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July 01, 2019

What are the Sixers' biggest needs left in free agency?

Sixers NBA
050818_McConnell-5_usat Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

T.J. McConnell may decide to return to the Sixers in a reserve role if he cannot find a better situation elsewhere.

The dust still hasn't completely settled for the Sixers in free agency, but they've made several massive moves to set themselves up for the immediate future. A core has begun to take shape in Philadelphia, and now the priority will be to find players who will fit in around Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Tobias Harris.

With the understanding that things remain up in the air, here's a look at where we sit as of Monday evening.

Who is on the roster?

Please note that this is not a true "depth chart" because Al Horford and Tobias Harris will almost certainly be sliding down a position in order to play together. They are simply being listed at what I see as their ideal positions on a neutral roster.

C: Joel Embiid, Al Horford

PF: Tobias Harris, Mike Scott, Jonah Bolden

SF/SG: Josh Richardson*, Zhaire Smith, Matisse Thybulle, Shake Milton**

PG: Ben Simmons

*Richardson's status remains up in the air following a snag in the Dallas end of the Jimmy Butler sign-and-trade. While the Mavericks are still able to get involved as a cap dump team right now, making another deal with a free agent like Danny Green would likely take them out of the running, limiting the Heat's options to whichever L.A. team misses out on Kawhi Leonard. The Sixers have expressed confidence this will get done, but it's not final until it's official.

**Milton is technically a two-way player at this juncture, though I feel reasonably confident the Sixers will convert him to a real deal at some point. They like him a lot, he got spot minutes last year already, and we will probably know more about what his future looks like after he gets a chance to star at Summer League.

Priority No. 1: Guard depth

Right now, we are looking at a future where Shake Milton may be the backup point guard for the team heading into the season. With all due respect to Milton, who I liked quite a bit as a second-round steal, that is an untenable situation for a team that believes it should contend for an Eastern Conference title at the very least.

The Sixers have a complete dearth of players who can put the ball on the floor and make things happen. That's one of the biggest blows they suffered when they lost Jimmy Butler's interest in a return. The players they can trust to handle the ball would all be better suited having it less. 

Harris will get a chance to step into a bigger role this year, but his handle is mostly functional to create his own shot, not for others or to get to the line. Richardson was clearly overextended as a No. 1 option in Miami, though maybe you can extract more value out of him as a secondary guy in Philly. And Simmons' flaws as a lead ball-handler have been discussed to death, though make no mistake, he will likely get the ball even more now.

With Embiid (and Horford to a lesser extent) setting up on the low block and drawing a crowd, the Sixers need players who can do the basic things guards should be expected to do — dribble, pass, and shoot. Defending the point of attack couldn't hurt, either.

Who is there as an option?

Many of the top guards in this free agent crop have already settled with new teams, and on relatively large contracts. The Sixers are going to have to make it work with guys who are either flawed, cheap, or both.

Do not be surprised if they run it back with T.J. McConnell once again. He is the quintessential locker room guy, and he has familiarity with the system, the coaching staff, and several of the teams best players. I think he is an even worse fit now than when the season ended, but that may not end up mattering.

There are countless options left for Philly, but are any of them any good? Emmanuel Mudiay is young and improved his raw production and efficiency in New York, but beware the guy who puts up numbers on a bad team. Jeremy Lin's best days are behind him, and outside shooting was always a struggle. 

Some of the better options, like Tyus Jones, are restricted free agents, and with the Sixers unable to make a sizable offer for anyone, I don't think they'll be able to bid high enough to avoid a match. That being the case, I doubt they want to wait around to find out they might still need to sign somebody. Otherwise, Memphis' Delon Wright would be an excellent candidate for a bench role here.

Utah's Raul Neto will reportedly be waived to make room for the Mike Conley acquisition, so maybe a low-minute, low-usage guy like that ends up being the answer. I would hard pass on Rajon Rondo, who has been a pain in the butt for years now without the production to justify it.

(If the Sixers hadn't burned a second by telegraphing their interest in Matisse Thybulle, maybe Carsen Edwards would be on the team and this would be a non-discussion. So it goes.)

Priority No. 2: Wing shooting

Speaking of Thybulle, the Sixers have a lot of developmental minutes set aside for Thybulle and Smith this year, and there's no guarantee either one of them is going to be able to shoot right away, if ever. Philadelphia is betting on them to get there, but with the Sixers locked in on a core they are now essential pieces of the team, rather than assumed towel wavers behind a group of veterans.

Bringing in Horford is in many ways investing in the success of a second unit without Embiid, and that means the Sixers need to be building a team that can succeed with Simmons playing a major role. The easiest way to do that is to put players on the floor around him who can get up and down and knock down open shots, allowing him to play to his strengths without getting dinged too badly for his weaknesses.

One problem here — everyone else in the world needs wing shooting, too, and with agents knowing the Sixers are in dire need of shooters, the Sixers are unlikely to get anyone good on a below-market deal.

Who is there as an option?

The market here as it stands on Monday is a lot friendlier for Philadelphia. I'm not sure what the options look like for James Ennis, but continuity on the bench would be great for the Sixers, if he ends up striking out elsewhere.

Looking around the league, Wesley Matthews and Thabo Sefolosha are two dependable veterans they could ask to play bench roles. The Sixers were interested in Matthews as a buyout target last year, though he ended up pursuing a bigger role with a coach he had played for previously in Indiana's Nate McMillan. Sefolosha's track record as a shooter is decidedly mixed compared to Matthews, but he has shot a combined 40.7 percent from deep on low volume in Utah over the last two seasons.

[Note: If you needed an example of how quickly free agency moves, Matthews went off of the board roughly 15 minutes after publishing. The Sixers really need to get a move on.]

One name isn't technically on the board yet, but keep an eye on Kyle Korver in Memphis. The Grizzlies may decide they want to keep him around with the young guys for at least half of a season, but he's a natural fit for Philadelphia if and when he gets bought out eventually.

On the lower (and younger) end of the shooting spectrum, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope offers a little more defensive steel, but he's closer to an average shooter than an elite one. Justin Holiday, brother of Jrue, fits in this same bucket as well.


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