Sixers’ shaky draft record during ‘The Process’ has left them needing a home-run swing for a third star
The Sixers wouldn't need to secure another star in free agency or via a trade by drafting better.
Folks marvel over what the 76ers labeled "The Process."
The three-plus seasons of tanking enabled the team to draft Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, two of the NBA's top young talents.
But several draft-day misses puts the pressure on the Sixers this upcoming summer to recruit in free agency the third star needed to win a league title. The team could also try to trade for that star player. However, outside of Embiid and Simmons, they might not have the assets required to get a big-time player. And everyone knows they have no plans of parting ways with the duo.
So the Sixers best bet is adding a high-profile player via free agency.
Embiid, Robert Covington, Zhaire Smith, Landry Shamet, and Jonah Bolden are the only Sixers currently under a guaranteed contract beyond this season. The team, though, is expected to pick up the player options on the rookie-scale contracts for Simmons (fourth-year), Dario Saric (fourth), Markelle Fultz (third), and Furkan Korkmaz (third).
One reason for not picking Korkmaz's deal is to save an extra $2.03 million in cap room. But his salary is not going to be a deal breaker. If they still have enough money to acquire a maximum-salary free agent, the $2.03 million won't make a difference.
The Sixers will have around $69 million is salaries locked up in nine players if they pick up all four options. The projected salary cap for the 2019-20 season is around $109 million. So with a little over $40 million available, they will have enough money for a maximum contract player after adding a draft pick and possibly signing some minimum-salary players.
But as last summer proved, adding maximum-salary players isn't as easy as just having the cap space to do so.
The Sixers failed to lure LeBron James and Paul George in free agency in July. They were also unable to put together a realistic package to acquire Kawhi Leonard in a trade from the San Antonio Spurs.
Leonard ended up being dealt to the Toronto Raptors, with the price being all-star DeMar DeRozan. James signed with the Los Angeles Lakers and George re-signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The misses put pressure on the Sixers to get an A-list free agent in what might be the last summer they'll have money to do so. That's because the team's cap space will disappear beginning in the 2020-21 season when multi-year contract extensions for Simmons and Saric would kick in. The players must agree to those extensions prior to the start of the 2019-20 season.
But the Sixers wouldn't be under such pressure if they had better overall draft results.
While hindsight is indeed 20/20, think about the players the Sixers passed on in the drafts since "The Process" began.
In 2013, they acquired Nerlens Noel in a trade after the New Orleans Pelicans selected him with the sixth overall pick. The Sixers also drafted Michael Carter-Williams at No. 11. Four picks later, the Milwaukee Bucks selected Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Antetokounmpo is a two-time all-star and one of the NBA's most versatile players. Noel, on a league minimum contract, is a backup center for the Oklahoma City Thunder, his third team in the league. Carter-Williams had early success, winning the 2013-14 rookie-of-the-year award, but he's struggled since then. Nowadays, he's a reserve guard for the Houston Rockets, his fifth NBA team.
In 2015, the Sixers selected Jahlil Okafor third overall instead of Kristaps Porzingis, who went fourth to the New York Knicks. At the time, the Sixers said they didn't select Porzingis because his agent refused to allow him to work out for the team. But Okafor also didn't work out for the Sixers, and they still drafted him. Despite being sidelined with a knee injury, Porzingis is the face of the Knicks' organization and a one-time all-star. Okafor, meanwhile, is on his third NBA team, the New Orleans Pelicans.
The following summer, the Sixers drafted Simmons first overall, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot 26th, and Korkmaz 28th. The Sixers gave up on Luwawu-Cabarrot this past summer, trading him to the Thunder.
The Sixers have been criticized for moving up two spots to select Fultz first overall in the 2017 draft. They got that pick from the Boston Celtics for their No. 3 pick and the Sacramento Kings' 2019 first-round pick, which is top-pick protected. Boston ended up taking Jayson Tatum at No. 3.
Fultz, who is overcoming shooting woes, missed considerable time last season and was completely out of the rotation during the second-round playoff series vs. the Celtics. Meanwhile, Tatum is one of the NBA's elite young talents.
The Sixers also acquired the Toronto Raptors' No. 25 pick in that draft to select Anzejs Pasecniks instead of Kyle Kuzma or Josh Hart. Kuzma and Hart are among the Lakers' young talents, while Pasecniks is a unheralded center stashed overseas.
But selecting Embiid and Simmons were easy decisions.
In 2014, the Sixers wanted to select Andrew Wiggins, but he went first to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Milwaukee Bucks picked Jabari Parker second, while the Sixers had no choice but to take Embiid third in what draft analysts described as a three-elite-player draft. Embiid would have gone first if not for his broken right foot.
Meanwhile, it was no-brainer to select Simmons first in 2016.
However, the Sixers, with better drafting, wouldn't need to secure another star via free agency or trade. Nor would they have to worry about the salary cap, because teams are able re-sign their own drafted players to any amount of money up to max contracts. In those instances, it would just be a matter of if the owners are willing to pay luxury taxes. Sixers co-managing partner Josh Harris has already gone of record saying that he's willing to pay them.
You can't add a free agent to your roster, however, unless you have cap space available. That's why next summer will be so important, getting another star in Philly before Simmons and Saric get their extensions.
The Sixers have to be wondering what if "The Process" included Antetokounmpo, Porzingis and some of the players they passed on.