Offseason Outlook: Philadelphia 76ers

Guaranteed Contracts

Non-Guaranteed Contracts


  • None

Restricted Free Agents/Cap Holds

  • Henry Sims ($1,181,348) — $1,181,348 qualifying offer3
  • Glenn Robinson III ($1,045,059) — $1,045,059 qualifying offer4

Unrestricted Free Agents/Cap Holds

Draft Picks

  • 1st Round (3rd overall)
  • 2nd Round (35th overall)
  • 2nd Round (37th overall)
  • 2nd Round (47th overall)
  • 2nd Round (58th overall)
  • 2nd Round (60th overall)

Cap Outlook

  • Guaranteed Salary: $26,703,760
  • Non-Guaranteed Salary: $2,981,791
  • Options: $0
  • Cap Holds: $25,315,805
  • Total: $55,001,356

The 76ers invigorated their fan base over the last two seasons with the “Together We Build” marketing campaignThe franchise will move on from that phase of its rebuilding plan during the 2015/16 season and will embrace a new slogan: “This Begins Now.” While the change may bring initial enthusiasm, the definition of “This” remains unclear.

Philadelphia’s overall plan from the beginning of GM Sam Hinkie’s tenure was pretty clear: liquidize the existing assets and obtain ones of higher value. The team accomplished the first part with ease. The second part has yet to come into fruition. Hinkie and company had four top-12 draft selections during the past two drafts. They shipped away one of those players, Michael Carter-Williams, because after 111 games with the team, he didn’t appear to be a top talent. Another player selected, Dario Saric, might not come to Philadelphia until the 2016/17 season, although the team reportedly wants to bring the forward stateside immediately. The remaining two players, Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel, came out of their respective one-and-done college careers playing the same position. They were both drafted with a known injury and each missed his entire first season as a Sixer. Hinkie assured them recently that they’ll have the first shot at leading the franchise, so it appears that both players will remain in town for the foreseeable future.

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

It’s fair to wonder how far it can go with Embiid and Noel as the team’s pillars. Noel had a promising 2014/15 campaign and his defensive impact cannot be questioned. He was seventh-best among centers on defense, according to ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus/Minus rankings. On the other end, he managed to scrape together some offense, but his numbers are misleading. Noel scored 13.1 points per game after the All-Star break, but he needed 10.4 field goal attempts per game to hit that mark, which is roughly the same amount of shots per game that some perennial chuckers, such as J.R. Smith and Rodney Stuckey, took this season. Philadelphia clearly made a concerted effort to funnel the ball to Noel in hopes of having a Sixer win the Rookie of the Year award for the second consecutive season, and the Sixers seemingly didn’t care about the quality of basketball along the way. The Kentucky product ranked second to last among 73 NBA centers in ESPN’s Offensive Real/Plus Minus, with only Kendrick Perkins behind him. Noel was technically a rookie last season and, as is the case with many non-stars, he will get better as the talent around him improves. Yet, if he is going to reach his ceiling and become a Tyson Chandler/DeAndre Jordan type of player, he needs to be more efficient with his touches.

Embiid has a higher ceiling than Noel, but his foot injury leaves more question marks. The history of big men with these types of ailments doesn’t paint an optimistic long-term picture for the Cameroon native. Yao Ming’s career was shortened because of this type of injury. Bill Walton’s career was hampered by multiple foot injuries, causing the center to only average 36 games played per year during his 13 NBA seasons. Even Kevin Durant, who has nearly the height of a center, but doesn’t carry as much weight, had issues coming back from a foot injury. That specific injury isn’t the exact type as the one that Yao, Walton and Embiid incurred, but it derailed Durant’s season and the forward didn’t look 100% even when he did play. Still, past history doesn’t guarantee future results and if Embiid can stay healthy, he can be the type of franchise player who doesn’t allow his teammates to plan vacations during April and May.

However, even if Embiid remains healthy and becomes a star, playing next to Noel may be an awkward fit for him. The Kentucky product played minutes at the four spot this season and while he’s shown he can defend some power forwards, he is better suited to play the center position. Philadelphia has the next two seasons to evaluate if the pairing is a winning combination, as Noel’s rookie scale contract runs through the 2016/17 season. At that point, the Sixers will have to ask themselves if indeed Noel can be a top player on a winning team.

In the meantime, Philadelphia has the financial flexibility to take some chances. The team can carve out roughly $22MM in cap room if it renounces the rights to Jason Richardson. The franchise can use that cap space to obtain players with unfavorable contracts, like it did this season in the JaVale McGee trade, and gain a few assets for its troubles. It could also attempt to accelerate the rebuilding process and hit the free agent market.

Just because the Sixers have a ticket to the dance doesn’t mean every girl wants to go with them. Cap space alone won’t be enough to attract marque free agents. Philadelphia, while a major market, has one of the worst on-court situations in the league. The team plays in the Eastern Conference, which may be attractive to some stars who are angling to play in the Finals and envision an easier path than in the Western Conference. Yet, other Eastern Conference teams such as New York, Boston, Milwaukee and even Orlando have better on-court situations than Philly and could offer the same financial enticements to free agents.

