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June 30, 2016

Sixers free agency primer: Colangelo sitting on a lot of cap space

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With the first draft of the Bryan Colangelo era in the rearview mirror, the Philadelphia 76ers’ attention now turns to NBA free agency, where the team will not only have money to spend, but also plenty of holes to fill.

Thanks to the assets collected in the three years under former GM and president of basketball operations Sam Hinkie, the Sixers' future is beginning to take shape. The next step of the process is building, and aside from the draft, free agency is the best way to go about doing that. But with a new regime, there are many unknowns of how the Sixers will approach it.

It will be interesting to see if Colangelo treats free agency any differently than when he was in Toronto. Will he be aggressive given the cap space he has to work with? Will he target a certain style of player? A certain position (hopefully guards)?

We'll examine that and more as we preview the Sixers outlook during free agency.

Committed Salary, Cap Space

The cap is projected to leap all the way up to $94 million, and man, we kind of wish Hinkie was still around just to see how he would attack (or refuse to attack) this huge spike in money. The Sixers didn’t elect to pick up Isaiah Canaan’s qualifying option, so good luck to Lil’ Sip. 

Here’s a rough look at the Sixers’ options for just next season (via Basketball Insiders):

 Players2016-17 Salary 
 Carl Landry $6,500,000
 Ben Simmons$5,903,160 
 Joel Embiid$4,826,160 
 Jahlil Okafor$4,788,840 
 Nerlens Noel$4,384,490 
Nik Stauskas $2,993,040 
Dario Saric $2,164,080 
Kendall Marshall $2,048,257 
Timothe Luwawu $1,326,960 
Furkan Korkmaz $1,231,560 
Christian Wood $1,045,059 
Richaun Holmes $1,025,831 
Robert Covington $1,015,696 
Hollis Thompson $1,015,696
Jerami Grant $980,431 
 T.J. McConnell$874,636 
Regular: Guaranteed contract
Green: Projected rookie scale contract
Red: Non-guaranteed contract
Purple: Qualifying offer

Undrafted free agents Shawn Long and James Webb III also reportedly signed partially guaranteed contracts. As you can see, there is a lot of “optionality” that Colangelo has to mold this group however he sees fit. 

Most cap experts (and boy, are we not them) project that the Sixers will have somewhere between $50-60 million in space at the start of free agency depending on their roster decisions. 

So, you know, a lot. 

Potential Targets

     • Dion Waiters: The Thunder guard (and Philly native) is a restricted free agent, but as we wrote yesterday, Oklahoma City's draft-night acquisition of shooting guard Victor Oladipo likely indicates they're ready to let Waiters go if another team makes a decent offer.

     • Harrison Barnes: He's got a ring. He's got experience. And he’s likely going to want a max contract. Still, the Sixers are reportedly interested in the 24-year-old swingman, even after that horrendous NBA Finals performance. Complicating the matter is the pending decision of top free agent Kevin Durant. Like Waiters, Barnes is a RFA, and if Golden State fails to land Durant, they probably would match any Sixers offer. Then there is the matter that, as a small forward/small-ball 4, Barnes doesn't really fill the Sixers' biggest need.

     • Jeremy Lin: If the Sixers aren't thinking long-term with any of these free agent point guards -- Don't forget they very well could still have two lottery picks again next season -- then Lin might be a good stop-gap. He's got experience, runs a nice pick-and-roll, and won't cost as much as some of the other options.

GM’s past history

It’s generalizing a bit, but Colangelo was a better drafter in Phoenix and Toronto than he was at the transaction game. Steve Nash is unquestionably one of the greatest free agent signings of all-time from back in 2004, but Colangelo’s time in Toronto was marked by a series of bad trades that failed to find Chris Bosh a suitable running mate (Jermaine O’Neal, Hedo Turkoglu, and then Rudy Gay after Bosh left). 

There are solid moves sprinkled in there, as well. Signing Anthony Parker out of Europe for cheap was excellent value, for example. Trading for Kyle Lowry his last season has worked out pretty well for the T-Dot, too.

More than anything, though, it doesn’t seem like Colangelo has been in his current position all that much, competing on the open market for a ton of free agents. Then again, this type of jump in the cap is new for everyone around the league.

Complicating Factors

     • European influence: It was reported on Wednesday that Dario Saric will indeed be coming over to join the Sixers next season. Whether or not that’s true remains to be seen, but it would likely put a stop to Colangelo signing any forwards in free agency. The same unpredictability goes for his Turkish teammate Furkan Korkmaz, the 26th-overall pick in last week’s draft. Korkmaz was one of the best shooters in the draft, and his presence could slightly change the team’s approach during free agency. That being said, his status for next season is as uncertain as that of Saric, probably more so.

     • Big trade coming? The second factor that will influence how the Sixers play free agency is whether or not they trade Jahlil Okafor or Nerlens Noel — or … wait for it … both! Further complicating that is the status of Joel Embiid, who was recently cleared for five-on-five scrimmaging but hasn’t played in two and a half years. Even if he can stay healthy, the Sixers will be cautious with Embiid. That’s the best-case scenario. If he progresses more slowly than anticipated or, heaven help us, gets hurt again, Colangelo needs to have a backup plan moving forward. 

Recommended strategy

Years matter more than the money: Barnes is not the terrible player that some people on Twitter make him out to be. It’s impossible to win 73 games with a total zero in most of your important lineups. He’s a questionable fit with Ben Simmons, but that might not matter much, either. The point is, Barnes would certainly improve the team next season.

Still, it says here that the Sixers should avoid Barnes or many of the top young wings on the market because they're going to cost a lot of money over three or four years. Barnes will command at or near a four-year max, and with so many things still unknown with the roster, the Sixers should be looking for cheaper complementary pieces. Figure out what you have in 2016-17, and then strike in free agency later.

Go ahead, try to improve the team’s talent level with some vets. Comically overpay if you have to, but only on a shorter contract. It just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to commit long-term money until we know more about what the Sixers have in the young core.

Try to hit singles and doubles. If you're confident in how you drafted, the opportunities for home runs will come.


Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann | Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin

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