Several reports contend that the Sixers, not content to sign Al Horford once, are poised to do so again, only this time he’ll arrive as P.J. Tucker.
Further, the Sixers seem ready to shed both Matisse Thybulle, their best perimeter defender who costs less than one helicopter ride by the managing partner, and Tobias Harris, who’s finally earning his money.
It’s fashionable to forsake continuity for quick fixes, and the Sixers look like they’ll be undone by their own impatience. They’re owned by an absentee narcissist, coached by a man who knows he has one more season to make functional the NBA template for dysfunction, and run by a president who has always made deals for the deal’s sake. Josh Harris, Doc Rivers, and Daryl Morey must know they have, in front of them, the foundation for consistent contention. They just lack the fortitude to let it mature.
Consider what just happened.
The Sixers took the Miami Heat to six games in the Eastern Conference semifinals with James Harden at 80% and with Joel Embiid at 50%. They would have beaten the Heat if they’d been healthy. As comprised, the Sixers are the No. 3 team in the Eastern Conference, assuming Khris Middleton returns at full strength to take Milwaukee to the No. 1 spot again. Boston isn’t nearly as good as an Eastern Conference champion should be.
The conference can be had.
Talk about recency bias. Tucker looked fine this postseason, but when Jimmy Butler drops 30 or more six times, guys like Tucker can hide.
Free agency begins June 30, but why in God’s name would any team commit $30 million over three years to a 37-year-old player? If you want to give charity to senior citizens, try Meals on Wheels.
Tucker plays good defense and sound basketball, but he has never averaged double figures in points or rebounds. He’s a 6-foot-5 power forward, and unless your name is Barkley, that’s a negative. He shot 45% from three-point range in these playoffs, but he made 1.3 threes per game. He was offensively coincidental.
Tucker looked great in the playoffs against a soft, injured 76ers squad, but Horford looked even better in 2018. Then the Sixers gave him a four-year, $97 million contract, when he was 34, and he immediately looked like a 34-year-old.
Further, playing Tucker 30 minutes a night won’t make the team with the 26th-worst pace play faster; after all, Tucker’s Heat were 28th.
Tucker brought a measure of accountability to the Heat, but that’s Heat culture. Tucker isn’t going to make Embiid tougher. Horford failed at that already. If the Sixers are to succeed, Embiid has to set the tone for toughness, not a fading role player who averages 7 points a night.
Yes, the Sixers need to get tougher, but not older and slower.
So you want to subtract a two-time second-team All-Defensive player? Because he can’t hit threes?
Thybulle has shot 32.4% from three in his first three seasons. Jason Kidd shot 32.3% from three in his first three seasons, and Kidd didn’t make an All-Defensive team until his fifth season.
Does that mean Thybulle is as good as Kidd? Of course not. Kidd was an All-Star by his fourth season, and landed in the Hall of Fame. Never expect that of Thybulle.
What it does mean is, outside shooting is a learned skill. There’s no reason to think Thybulle cannot learn this skill, especially playing on a team with three electric scorers like Embiid, Harden, and Tyrese Maxey. He’ll have enough time to shoot threes granny-style.
He’ll make $4.3 million in 2022-23, and he’ll be a bargain.
Besides, what other Sixer can slow down Trae Young and Jaylen Brown?
Not James Harden.
The Sixers have paid Harris $100 million the past three years, and he’s finally found a niche. He was their best player on the floor in the postseason. He became a superb defender, a strong rebounder, a competent spot-up shooter, and a vocal leader -- all the things you need on a team with Embiid, Harden, and Maxey.
And now you want to get rid of him?
He might not be worth the $37 million he’ll make next season, but he’ll be worth about $25 million.
Perfect value? No. Perfect player? No. Perfect for this team?
The other guys
All of this urgency assumes three things.
First, it assumes that Harden, healthy, will never again be an All-Star caliber player. That’s a foolish assumption. He’s averaged 23.1 points, 10.5 assists, and 7.8 rebounds the past two seasons, while playing for two new teams, during a pandemic, with a bad hamstring. Those aren’t the MVP numbers he used to put up, but those are All-Star numbers for sure.
Second, it assumes that Embiid won’t become an even better player, and an even fitter player, than he’s become the past two seasons, when he recorded MVP-caliber seasons. He hasn’t mastered dealing with double-teams, he doesn’t go to his left with authority, and he’s reluctant to post up strength-vs.-strength. There’s more to Embiid.
Third, it assumes that Maxey won’t get better, too. His defense kept him off the floor in the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2021, but he developed enough in one season so he could play all the minutes in 2022. There’s a wild sentiment that he’d be best served as a sixth man, like Lou Williams.
Here’s a more sensible sentiment: He’ll be an All-Star as a starter.
But hey, if you still think an over-the-hill former Houston Rocket is the answer, have at him.
We hear Hakeem Olajuwon is available, too.