One player whom the team could feasibly go after this summer is Khris Middleton, although that’s just my speculation. The Bucks will reportedly match any offer that the 23-year-old signs, but if Philly floats a Chandler Parsons-type offer or a max contract by him, Milwaukee might balk at adding that kind of deal, especially with its pursuit of an established big man that will likely require significant cap space. In addition to a potential contract for a big man, the Bucks will have to worry about extensions for MCW and Giannis Antetokounmpo over the next few seasons, while the Sixers only have Noel’s to worry about. Philadelphia will be in a better position to ignore the ramifications of clogging their cap sheet with a expensive deal for Middleton because the rest of its players will be on team-friendly deals or rookie contracts. This is not a foul-proof plan as the Bucks could easily maneuver their way under the cap with a few salary-cutting deals, like they did earlier this week, and match an exorbitant offer.  Looking at the top potential free agents, there are not any players, with the exception of Middleton, whom would be a fit for Philadelphia.

Instead, the focal point of the Sixers’ offseason will be the draft. The team owns the No.3 pick and reportedly has a firm top three of Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell and Jahlil Okafor. Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Russell is “the guy they want,” but the Ohio State product recently canceled his workout with Philly because of an illness. Some have speculated that it was instead because he may have a promise from the Lakers at No. 2. Still, Los Angeles reportedly has zeroed in on selecting Okafor, so the Sixers face a strong likelihood of having Russell available to them at No. 3.

If another guard is going to be selected ahead of Russell in the draft, Emmanuel Mudiay is the likeliest candidate. Mudiay doesn’t have the jump shot and isn’t as polished as Russell, but the 19-year-old is a better athlete. He has the potential to not only be better than Russell, but to be one of the best guards in the NBA. Philadelphia went into this rebuilding phase in order to revamp the team into a legitimate contender. Taking a chance on a player who could become a superstar if he reaches his ceiling is something the Sixers should consider.

The issue with drafting Mudiay is evaluating what kind of player he is today. It’s easy to see how good he was coming out of high school. The point guard was more highly regarded than Russell coming into the season, but then Russell had a successful freshman campaign and sprung himself into the conversation for best guard in the draft class. Mudiay didn’t really get an opportunity to showcase his improvement or his skills versus better competition. He chose to play overseas and spent most of the season out with injury.

Mudiay’s circumstance isn’t that much different than Kyrie Irving‘s heading into the 2011 draft. Irving suffered a severe ligament injury and was shut down for the season after only 11 games at Duke. Irving averaged 17.5 points, 4.3 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. Mudiay averaged 18 points, 5.9 assists, 6.3 rebounds and 1.6 steals during his 12 contests overseas. Only two of Irving’s games came against ranked college basketball teams; The rest were non-conference games against the likes of Colgate, Princeton, Bradley and Cal Poly Pomona. Its hard to argue that the level of competition Irving faced was any better than the professional athletes Mudiay faced abroad. Cleveland pondered selecting Derrick Williams over Irving after Williams’ successful season at Arizona. The team ultimately selected the 2011/12 Rookie of the Year and hasn’t regretted that decision. Mudiay has the potential to make the teams that pass on him second guess the decision for years to come.

Regardless of the player the 76ers select with their first round pick, he will be a much-needed addition to the roster. While their cupboard is certainly full, the current roster lacks talent. Robert Covington, who is on a team-friendly deal that will pay him roughly $3.1MM over the next three seasons, may be the only player other than their past lottery picks who could make a rotation for a playoff team. Covington shot 37.4% from behind the arc and made 167 three-pointers last season, which was the 10th most in the league. If he continues to develop, he could become one of the league’s best bargains and a potentially valuable asset.

Philadelphia has a bevy of young players, including Thomas Robinson, Isaiah Canaan, Jerami Grant and Hollis Thompson, who haven’t yet made any real impact in the league. Perhaps one of them will develop into a serviceable rotation piece, with Grant being the most likely candidate to do so. The team also has five second-round selections in this month’s draft. As it stands, the Sixers will most likely have to rely on players like these to play significant minutes during the 2015/16 season, which doesn’t bode well for Philly’s chances of improving on this year’s 18-win campaign.

Yet, improving in the win column probably isn’t the a main objective for the franchise at this point. Philadelphia could certainly change its approach and aim to become a winning team next season, but more likely, the team will simply look to add talent and stroll out a few more players who are actually in its long-term plans. Whether or not “This,” which is to begin during Hinkie’s third year at the helm, amounts to anything significant remains to be seen. Regardless, the next chapter of one of the NBA’s most interesting case studies starts on June 25th, and the league should certainly take note.

Cap Footnotes

1 — The Sixers waived McGee in March, but he still had guaranteed salary on his contract for 2015/16.
2 — Canaan’s salary is partially guaranteed for $757,820, and it becomes fully guaranteed if he remains under contract through July 15th.
3 — The cap hold for Sims would be $947,276 if the Sixers elect not to tender a qualifying offer.
4 — The cap hold for Robinson would be $845,059 if the Sixers elect not to tender a qualifying offer.
5 — The Sixers traded for the draft rights to Saric, the 2014 No. 12 pick, on the night he was drafted, but they have yet to sign him. Philadelphia can keep his draft rights but remove his cap hold from its books if he and the team produce a written agreement that he won’t sign during the 2015/16 season.
6 — See our glossary entry on cap holds for an explanation of why these players technically remain on the books.

The Basketball Insiders Salary Pages were used in the creation of this post. Chuck Myron also contributed to this post.

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