PHILADELPHIA (CBS)- After a crushing 92-90 defeat at the hands of Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Sixers have some big choices to make where their roster is concerned. Three-fifths of the starting lineup are set to be free agents along with five bench players. With Joel Embiid’s max contract kicking in and Ben Simmons next in line to receive one, some of these guys are going to be gone. Who should stay and who should the team let walk?
First, let’s lay out the particulars of the situation for this summer. Below are the guys the team has under contract for next year and the guys from the current roster who are set to be free agents.
Jimmy Butler* (technically has another year, but it’s a player option he is likely to decline)
Now, you can get an idea of where the team stands in terms of cap space over at Spotrac, but basically they have approximately $41 million in space that can be used in order to build their roster for next season.
General manager Elton Brand said in the aftermath of the Tobias Harris trade that the team intends to keep both Harris and Jimmy Butler. That could prove difficult if both players want max contracts, which they reportedly do. Add in the likelihood that the team will try to lock in Ben Simmons with an extension and there isn’t going to be much left to go around to fill out the rest of the roster.
After Butler’s performance in the playoffs and, particularly Games 3-7 of the Toronto series, it seems nearly impossible to think that the team wouldn’t offer him the maximum contract. Quibble with that as much as you’d like due to Butler’s age (30), but it was clear in the postseason that the team still needs a player like him in big moments.
Harris is a more interesting case. The team gave up a lot to get him, two first round picks plus essentially a third in Landry Shamet, and letting him walk after that seems like a bad use of resources. But, he never really found a fit within the Sixers, shooting just 32 percent from three and 47 percent from the field over 27 regular season games. That puts the organization almost stuck between a rock and a hard place as they gave up so much to get Harris it feels like they have to re-sign him.
To that end, even if they don’t re-sign Harris and instead brink back Butler and Redick, there won’t be much in the way of cap room to add a player of Harris’ quality in free agency. I do think the Sixers should bring both Butler and Harris back, not simply because they gave up so much to get them.
There is something to be said for roster continuity when you’ve come so close in the postseason. The starting five was plus-17.6 in Net Rating during their limited regular season run and plus-24.9 in the postseason making it one of the best units in the league. And that was with these guys trying to figure out how to play together on the fly. Given a full offseason to work together and learn each other’s tendencies, that group could continue to take a blowtorch to opponents.
But, bringing back the starting five would leave the team without much in the way of depth on the bench. Fan favorite T.J. McConnell would walk, as would Boban and Mike Scott, as all three could get more lucrative deals elsewhere. If Scott enjoyed his time in Philly, the team really should try to bring him back. He didn’t really work as a backup small-ball center, but he was very productive and helped with floor-spacing when playing alongside Embiid and Simmons. Brand found good contributors for the team in James Ennis and Scott via trade, so it will be interesting to see how he navigates free agency.
Greg Monroe and Amir Johnson will both likely (and should) be allowed to walk in free agency. The one player currently on the roster who should be let go is Jonathon Simmons. He was worth taking a flyer on because he did have some productive days in San Antonio, but he is no longer that player. Plus, moving on from him would allow Brown to find more minutes for Zhaire Smith, who didn’t really get a chance this season due to injury and illness.
As a whole, if the Sixers were to follow this plan, the roster would be as follows.
Guard: Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, JJ Redick, Zhaire Smith
Forward: Tobias Harris, Jonah Bolden, James Ennis, Mike Scott
Center: Joel Embiid
That would leave six roster spots with which Brand could try to convince some veteran players to come on minimum deals to try and chase a title. The biggest need is backup center. The team has yet to find a center who can come in and spell Embiid without a massive dropoff on the defensive end. That should be a high priority this offseason in order to make the dropoff between the starters and bench unit less dramatic.
Overall, just 22 games with the starting lineup isn’t enough for me. Maybe you feel differently and would like to see Harris go. But, be careful what your wish for. A lot of NBA teams would love to have a guy like Harris as basically their third/fourth option on offense.
By Ryan Mayer