Every off season is important. And since Daryl Morey, Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations, was appointed in the fall of 2020, the intensity has certainly been ramped up. First came the Al Horford and Josh Richardson deals, and then there was the Ben Simmons story. That brings us to this summer, where James Harden’s account takes center stage.
With this franchise in constant flux, he made the annual stay-or-go column a fun and challenging exercise. Last year, we agreed to only transfer Simmons in order to keep this situation going until the trade deadline. As it turns out, it was another rather uneventful season. Unlike last summer, Harden’s situation will be settled somehow in the next few weeks.
Below is a breakdown of the list with the players listed in descending order of their 2021-22 cap number.
1. James Harden
Climate forecast: Stay, but on what terms?
Analytics: It would be a huge surprise if Harden isn’t in Philadelphia next season. There are limited options for him in the free agency market, and most teams aren’t as competitive as the Sixers with ceiling space below his maximum starting salary. Looming above all else, Harden could sign up for 2022-23 for $47.4 million.
Details are what count here. We’ll have more about Harden’s situation (and I talked about it with Derek Bodner on the Sixers Beat site), but for both the Harden and the Sixers, there are a lot of team building variables when it comes to their short- and long-term interests. How much flexibility for trades and exceptions can they make this season with a long-term deal at a reduced salary? How will a long-term deal affect the Sixers’ roof space in the future?
This follows Harden’s assessment in court. How are the Sixers looking at a former MVP who turns 33 and has shown some signs of brilliance but also signs of real decline? This move is the tabletop for the rest of the Sixers’ offseason. As a reminder, Harden has until June 29 to make a decision on his player option for next season.
2. Tobias Harris
Climate forecast: tends to stay.
Analytics: Let’s say Harden regains some level of peak form with a complete stop. Even in this perfect scenario, the Sixers have plenty of filming with Harden, Joel Embiid, and Tyrese Maxey. Ideally, the other two principles bring defensive versatility and high-volume three-point shooting. In an ideal world, Sixers could turn Harris into two role-players that would more closely align with this archetype.
This is not meant to be a shot at Harris, who has played well in the post-season. He embraced a 3D role and was probably the Sixers’ most consistent player in his first-round victory against Toronto. Jimmy Butler beat him out in the second round (and let him hear about it), but he outsmarted everyone else in this playoff. In the end, Harris’ true skill set is a luxury on a team in desperate need of playable rotation pieces that can cover up some of their core weaknesses.
It all comes down to salary with Harris. With only two years left on his contract, the salary is more palatable than it used to be. It’s still $77 million, though! In a team with limited options in terms of sweeteners — the Sixers could trade with this year’s pick on draft night, plus swaps in 2024 and ’26 — Morey could find a Harris taker that would allow them to redeem that quality depth (while an imperfect fit). , Harris provides value to the team) while not asking them to give up a ton? I’m skeptical.
3. Joel Embiid
Climate forecast: stay, duh!
Analytics: One of Embiid’s favorite wild jokes is to talk at length about how he, like everyone else, could be shipped out of town at any moment. And if things don’t change, in theory there may come a time when Mr. Prose’s deliberation is the logical move. But not now. Embiid is a legitimate superstar in his prime. The Sixers are trying to compete for titles and Embiid is the only reason they find themselves able to reasonably discuss this ambition.
4. Danny Green
Climate forecast: leave but by what mechanism?
Analytics: As John Hollinger reminded me last week, Greene’s salary cannot be traded as a kind of unsecured “phantom contract.” But if Harris’ long-term commitment scares the teams so much, could the 23rd pick and young player be tied to Green’s expiration for bringing back someone who can contribute this season? I think it will be compromised, but the Sixers will have to exhaust every avenue to have a slate more willing to scrap.
Either way, the Sixers won’t keep Green at around $10 million.
5. Furkan Korkmaz
Climate forecast: tends to stay.
AnalyticsKorkmaz has had a strange but disappointing season. Given an impossible start-up role (the reserve point guard), Korkmaz has noticeably discovered some things with his ground game at the NBA level. Korkster had a 52 percent career high with two bowls, and his pass rate was better than he’s ever been. However, this added craft wasn’t significant, as he only hit 29 percent from outside the arc, which just wouldn’t cut it.
