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June 22, 2024

Three high-priced role players who the Sixers could sign in free agency

If the Sixers choose not to add a third star this summer, they have the ability to add multiple high-caliber role players in free agency. Who fits the bill?

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KCP 6.22.24 Kyle Ross/USA TODAY Sports

Could two-time NBA champion Kentavious Caldwell-Pope leave the Denver Nuggets for Philadelphia?

With the news that the Sixers' well-documented pursuit of Los Angeles Clippers All-Star wing Paul George is over -- more than a week before NBA free agency actually opens -- it appears increasingly unlikely that the team will sign a star-caliber player on the open market this summer. If Sixers President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey does add a third star alongside Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey, it would likely have to come via trade.

But there is another path that the Sixers could consider: using their massive amount of projected cap space to pursue multiple high-caliber role players. There is some merit to the idea that the team could add players who could start for any contender and try to accumulate the strongest depth possible, rather than put a third star with Embiid and Maxey and surround a dynamic trio with many unproven commodities. The former is a model that worked for the New York Knicks in 2023-24, with relatively new acquisitions such as Josh Hart, Donte DiVincenzo and Isaiah Hartenstein all leaving lasting impacts.

If the Sixers reverse course a bit and decide that this path is their most favorable option, which free agents could make sense? Here are three to keep in mind...

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Caldwell-Pope has been the starting shooting guard for two different championship teams, a feat as rare as it is impressive. He is perhaps one of today's poster children for the 3&D wing archetype that has become incredibly popular in the NBA.

Standing at 6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-8 wingspan, Caldwell-Pope can defend most guards and wings at a high level. He is not necessarily a world-class stopper, but he does not need to be -- especially if he were to team up with someone like Embiid. He is good enough, though, that Sixers head coach Nick Nurse could entrust him with challenging and crucial defensive assignments on a game-by-game basis. 

Many players with Caldwell-Pope's defensive pedigree are ones who have to be hidden offensively and can be exploited for their weaknesses on that end of the floor. The Sixers have experienced that issue many times in recent years, whether it was with Jaden Springer, P.J. Tucker or Matisse Thybulle.

Caldwell-Pope will not present such issues; his efficiency from three-point range has long been outstanding. Over the last five regular seasons, he has shot a combined 40.3 percent from beyond the arc on 4.3 attempts per game. The Sixers would likely ask him to be a bit more aggressive as a shooter than he has been during his two years with the Denver Nuggets, which could lead to a slight decline in efficiency, but it is likely a trade-off the Sixers would accept.

Caldwell-Pope is crucial to Denver's short-term championship aspirations, but their loaded cap sheet has opened the door for other contenders to potentially pry him away from the Nuggets.

Derrick Jones Jr.

Last summer, Jones screamed Sixers target to me. His unique frame and world-class athleticism have enabled him to become incredibly versatile on the defensive end of the floor, and similarly athletic players -- particularly ones who, like Jones, are large wings -- have appealed to Nurse in the past. Like Kelly Oubre Jr., his market unexpectedly dried up last summer and he had to settle for a veteran's minimum contract with the Dallas Mavericks.

Jones went on to start 66 regular season games for the Mavericks in 2023-24, and started in every playoff game on their run to the NBA Finals. He posted career-best numbers in terms of three-point efficiency (34.3 three-point percentage) and three-point volume (3.1 attempts per game). Neither of those numbers are extraordinary, but because of his remarkable defensive ability, it makes him comfortably a starting-caliber player moving forward.

The Mavericks will attempt to do what they can to bring back Jones, who is still only 27 years old and can be considered a long-term rotation staple, but the Sixers could have the ability to price them out if they identify Jones as the right fit for what they do. 

Caleb Martin

Martin is perhaps the least recognizable name on this list, but do not count out his ability to leave a lasting impact on a great team. He had a ridiculous playoff run a couple of years back to help charge the Miami Heat to the NBA Finals, filling in all of the gaps on both ends. Martin can knock down an open shot, he can attack a closeout and score at the rim, he can defend guards and he can defend wings.

Martin has spent three years on one of the more underrated, team-friendly contracts in the NBA for Miami, and as he enters his age-29 season, the time is now for Martin to maximize his potential earnings -- even if that means leaving the team that helped develop him into the player he has become today. 

Martin is not the same caliber of shooter as Caldwell-Pope, but he is much more reliable from three-point range than Jones is. He has a terrific 6-foot-10 wingspan that contributes to his noteworthy defensive versatility.

He has a player option worth $7.1 million for next season that he is expected to decline as he seeks a payday more commensurate with his value, whether that comes from the Heat or a team like the Sixers. He could be a genuine difference-maker for the Sixers on the wing, an ideal role player to help fill the gaps between the All-Star duo of Embiid and Maxey that is currently in place.

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