The Philadelphia 76ers probably ended up being the third-best team in the NBA last year. They exited in the Eastern Conference Semifinals by the closest of margins to the eventual champion Raptors, coming closer than either the Milwaukee Bucks or even the Golden State Warriors.
Practically speaking, The Process worked, digging Philadelphia from the depths of a 10-72 season in 2016 to the brink of the conference finals in 2019. However, it’s going to be hard to keep a large chunk of that slowly-accumulated talent.
Right now, the Sixers only have four players signed to contracts, leaving them $59.9 million in salary cap space. That includes a max contract to Joel Embiid, as well as a slew of eight-figure deals that limit their options.
The two biggest questions are what Philly is going to do with Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. The former is looking at a max contract and a sign-and-trade option, while the Sixers are reportedly ready to “back up the truck” for the latter with a near-max deal of his own.
Let’s start with Butler. Currently, his two biggest suitors are Miami and Houston, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The Heat have more assets to offer, including Josh Richardson, while Houston doesn’t want to give up too much in their attempt to build towards a long-awaited Finals appearance.
Butler is eligible for the full $190 million max contract for five years with the Sixers. If he signs with anybody else, that total goes down to $141 million for four years. As our own Anthony Koon reported Saturday, Butler is open to accepting less money with the Lakers in order to build a super team with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Meanwhile, Harris is looking at anywhere between $22-$27 million a year to return. However, he faded in the playoffs, shooting just 38 percent from the field against the Raptors (28 percent from deep).
Philadelphia may be best served letting a fat contract walk to Brooklyn or Dallas, while using the space for the rest of the roster and a more clutch performer.
What Will Philadelphia Do With Cap Space This Free Agency Period?
The problem with the roster construction right now is that so many of the contracts have been going to aging contributors. J.J. Reddick earned just under $16 million last year and is 35. Mike Scott is 31 with a $5.1 million salary last season. Boban Marjanovic earned $13 million and is 31.
This is likely where the front office’s desperation to re-sign Harris is coming from. You can find 3-point specialists such as Reddick for cheaper, creating more than enough space to eat Harris’ contract.
At this point, here is the likely signing path for the Sixers. Harris and Scott will take care of the power forward/wing positions, and Marjanovic will provide a decent offensive replacement for Embiid. Scott scored 7.8 points a game on 41.2 percent shooting after leaving Los Angeles last winter, while Marjanovic chipped in 8.2 points per game over just 13 minutes on average.
From there, make a run at a Patrick Beverley or a Bojan Bogdanovic. The latter, in particular, would be a good shooting guard/wing replacement for Butler. He kept the Pacers afloat last year after Victor Oladipo’s injury, so he’s a valuable competitor.
After that, sign a player such as Reggie Bullock. He’s a career 39.2 percent 3-point shooter, which is enough to ably fill in Reddick’s shoes. He’s also much cheaper, earning just $2.5 million with the Lakers last year.
With this, you get a mini-star with Harris and Bogdanovic, continuity with Scott and Marjanovic and a gunner with Bullock.