Dario Saric, Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid make up the Sixers young nucleus of bigs.

Dario Saric, Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid make up the Sixers young nucleus of bigs.

Billy Penn Illustration

With Saric signing, the Sixers might suddenly have too much talent

A young roster full of bigs is a good problem to have, so long as Bryan Colangelo can make the right deals for the franchise.

As news broke of a report that Dario Saric will officially sign his Sixers contract on this week, one could imagine Sam Hinkie, somewhere in Vegas, lighting up a cigar and loving it when the plan comes together.

Though Hinkie is no longer in charge of the Sixers, his signature is all over the 2016-17 roster, perhaps more than any squad they had when he actually worked for the team.

Hinkie’s Process wasn’t supposed to take this long. The Sixers used a hard reboot to take risks in the 2014 draft after missing out on the top two spots, selecting Joel Embiid and his wonky foot third overall, then trading for the rights to Saric.

A healthy Embiid would have been the best prospect in that draft, while Saric was the top European player available that season, but he was locked into a contract in Turkey that precluded him from even thinking about the NBA for at least two years.

Remember, Hinkie had the Sixers in a position to be patient, but the 2015 lottery was unkind as well, and the Sixers settled for third again, taking Jahlil Okafor as the best player available and a need-filler given Embiid’s injury set-back.

Another tanked season later, Hinkie was out, Bryan Colangelo was in and Ben Simmons was taken with the first overall pick. The Process could, as the Sixers brass kept telling fans, finally lead to progress.

Colangelo spoke about the Sixers’ roster at the NBA summer league in Vegas this week, noting that they’re likely done in free agency, but are still looking to make the team better via trade.

“There’s no question when you look at our roster we’ve got some imbalance. We’re top-heavy,” Colangelo told Justin Termine and Eddie Johnson on SiriusXM NBA Radio. “When you look at the calls that are coming in, quite frankly, everybody is trying to poach a big man from us.”

“We have to listen. That’s part of my job. I have to make this roster better, I have to make this basketball team better, but to classify it or characterize it as ‘shopping’ [Okafor] that’s not the case at all.”

This is one of those situations where we know Colangelo is not being forthright (I hesitate to use the term ‘lying’) because it’s not in his, nor the team’s, best interest to admit he is shopping any specific player when, in fact, he’s shopping all of them.

The Sixers finally have real NBA-level talent, but Colangelo does not have a finished roster, so it’s illogical to assume he’s just sitting back and fielding calls for Okafor or Noel and not working the phones himself. When asked if he was comfortable with Embiid, Okafor and Noel still on the roster heading into the season, Colangelo said flatly, “absolutely not.”

“Absolutely not, but I think what we are comfortable doing is saying is that we’re not going to make a bad deal just to make a deal. So when I say in a playful way no, I’m not comfortable, I mean we could be a better basketball team if we could distribute that talent better.”

“The reality says,” Colangelo finished, “probably one has to go at some point, but only when the deal is right.”

While Colangelo included Embiid in that conversation, there is no way the Sixers will be trading him. His upside is too high and his trade value, having missed two full seasons due to injury, is too low.

From a skill standpoint, it makes the most sense to trade Okafor, an offensive player who still needs to develop on the defensive end. From a value standpoint, Noel is probably the most attractive player, as teams are always looking for another rim protector. Plus, given Noel will be the first to hit his second contract — and really, why in the world would he re-sign with the Sixers after the way his career has gone here — the Sixers run the risk of losing him if they don’t, at some point, trade him first.

With summer league star Christian Wood inking a deal overnight with the Charlotte Hornets, the Sixers have 19 players — 20 if we include first-round pick Furkan Korkmaz who is planning to stay in Turkey for a few years — for 15 roster spots.

