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LeBron James or not, Sixers will have to fill these two needs | David Murphy

A look at the Sixers' two most pressing needs, regardless of what happens at the upper end of the free agent market.

Brett Brown turned to TJ McConnell to solve the Sixers' lack of players who can shoot and guard point guards, but McConnell is still not the perfect off-guard next to Ben Simmons.
Brett Brown turned to TJ McConnell to solve the Sixers' lack of players who can shoot and guard point guards, but McConnell is still not the perfect off-guard next to Ben Simmons. Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

In a lot of ways, the Sixers blueprint for the offseason will depend on where LeBron James and Paul George decide to take their talents. But whether or not their roster ends up featuring one of this year's marquee free agents, there are holes that will need to be plugged.

The two most prominent job descriptions should read as follows:

1) A guard with long-range shooting ability who is capable of matching up against opposing point guards.

This could end up being a JJ Redick replacement rather than a supplement, depending on which other pieces the Sixers add. That's not to diminish what the veteran sharpshooter meant to the Sixers offense this season, not only from three-point range, where he shot 42 percent, but off the ball as well. The 17.1 points per game that he averaged were a career high, and his .569 effective field-goal percentage was 16 points above his career average. But keep in mind that our mission is to improve the Sixers to a point that they are legit contenders, and one of the biggest reasons they failed to make the conference finals was their lack of strong on-ball defender on the perimeter.

Brett Brown spent much of the Sixers' loss to the Celtics trying to figure out how to guard Boston waterbug Terry Rozier, finally deciding to insert T.J. McConnell into the starting lineup in place of Robert Covington, who is a great team defender but struggles in space against smaller guards.

McConnell himself does not fit the role because of his lack of a consistent three-point shot. Unless Ben Simmons comes back from the summer with the ability to knock down an open three, the Sixers must, must, must stock the off-guard position with a shooter. McConnell improved his stroke this season, knocking down 43.5 percent of his attempts from long-range, but he only attempted 62 in 76 games. The Sixers need more "three" to go with that "D."

That kind of job description should call to mind a candidate whose name you will continue to hear often this offseason. Kawhi Leonard isn't just a name-brand star — he is very much a perfect fit for the Sixers' most pressing need. Acquiring the soon-to-be 27-year-old and starting him at the three could make it easier to err on the side of shooting at the two.

Then again, Leonard would solve a lot of problems for a lot of teams. We could be exaggerating the probability of such a deal just by mentioning it as a possibility.

Chances are, the Sixers will have to set their sights a little lower and target more of a classic three-and-D player. The best for-instance is probably Patrick Beverley, who starred for the Rockets during the 2016-17 postseason before Houston shipped him to the Clippers in the Chris Paul trade. It's hard to imagine that L.A. would make him available, given his paltry $5 million salary, but the Sixers should be on the lookout for a player in that mold.

One obvious name who will be on the free-agent market is Avery Bradley, though he is hardly a perfect candidate. Regarded as one of the best on-ball defenders in the NBA, the former Celtic leaves a bit to be desired on the shooting end of things (his .366 career mark is three points lower than what Covington shot from deep last season). He also missed the last two months of the regular season after undergoing surgery to repair a groin injury, and has been plagued by injuries throughout his career. Although Bradley will be a relatively young 28 years old next season, he has played in just 101 games over the last two seasons and has played more than 70 only twice in his eight years in the NBA. For a guy whose derives much of his value from his ability to keep opposing ballhandlers in front of him — i.e., his lateral quickness — the injuries are worthy of consideration.

Another potential but imperfect free agent option is the Spurs Danny Green is a player who finished the year battling a left groin injury that required a platelet-rich plasma injection and has seen his three-point percentage drop from .423 between 2012-15 to .357 over the last three seasons. He'd need to be paired with a player capable of providing starting-caliber offense at the two-guard (i.e., Redick). He also might not even hit the market, given that he has a $10 million player option for next season. The Sixers could also opt to go with a player who has a little more two-way balance like the Grizzlies' Tyreke Evans. What they can't do is assume that Markelle Fultz will suddenly be the player they need.

2) A back-up center capable of protecting the rim when Joel Embiid isn't on the court.

Here's a disconcerting stat: when Embiid wasn't on the court in the playoffs, the Sixers allowed an average of 112.4 points per 100 possessions. That would have placed the Sixers second-to-last in the regular season rankings. When Embiid was on the court, the Sixers held opponents to a 102.5 mark, which would have been the best mark in the league during the regular season. No back-up center is going to be able to provide the defensive presence that Embiid, does but the Sixers need to find a better option than the combination of Amir Johnson and Richaun Holmes.

Perhaps the Sixers find some of that defense at the four, where Ersan Ilyasova finished the season as Dario Saric's top back-up. But erring on the side of defense there would probably require the Sixers to pick up some second-unit offense in the backcourt or on the wing.

It's tough to dig too deep into either of these needs without knowing whether to account for the presence of a max-contract-caliber wing player. But whatever happens, they'll need to be addressed.