It was only a few weeks ago when James Ennis was in a battle at then end of the 76ers roster, fighting for the right to regular minutes. Ennis now heads into an offseason with the ability to control what happens next.
Ennis, in a very short period of time, proved to be an integral part of the Sixers shortened playoff rotation and once again proved his worth as a role player in the NBA. Ennis has a $1.8 million player option that he could choose to opt into. If he chooses to test the free agent market though, it’s possible that his play in Philadelphia has done enough to raise his stock.
“Nothing has been discussed,” Ennis said on Monday. “But I love it here, I love Philly.”
After Ennis’ playoff performance it seems crazy to think that he was making just $1.6 million this past season while Jonathon Simmons was paid $6 million. That’s an important distinction to make and it will definitely be one on the mind of Ennis, his agent, and any team who will want to pay for Ennis’ services. He’s worth more than what he made with the Sixers.
At the same time, as with many role players in the league, sometimes the chance to prove your worth in a stable environment is the right choice. Rather than take a more lucrative one-year deal elsewhere, the Sixers might be able to work out a smaller multi-year deal, or Ennis could take his player option and bet on an even bigger future paycheck or extension.
There is merit on all sides of this argument.
It’s worth noting that Ennis, 28, built and maintained relationships away from the game that could factor into a possible return to the Sixers. Ennis does offseason work with the same trainer that works with Jimmy Butler, and has even worked with Butler in the summer, garnering the respect of Butler for his work ethic and drive.
Additionally, Ennis became friends with Ben Simmons in his short time with the Sixers. Between arriving at the trade deadline in early February and the end of the season, the two found common ground.
“I built a really good relationship with Ben,” Ennis said. “We’ve been hanging out outside of basketball... He talked me into getting a Cane Corso, so I got the same dog as him.”
It’s not as common as people might think for NBA teammates to build a friendship that takes them beyond the basketball court. With such a hodgepodge team of players at different points in their careers and with wildly different personalities it’s no small feat to have a team that can build chemistry in more ways than just in a practice or game setting.
“To be a leader at a young age like that, it doesn’t come around the league like that a lot,” Ennis said of Simmons.
Perhaps it’s the Australian ties that brought Ennis and Simmons together. Ennis, faced with a low-paying G-League contract after being drafted late in the second round in 2013, chose to head to head overseas where he played for the Perth Wildcats. In his lone season in Australia, Ennis led the Wildcats to a NBL championship and finished third in league MVP voting.