Two amazing things happened during the NBA Draft.
First, the Sixers, under new GM Bryan Colangelo, followed the Process, taking three players analytics-minded fans pegged as “Sam Hinkie” picks rather than giving up too much value to trade for either a veteran guard or the third pick in the draft to take a player like Kris Dunn.
Colangelo balked at the suggestion the Sixers were willing to part with Jahlil Okafor, Robert Covington and their late two first round picks — a hot rumor that came in the minutes before the Celtics pick that never made much sense given how many picks Boston already had this year — but by not trading Okafor or Noel during the draft for cents on the dollar, something has to give before next season begins. Which leads us to…
Second, players may actually want to come play for the Sixers now.
Just before the draft, when rumors were abound that Philly was trying to trade up for the Celtics pick, Dunn was asked about the prospect of going to the Sixers, telling Keith Pompey of Philly.com, “My dad is from is Philly. He would definitely love that. They’re a young team, and I’m willing to go there and work.”
Dunn ended up in Minnesota with the fifth pick, as the Sixers reportedly tried again to get deal for him to no avail, but the public comment before the draft showed a changed mindset in Philly hoops, that no longer are players leaning away from a Sixers franchise in a perpetual state of rebuilding.
Now, with Hinkie’s players and Colangelo’s leadership, the Sixers might actually be an attractive place to play.
And yet, Dunn is a wide-eyed rookie who asked a question before the draft. He probably would have come up with a reason to play anywhere. “Oh, there’s an expansion team on the moon? The atmosphere would surely help my long range shooting.”
The real test for Colangelo will come now, post-draft. Free agency begins this week. The team is ISO a suitable partner to take one or more of the Sixers’ bigs for some serviceable perimeter scorers. Let’s look at some of the options, and if any veteran players feel the same way Dunn says he felt before the draft.
In terms of free agency, Colangelo is speaking a good game, touting the team’s immense cap space, young roster and future practice facility as reasons why top free agents should come to Philly. (Really, it’s just the money.) But in a year with few difference makers in free agency, Colangelo’s audience probably isn’t listening.
LeBron isn’t leaving Clevleand. And while Kevin Durant may leave Oklahoma City, the list of teams he’s willing to go to does not and will not include the Sixers.
The Sixers need a scorer, and preferably one who can spread the floor and shoot from outside, which makes Toronto star DeMar DeRozan a likely target for the Sixers. DeRozan, who was just named to the USA Basketball Olympic team, was drafted by Colangelo in Toronto back in 2009. Alas, per Tim MacMahon of ESPN, he wants to stay where he is.
Toronto Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan does not plan to schedule meetings with other teams at the start of free agency, opting to focus on working out a contract to return to the Eastern Conference finalists, a source told ESPN.com.
The Raptors can offer DeRozan a five-year maximum contract worth $153 million with the salary cap at a projected $94 million. Other teams would be able to offer him a max deal of $114 million over four years.
What’s worse for Colangelo, teams that lose out on DeRozan or Durant will be in the same place as the Sixers; willing to overpay for a lesser talent who can help now, thereby pushing Philly even further down the list of potential suitors.
Mike Conley may be the best ‘gettable’ guard on the market, but he’ll be 29 years old this season and is coming off a torn Achilles. He could stay in Memphis or, per reports, head to Dallas. Either way, Conley doesn’t look to be interested in shepherding a roster full of pups the next three years of his career.
What about Rajon Rondo? (I’ll wait until you stop laughing.)
Yes, there are some people who think Rondo would be a good fit on a young Sixers roster. Thankfully, the 30-year old malcontent is looking to either stay in Sacramento or move to the New York market, which pretty much means Brooklyn now that Rose is with the Knicks.
Eric Gordon is a short-term option, but not someone the Sixers can build around. That said, he’s the type of buy-low player that could pan out for the Sixers. Something the last GM might have also done.
Courtney Lee is another name that teams not looking to break the bank may key on. Word is, Sacramento is high on the 30-year old veteran.
Dion Waiters is a name that constantly comes up with the Sixers, as the Philly native has the tools that Colangelo might look for in a scorer. He’s young — he doesn’t turn 25 until December — and for now he’s cheap, though he is a restricted free agent with Oklahoma City. Durant’s situation will surely impact everything around the Thunder, so as much as the move might make some basketball sense and give Waiters a chance to be a first or second scoring option, the opportunity may not be there unless both Colangelo and Waiters are willing to be patient.