2016-17 Sixers Roster

PlayerPositionAgeHeightWeightCap Figure
Gerald HendersonSG286-5215$8,801,956
Jerryd BaylessPG276-3200$8,612,440
Sergio RodriguezSG306-3176$6,800,000
Carl LandryPF326-9248$6,500,000
Ben SimmonsPF196-10240$5,903,160
Joel EmbiidC227-0250$4,826,160
Jahlil OkaforC206-11275$4,788,840
Nerlens NoelC226-11228$4,384,490
Nik StauskasSG226-6205$2,993,040
Kendall MarshallPG246-4200$2,048,257
Dario SaricPF226-10220$1,931,900
Timothe Luwawu-CabarrotSF216-6205$1,326,960
Richaun HolmesPF226-10245$1,025,831
Robert CovingtonSF256-9215$1,015,696
Hollis ThompsonSG256-8206$1,015,696
Jerami GrantSF226-8210$980,431
T.J. McConnellPG246-2200$874,636
Shawn LongPF236-9245$543,471
James Webb IIISF226-9202$543,471

Long and Webb will surely be Delaware 87ers this season, which gets the roster from 19 to 17. Landry could be sent packing, as it’s not like the Sixers can’t absorb the cap hit, and there has been talk of sending Luwawu to the 87ers to get stronger and more playing time, too. Kendall Marshall, a Hinkie guy, is perhaps more likely to be gone. And maybe the Sixers can find a sensible trade partner for Richuan Holmes?

It’s not easy to get this team to 15 players, in part because most of them are so young. But once the Sixers are there, that’s when the real interesting decisions get made. Who is Brett Brown going to play?

The opening day starters won’t be the same as post-Christmas, especially if Embiid is healthy, but right now, with this roster, the starting lineup is probably:

  • PG: Rodriguez
  • SG: Henderson
  • SF: Simmons
  • PF: Noel
  • C: Okafor

That leaves Saric, Bayless, Covington, Grant, Embiid and Thompson off the bench. And maybe Stauskas. And, if he’s not dealt, Landry. And McConnell.

Wait, we learned last season that the Sixers can’t play Noel and Okafor together. Hmm…

  • PG: Rodriguez
  • SG: Henderson
  • SF: Simmons
  • PF: Saric
  • C: Okafor

But not enough of those players can stretch the defense.

  • PG: Bayless
  • SG: Henderson
  • SF: Covington
  • PF: Simmons
  • C: Embiid

Isn’t Simmons going to be a point guard? And isn’t Saric going to play the three?

  • PG: Simmons
  • SG: Henderson
  • SF: Saric
  • PF: Noel
  • C: Okafor

This is impossible to figure out, so we asked for the expert opinion of CBS Sports basketball guru Zach Harper out in Las Vegas. Here is his lineup:

  • PG: Sergio
  • SG: Henderson
  • SF: Saric
  • PF: Simmons
  • C: Okafor

First five off the bench: Bayless, Covington, Grant, Embiid/Landry, Thompson/Stauskas

Even Harper’s first five off the bench is seven guys. And if you notice, his roster doesn’t include Noel at all.

“I would be shocked if Nerlens Noel isn’t traded before preseason,” Harper told me. “I also think if they can move Noel AND Jahlil Okafor, they’d jump on that. Not sure exactly what they’re looking for in that regard. They need a real point guard, but (the) 2017 draft class is loaded with amazing point guard prospects.”

What can the Sixers even get at this point for either (or both) bigs? Draft picks? They’ll almost certainly have two lottery picks again next season. Does that really help them, other than to use in another trade down the line?

Back to the roster, Harper said he thinks Long will be in the D-League and while the team loves Webb, he’ll probably get stashed too. Stauskas or McConnell could potentially be moved, or McConnell might even be the odd man out and get cut.

“The key to everything,” Harper offered, “is how much they can play Saric and Simmons together, and then how much Embiid ends up being able to play.”

This is a good problem to have, so long as Colangelo is able to get value back for Noel and/or Okafor. The guards on the roster are stop-gap rentals, and despite all the talk of Simmons being a point guard, the Sixers will at some point need an actual point guard to play with him, similar to the way Kyrie Irving plays off LeBron James.

Colangelo has some franchise-shaping decisions to make before the season begins. Finally, the Sixers have enough young talent to make those decisions difficult.

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