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May 21, 2024

Sixers stay or go: Has Cam Payne found a new home?

Cam Payne supplied the Sixers with endless energy during his time with the team. Might he return for another year?

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Cam Payne 5.20.24 Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Cam Payne quickly became a favorite among Sixers fans -- and in the team's locker room -- upon arriving to Philadelphia in February.

It's going to be an offseason like no other. Save for Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey and a few other depth players, the Sixers could totally overhaul their roster before the 2024-25 regular season.

With upwards of $60 million in cap space likely to be available, debates as to whether most of the roster should be brought back into the fold for next season and beyond — or not — will be debated for weeks. As the team contemplates major changes in personnel, we ponder the question, should Cam Payne stay or go?

Sixers 'Stay or Go' series

Tobias Harris | Kelly Oubre Jr. | De’Anthony Melton
Nic Batum | Kyle Lowry | Buddy Hield | Cam Payne

When Sixers President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey traded Patrick Beverley to the rival Milwaukee Bucks for Payne and a future second-round pick, the predominant reaction was outrage. Beverley had become a fan favorite and seemed like he had cemented himself in Sixers head coach Nick Nurse's rotation, and going from him to Payne seemed like a downgrade that was not worth a distant second-round pick belonging to a perennial championship contender.

In hindsight, the trade might have been Morey's most shrewd one made at the deadline: he brought in Kyle Lowry via the buyout market days later, and that would have made Beverley somewhat redundant if he had still been with the Sixers. With Joel Embiid facing a lengthy absence that ultimately lasted just over two months, the Sixers were in need of an offensive boost. Suddenly, Payne became a critical part of the team's regular season rotation due to his ability to consistently create looks for himself and others.

Payne was not in the regular rotation when the postseason began, but forced Nurse's hand by shining every time he was given brief playing time. By the end of the team's first-round playoff series against the New York Knicks, Payne was perhaps the team's second-most relied-upon reserve.

Embiid and Tyrese Maxey aside, there is nearly zero certainty about what the 2024-25 Sixers roster will look like. As well-liked as Payne has become in Philadelphia, there are bigger fish to fry. Once the dust settles with the major pieces, though, there is a very solid argument that bringing Payne back should be a priority.

During a summer in which they will likely be chasing high-priced free agents, there is something to be said for finding value on the margins: every great team needs to find cost-effective rotation players; for the Sixers those were Kelly Oubre Jr. and Beverley (then Payne) in 2023-24.

Payne surely has fans across the league -- and it always takes just one exuberant team for a player's market to skyrocket beyond the league's expectations -- but Payne still seems like a veteran's minimum candidate if not very slightly above it. And, for what it's worth, he seemed thrilled to find a new purpose in Philadelphia: whether he was in the starting lineup or getting a DNP-CD, Payne gave the team an emotional jolt at every possible turn during his months with the organization.

Payne is certainly not the caliber of shot creator that he needs to be a heavy-minutes player and have the ball in his hands at all times. He is not someone who should be relied upon on a consistent basis. But over the course of an 82-game season, rotations change: injuries occur, some players see their production dip, others emerge as newfound diamonds in the rough. Every team, especially the Sixers, needs multiple depth pieces to step up over the course of any given year, and Payne has done it time and time again for multiple franchises.

While the Sixers had two veteran's minimum players in their rotation for much of the season, it is never a guarantee that those players will receive consistent minutes -- and how players may or may not react to that reality is often an unknown. That part of the equation is not a concern with Payne, who displayed through his attitude, his words and his play over the last few months of this past season that he is capable of doing whatever the team needs of him -- on the court and on the bench -- to uplift the Sixers.

Maybe there will be a team out there with a young roster which covets Payne's offensive skillset, leadership and energy who will make the veteran point guard an offer he simply cannot refuse. But if Payne's market ends up being comprised mostly of teams hoping to contend for the Larry O'Brien Trophy, Morey and the Sixers should be right in line to retain the spark plug's services.

MORE: Sixers mock draft roundup

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