What about Brandon Jennings? Is he an option? Is there anyone else?
Truth is, the Sixers will probably re-sign Ish Smith, again, and keep him as the point guard until Simmons feels comfortable handling the ball down the floor. Smith is a fine back-up at the point, but he showed last year he doesn’t have the consistency (or the shot) to be a starting guard on a contending team.
And so, trading a big for a guard is the best option, as this free agent crop isn’t going to turn this roster into an immediate contender. And, again, even if Colangelo magically lands Durant, DeRozan or versatile Atlanta wing Kent Bazemore, there are still too many bigs.
Let’s best-case-scenario the Sixers roster right now:
- Simmons is a great ball handler, distributor, rebounder and defender as he learns how to shoot at the NBA level.
- Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, taken 24th overall, comes over this year and is awesome.
- Dario Saric comes over this year and is awesome.
- Furkan Korkmaz, taken 26th, comes over in a few years or gets dealt at some point for value.
- Joel Embiid is healthy and instantly becomes the Sixers best player and the future of basketball in the NBA.
- Nerlens Noel settles into a defensive stopper role, doing the dirty work every good team needs done.
- Jahlil Okafor improves on his rookie campaign and becomes a solid 20-and-10 guy.
- The Lakers 2017 pick conveys next year at No. 4 in a reportedly guard-heavy draft.
- Either the Sixers or Kings win the lottery next year.
Let’s also say Nik Stauskas and Robert Covington settle into second-unit role players and Smith re-signs to play the point. Can a roster of Simmons, Embiid, Noel, Okafor, Saric, Luwawu, Covington, Smith, Stauskas, T.J. McConnell maybe and two other guys off the bench in garbage time actually work in the NBA?
No. One or two of the bigs has to go, and Colangelo hinted this week that unless Saric comes over this year, it could be him this time next season.
But let’s say Saric comes over and can play. The odd man out is Okafor…unless Noel provides more value in a trade. So, really, nothing has changed since before the draft, other than teams that may have wanted bigs before the draft could be out of the market now.
Phoenix has a lot of money tied up in guards, namely Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and last year’s first round pick Devin Booker. But Phoenix drafted two bigs in Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss, so a trade is less attractive to them.
The Celtics may still want Okafor, but the only benefit to making a deal with Boston was to get the rights to Dunn, who Danny Ainge passed up for Jaylen Brown of Cal.
Boston was both in on Chicago star Jimmy Butler, with a report that the No. 3 pick and either Avery Bradley or Jae Crowder were part of a potential deal. That same report said Minnesota tried to get Butler, but couldn’t get Chicago to budge for Ricky Rubio and the No. 5 pick.
But what about Okafor (or Noel) and next year’s first round pick? The Sixers likely will get the Lakers pick and have the rights to swap with Sacramento, so they will still have one lottery pick if they deal another. Is Jimmy Butler worth Okafor and the top pick in the draft next year?
Without question. That said, the Celtics may have more to offer in terms of picks and players and they still can’t get a deal done.
Teams don’t normally trade away good guards — not in today’s perimeter-minded NBA — and the post-draft Sixers aren’t exactly in a position of negotiating strength.
Rumor has it the Sixers are looking at restricted free agent guard Jordan Clarkson with the Lakers. Since Los Angeles could match any deal for Clarkson, talk of a sign-and-trade have come up. And yet, as the idea of a trade with the Lakers stays fresh, much of the talk has been to swap Okafor for D’Angelo Russell, the player taken one pick ahead of him in last year’s draft.
Russell may have already worn out his welcome in Los Angeles, and with the Lakers taking Brandon Ingram in the draft this year, a case can be made that pairing him with fellow Duke alum in Okafor would make sense for the Lakers. Getting Russell — the player the team coveted last year in the draft — would work for the Sixers too.
That seems to be the most logical move; one that would help both teams more than holding onto the players they picked last year. After all this, could it be that easy?
With free agency looming, it can’t be. When you’re a 10-win team in the NBA trying to rebuild right and fast, it never will be.