It is July 6th. The free agency waiting period is over and rosters are officially taking shape. The Sixers have signed PJ Tucker, Danuel House Jr, and Trevelin Queen as free agents, Michael Foster Jr, Julian Champagnie, and Aminu Mohammed as undrafted free agents. They traded Danny Green and a pick for De'Anthony Melton. Soon, they will sign James Harden to a new, 3 year, free agent contract, probably for about $35 million for 2023. It is reported he is going to accept more than $10 million less than his $47 million player option which he declined in order for the team to sign more players to be more competitive.
At the moment, the roster looks like this: C Embiid, Bassey, Reed; PF Harris, Niang, Foster Jr (non-guaranteed contract); SF PJ Tucker, Thybulle, Danuel House Jr, Korkmaz; SG Maxey, Milton, Joe, Springer, Brown Jr (two-way), Champagnie (Two-way), Mohammed (Exhibit 10); PG Harden, Melton, Queen. That is 20 players. During preseason 18 contracts plus 2 two-way contracts are allowed. The roster must be cut to 17, 15 contracts and 2 two-way contracts, prior to the regular season. So, three players will have to go at some point.
The questions that remain are who will be eliminated through trade or waivers, can the team be improved from its present state, and has the team been improved enough to be more competitive than it has been in recent years.
I believe that it is only marginally better than last year's team and not as good as the Embiid, Harris, Butler, JJ, Simmons version of the team. The addition of PJ merely replaces Danny Green but with half the volume of 3 point shooting. So, PJ doesn't equal JJ offensively. Maxey doesn't equal Butler. Melton improves the bench but not enough to tip the scale. House is merely what Milton was that year.
To improve the team from here, the Sixers need to add 3 point shooting and improve the defense. This is quite possible. My favorite path towards these ends also corrects for last year's off-season in my mind, as I suggest acquiring Isaiah Livers, Kessler Edwards, and Trey Murphy III, all from last year's draft. All three shoot the three proficiently. The latter two defend well. They are 6'7", 6'8", and 6'9" respectively. So, they add nice size, spacing, defense and youth.
To acquire them the Sixers give up Niang, Milton, Thybulle, Joe, Korkmaz, and their 2023 2nd round pick. Edwards is signed as a free agent as the Nets just declined to make him a qualifying offer. The other two are acquired via the following trades.
Detroit receives: Thybulle, Milton, and Joe; the Sixers receive: Isaiah Livers, DET's 2025 1st round pick, and, possibly, DET's 2024 2nd round pick.
Pelicans receive: Niang, Korkmaz and 2023 2nd round pick via ATL, CHA or BKN; Sixers receive Trey Murphy III, and Daulton Hommes, for salary matching purposes. Hommes would be cut and stretched for $1.5 million over 3 years, just $500K per year.
These moves improve the Sixers' defense by replacing Thybulle's sometimes unplayable defense (due to his offensive limitations) with Murphy's and Edwards's playable defense as well as the elimination of Milton's and Niang's subpar defense. Milton and Niang are presently the worst defenders among the Sixers who get substantial minutes and are not starters. Maxey and Harden are worse defenders but need to play. Joe and Korkmaz are decent defenders but their offense is less than adequate. Milton and Korkmaz have declined two years in a row, other than Korkmaz's defense and positional flexibility. Two years in a row is my limit.
Livers' defense is subpar. He is basically a cheaper, younger version of Niang. They even share the same size and position(s); 6'7", 230 pounds, preferably PF and some SF.
These moves bring in 3 players and send out 5 players opening two roster spots. I would sign Brown to a standard contract. This makes his defense always available. Also, he showed in college and in the G League that he can shoot the three. So, he may be more playable than Springer. His signing allows Foster to be signed to a two-way contract. Foster can benefit from time in the G League more than Brown can.
The resultant roster is: C Embiid, Bassey; PF Harris, Reed, Livers; SF PJ, Murphy, Edwards; SG Maxey, House, Brown, Springer; PG Harden, Melton, Queen. Two-way contracts for Foster and Champagnie. Mohammed, in the G League via Exhibit 10 contract, won't count against the roster limit. Michael Foster is 6'9" and 235 pounds. He played center in the G League. So, he can function as the emergency center in case of injury.
Who shoots the three, provides spacing? Embiid, Harris, Reed, Livers, PJ, Murphy, Edwards, Maxey, House, Brown, Harden, Melton, Queen could all fulfill this role. That's 12 out of 15 players.
Who plays defense? Embiid, Bassey, Harris, Reed, PJ, Murphy, Edwards, House, Brown, Springer, Melton, Queen all provide adequate to superior defense. That's 12 out of 15 players. Harden, Maxey, and Livers are the only subpar defenders on the team.
This team doesn't have the high end superstars of the Butler team. But, it is much deeper with more spacing and defense. I think this roster would have a good chance of getting past the second round of the playoffs. But, a roster including the likes of Niang, Milton, Thybulle, and Korkmaz is bound to disappoint, again. Niang and Milton only help on offense and even then only in limited ways. Niang can shoot threes but offers nothing else on offense. Milton can create his own shot but can no longer shoot threes and has proven less than adequate as a point guard. Korkmaz is adequate as a point guard against certain match ups and plays passable defense but has lost his 3 point shot. Thybulle offers excellent but high-risk defense and nothing else. These players represent too much mediocrity to all play for a contending team. All or most have to go.
Additionally, the above scenario replaces the mediocre and inadequate bench that has lost multiple playoffs for the Sixers with better and cheaper alternatives, most of which are two-way players. This team is actually slightly below the tax line when all is said and done, leaving ample financial flexibility to get through the season.
This is all achievable with a single, inexpensive free agent signing for a minimum contract and two doable trades. If necessary, the Sixers have additional pick assets and the rights to Petrusev that could help get the deals done. Giving up picks for Murphy and Livers is okay as Murphy and Livers are part of the future anyway.