With the trade market at full speed, the draft behind them, and free agency set to begin 6 p.m. Friday, what’s next for the 76ers?
They made two roster-reshaping trades in addition to selecting three players in Wednesday’s NBA draft. In addition to dumping Al Horford’s salary, the Sixers were determined to improve the team fit by acquiring sharpshooters Seth Curry and Danny Green. Daryl Morey, the new president of basketball operations, made the moves to create the floor spacing for All-Stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
The Sixers have been interested in possibly acquiring three-time NBA scoring champion James Harden, who is unhappy in Houston. The 2018 NBA MVP wants to be traded to the Brooklyn Nets, where Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are forming a superstar nucleus. Meek Mill is reportedly trying to convince Harden, a close friend, to make the Sixers his preferred destination.
But the Sixers would have to include Simmons in any package to the Rockets to get the deal done. Philly wants to keep the tandem of Simmons and Embiid together.
Sixers coach Doc Rivers “is extremely comfortable as am I with what we have,” Morey, the former Rockets GM, said in the wee hours of Thursday morning. “Obviously, you know there’s free agency coming. So they’re going to be some additions there.
“But you know we love the starting group. We love [that] we go multiple players deep behind them. We feel very good where we are at. Obviously our job is to always look for opportunities. But we feel very good about where we are right now.”
Maybe that’s a good thing, considering the Rockets are comfortable at this time to see if they can work things out with Harden, who has two years remaining on his contract.
But let’s not get it twisted. The Sixers still need to add some more pieces to what they hope is an NBA championship contender this season. And let’s face it, you can’t completely rule out any potential trade move.
This weekend, however, there’s a lot of focus around the league on free agency. Teams officially will be permitted to contact free agents or their agents at 6 p.m. Friday. Players will be allowed to sign free-agent deals at 12:01 p.m. Monday.
Right now, the Sixers’ biggest need is a veteran who can create his own shot and acquiring rotation bigs. But they don’t have a lot of money to throw at sought-after free agents due to their cap situation. The Sixers have a mid-level exception available at $5.7 million, and could possibly do a sign-and-trade.
But in reference to players already under contract, Morey spoke of Simmons as if the third-team All-NBA point guard would be a major part of the Sixers’ future. That’s why it was important to add the much-needed sharpshooters.
They agreed to trade Horford, a 2025 protected first-round pick, the 34th pick in Wednesday’s draft and the rights to Serbian point guard Vasilije Micic to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Green and Terrance Ferguson. The Sixers later shipped Richardson and the 36th pick to the Dallas Mavericks for Curry. And with the 48th pick, they drafted former Arkansas sharpshooter Isaiah Joe.
“Honestly, if you go back, it’s completely insane how good some of these Joel and Ben lineups were,” Morey said of when they were surrounded with shooters during the 2017-18 season. “My analysis is pretty terrible in general, but when you get to like 1,200-minute lineups that are playing out historically great ability to build a lead ..., it became pretty obvious [adding shooting] was the right path for the roster.”
The Sixers concluded the 2017-18 regular season with a league-record 16 consecutive wins en route to 52 overall. They had sharpshooters Robert Covington and JJ Redick in the starting lineup. Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli were the first two players off the bench after being acquired in the buyout market. Those four created spacing for Embiid and Simmons.
“It was a big day for everyone in the Sixers franchise,” Morey said of Wednesday’s draft. “I think the big important thing is our top players are thrilled and energized and ready to come in. That goes a long way with the roster.”