Korkmaz has just over $10 million owed to him over the next two seasons. That’s not a huge amount of money, and if he hits 3s like he did the previous two seasons, he’ll prove worth it. But Korkmaz also makes the most money on the team outside of the core pieces and is consumable. Is it necessary to collect his salary?
6. George Niang
Climate forecast: stay.
Analytics: For the next two points on our list, we get into the two specialized genres of Sixers. They’ve learned the hard way that one-way players are under attack in playoffs, which Morey alluded to even in his exit interview.
So, why did you stay (nyang)? The contract isn’t an issue, as Niang’s $3.5 million valuation is a good value for this group. This is especially true because he’s the only player on the team that Harden and Embiid don’t have to shout at for shooting 3s. Niang is a skilled lane driver and driver who had his moments when the Sixers were without an empid and had to play small ball. For a regular season, he’s the kind this team can use to score 50+ wins.
Despite this, Niang is pretty much a specialist. Toronto chased him mercilessly on defense and that’s something the Sixers will have to work around to move forward. It should be noted that in addition to the limitations of his foot speed, knee problems made Niang unable to move in the post-season. In the end, though, the Sixers aren’t a team that can give up 3-point shooting, and Niang does so at a 40 percent clip.
7. Matisse Thibault
Climate forecast: tends to leave, as a local in commerce.
Analytics: Thybulle is a uniquely talented defensive player who can take over the cross games at that end of the floor. This is noteworthy. But as of now, the Sixers don’t trust him to play 20 minutes every night in the playoffs due to his offensive limitations. This is a big problem.
There is a chance that Thybulle will return. Other teams watch the playoffs too, and if the Sixers can’t use it to get a player back on a rotation level, their best option would be to work with him on his shot in the hope that something will click. Like Niang, his issues aren’t an issue in the regular season. With Thybulle now turning 25 and entering his fourth season in the NBA, his lack of progression as a shooter makes me wonder if a younger team with fewer immediate aspirations would be better off trying to develop their game. The Sixers are trying to win big right now, and it’s hard to tell where Thybulle fits in.
8. Therese Maxi
Climate forecast: stay.
Analytics: Remember last summer when it came to whether the Sixers were willing to strike Maxey into a deal with a star player like Damian Lillard? Fast forward so far, and Maxey has established himself as a cornerstone of the franchise, someone who will give the Sixers some flexibility for the next two seasons while vastly outselling his contract on the junior scale. After that, he will be paid appropriately.
9. Jaden Springer
Climate forecast: survival and growth.
AnalyticsTurning 20 in September, Springer is still incredibly young and needs more polish as an offensive player. Unless another team covets him in a deal, he’ll get a chance to do it again, most likely in the Summer League and J-League. It’s a big year for Springer’s development, but from an organizational standpoint, anything he contributes to the big club is a bonus.
10. Milton Shake
Climate forecast: stay and get a real role.
Analytics: Morey mentioned that if teams go into a summer escort to fix a specific site or area, these are the places where mistakes happen. But he has also targeted shooting in the 2020 season, and the acquisitions of Seth Curry and Danny Green have worked out well.
Can the six players use another catch, a third guard type? Certainly, this is probably the best available to them. But in an ideal world, they would use their resources to get more size, fitness, and variety in the ward. That would make Milton the third goalkeeper, playing against both Harden and Maxi. After some strong post-season moments that followed a regular season riddled with brutal injury, Milton is well suited for the role.
11. Paul Millsap and 12. Deandre Jordan
Analytics: Both players have put together two good and excellent careers, but it’s time to make way for the next players.
13. Paul Reed and 14. Charles Basie
Analytics: The better question here is whether these two young players are vying for backup position themselves or if the Sixers have a veteran who will have the inside path on the job. This is a question of organizational philosophy and prestige rather than resources. We saw with Andre Drummond last season that a proper backup position can be provided with a minimum.
15. Isaiah Joe
Rule: tends to stay.
Analytics: This is another one that can go either way. The Sixers should have enough positions to keep Joe for another season, although like Korkmaz, he didn’t hit the ball well enough, considering he’s a 3-point specialist. And unlike Korkmaz, Joe is a very limited offensive player inside the arc. Joe’s salary isn’t guaranteed for next season, and it’s expendable if the Sixers need to make room on the roster.
(Top photo by James Harden, Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris: Wendell Cruz / USA Today)