the draft entirely.
Trades I recommend include sending Milton, Joe, Springer to DET for SF PF Isaiah Livers, 46 via BKN, and 2024 2nd round via WAS or MEM. Livers has shot over 40% from deep over the last 3 years of college and his rookie year. His 6'7", 230 lbs match Niang exactly. He is a younger, cheaper alternative to Niang who has upside Niang does not. Unfortunately, Livers' defense may not be any better than Niang's.
Pick 46 is where I mock picking Jordan Hall who can play PG, SG, and SF. At 6'7", he brings adequate 3 point shooting proven over 2 years, defense, ball handling, and superior playmaking. The latter two skills the Sixers traditionally lack. He would instantly be the second best player on the team at making entry passes to Embiid, another skill that the Sixers have traditionally been lacking in anyone other than their starting point guard.
I suggest trading Korkmaz, Niang, Thybulle to the Spurs for PG Tre Jones, 20 via TOR, and 38 via LAL. Niang should be worth at least the 38; Thybulle at least the 20. If the Spurs see Korkmaz as a negative asset, leave him out for the same return, or throw in a 2023 or later 2nd round pick. Tre Jones isn't very important to the deal. But, he would bring additional ball handling and playmaking. Nikola Jovic might be available at 20. He would be Tobias Harris's heir apparent. Jovic also has superior playmaking and could make entry passes to Embiid. If not Jovic, then Butler. At 7'0", Butler can shoot 3s and should be able to make entry passes. The 38th pick could bring Roddy, Walker, Lee, etc, basically more 3 point shooting at SG and SF maybe even PF.
The Sixers 23 pick could bring in either EJ Liddell to help at PF and SF or Wendell Moore to help at SG, SF, and PG. Both bring 3 point shooting and defense. Liddell brings rebounding. Moore brings more ball handling and playmaking.
If Harris is shipped to the Spurs, he should at least bring back Devin Vassel or the 5 pick (Keegan Murray) and possibly the 25th pick as part of the above deal.
The worst case resultant 13 or 14 player roster is something like this: C Embiid, (possibly Bamba), Bassey; PF Harris, Reed, Liddel; SF Livers, Moore; SG Maxey, Lee, Brown Jr; PG Harden, Jones, Hall. As an added bonus, this roster would be under the tax line. If Bamba is not available, two of Hartenstein, Coffey and Carter might be acquired.
This team would be deeper in 3 point shooting, ball handling, playmaking, defense and potential than any recent iteration of the Sixers. Frankly, I think securing Bamba or Hartenstein almost guarantees getting to the conference finals.
Morey, Brand, and Harris will not do anything like this. But, something like this is the only realistic path toward a championship that I can envision. The Sixers will continue to lose in the playoffs until they stop ignoring/valuing half of the rotation. You will notice that because the roster behind the starters is so young, Doc cannot help but give the youngsters enough court time to prepare them for the playoffs and the years ahead. Again, there is nothing wrong with the starters outside of now needing a starting SF, unless one gives that job to Thybulle which, according to statistics, would be just fine, damn the spacing. I just don't like the guy.
Morey, Brand, and Harris will do their best to bring in another star even at the cost of opening a new hole in their lineup at PF and will opt for an ancient C to backup Embiid because, you know, "experience" which they, themselves, don't seem to accrue. If they manage to land Beal, will he start alongside Maxey and Harden making for a three guard, no defense team? Good lord, I hope not; Embiid and the munchkins.