Somewhere out there is an unemployed point guard who is staring at a golden opportunity. That opportunity will have to be enough, mind you, because it’s the only thing the Sixers have to offer. But after using the last of their meager cap space to sign former two-way player Shake Milton to a four-year deal, the Sixers still have a glaring opening in their rotation, one that the right person could easily use to play himself into a bigger deal next year. They need a point guard, and they need one bad.
However you feel about Ben Simmons’ suitability as a primary ballhander, it’s a simple fact of life that he can’t be the only one on the roster. If the season were to start tomorrow, the Sixers would likely have Milton as the only other player on the squad who profiles as a point. Josh Richardson spent a short stint running the offense in Miami last season, but that can’t be Elton Brand’s primary plan. The odds say that neither Richardson nor Simmons will play 82 games next season. And Hinkie forbid if one of them gets hurt, especially if Milton isn’t quite ready to have the ball in his hands when it counts.
On Sunday, after it was revealed that Jimmy Butler would not return to Philadelphia, there was some reason to hope that the Sixers could find a backup point guard who might provide some scoring punch off the bench. Now, the hope is that they find someone, anyone, who can dribble a basketball with a hand in his face.
That someone will have to be one of three people: 1) A lower-level free agent willing to play for the veteran minimum; 2) A player under contract with another team whom the Sixers can acquire while abiding by the collective bargaining agreement’s salary-cap guidelines; 3) T.J. McConnell.
There are free agents available, and maybe there is a veteran out there who will end up pouncing on the opportunity to play 15-plus minutes for a Sixers squad that could enter the season as the team to beat in the East. We saw Brook Lopez make good use of a similar opportunity with the Bucks last season. He didn’t sign for the minimum, but close to it, and he played his way into a whole lot more than the difference. From Trey Burke to Lance Stephenson, there are a number of veterans who could be well-served following the path that James Ennis did when he re-upped with the Sixers for the minimum on Tuesday.
Barring some sort of trade, you can cross off the crop of restricted free agents -- the Warriors’ Quinn Cook, the Clippers’ Rodney McGruder, and the Bulls’ Ryan Arcidiacano, who signed a three-year, $9 million deal on Tuesday. Justin Holiday of the Grizzlies and Tyus Jones of the Timberwolves are still out there.
And it’s worth noting that we might not have seen all that Tobias Harris can do in some of the situations when Butler had the ball in his hands. As much as his presence infringed on Simmons’ territory, it also relegated Harris to a role that he was not necessarily used to. There’s a big difference between being the third option and the fourth option, particularly in this case, where Harris would really be the first option to create a scoring opportunity for himself from the top of the offense in a must-have scenario. Harris struggled at times in the postseason when asked to handle the ball against tight defense, but he is still in the midst of his own development, and there are things the Sixers can do to free him.
At this point, though, the best option might be McConnell. Because the Sixers possess his Bird Rights, they can go over the cap to sign him. Judging by the contracts that we’ve seen going to guards, the multiyear deal that he might have entertained heading into his first round of NBA free agency might not materialize this time around. In an ideal world, the Sixers would have a backup point guard with more scoring punch, but it’s worth noting that they’ve won a lot of games the last couple of seasons with McConnell subbing for Simmons.
Adding another contract to the fold wouldn’t be the worst idea for the Sixers. If there’s a trade to make at midseason, they could end up needing some salary to send along in the deal. This is one of those weird NBA situations where adding another contract to the books could give a team more flexibility in the long run. Besides, the fourth law of thermodynamics says that T.J. McConnell is playing meaningful minutes for the Sixers.
One thing is clear: A need exists. It’s been a busy offseason for Elton Brand and the Sixers’ brass. And it isn’t over yet.