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June 16, 2024

NBA teams who could sign each Sixers free agent

The Sixers have an abundance of critical players heading into free agency at the end of this month. If they do not return to Philadelphia, where might they end up?

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Oubre Lowry 6.15.24 Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports

Kelly Oubre Jr. and Kyle Lowry are two of three Sixers starters from the 2024 NBA Playoffs who are set to hit free agency in a few weeks.

NBA teams are allowed to begin negotiating with other clubs' free agents in two weeks, and while much of the focus with regard to the Sixers has been on which free agents of the opposition they could add, they are also at risk of losing several key pieces.

The Sixers have only three players under contract for the 2024-25 season, and all of the following pieces of last season's rotation are unrestricted free agents: Tobias Harris, Kelly Oubre Jr., De'Anthony Melton, Nic Batum, Kyle Lowry, Buddy Hield and Cam Payne. This begs the question: which teams are most likely to pry away these players from the Sixers?

Sixers 'Stay or Go' series

Tobias Harris: Detroit Pistons

Harris returning to Detroit is a possibility that has been broached by many dating back to last regular season, including Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer, who reported that various NBA executives believe the veteran forward could sign with the Pistons following the expiration of the infamous five-year, $180 million contract he signed with the Sixers.

According to the projections of salary cap expert Yossi Gozlan on, the Pistons could have upwards of $68 million in cap space, making them the only team in the league who can realistically create more financial flexibility than the Sixers in that department.

The Pistons do not have many long-term pieces cemented into their wing rotation. They selected Ausar Thompson with No. 5 pick last season, and have the opportunity to add another wing at the same slot in this month's draft should they choose to do so. But they also could very well elect to choose whoever they believe is the best player available -- regardless of that player's position -- and sign Harris to be a starter for the next few years.

Harris is in a tricky spot where his track record is extensive enough that he will not settle for pennies on the dollar, but his track record is not impressive enough to convince a good-to-great team that he is worthy of a significant chunk of their cap space. That could lead to him becoming a veteran mentor of sorts on a young team like the Pistons.

Other teams that could make sense: San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls

Kelly Oubre Jr.: Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder had a fantastic season, winning 56 games, nabbing the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and advancing to the second round of the playoffs before being eliminated by the eventual conference champion Dallas Mavericks. The Thunder have an incredibly bright future: MVP candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and young stars Chet Holmgren and Jalen Williams make up a fantastic core trio, and the team has plenty of impressive role players -- not to mention more future first-round draft picks than any other team in the NBA.

However, their eventual playoff demise raised some serious questions about what they need in order to get over the top -- most notably, the viability of starting shooting guard Josh Giddey, whose offensive inadequacies led to his eventual benching during the second-round series against Dallas. Oklahoma City's three young stars and trusted two-way wing Lu Dort make up a strong first four members of a starting lineup, but many would argue that they need another starting-caliber player who can knock down open threes, defend at a high level and attack closeouts. Oubre proved this season that he fits that bill.

Oklahoma City can create more than $30 million in cap space this summer, meaning they could quite easily price the Sixers out on Oubre should they decide he is their preferred target.

Other teams that could make sense: Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Clippers

De'Anthony Melton: Charlotte Hornets

Two years of back injuries will likely do a lot of damage to Melton's value on the open market, but if the Sixers have to renounce his rights in order to sign a star-caliber player, he still should command offers large enough to prevent them from bringing him back.

If any front office can get their medical team to give Melton the stamp of approval, though, it will not be hard to sell themselves on making a run at him. Melton is a terrific multi-positional defender with a three-point stroke that has improved significantly in recent years who, at just 26 years old, already has extensive experience as a key member of very good teams.

After yet another disappointing season in Charlotte, the Hornets will look to use their cap space -- which could be around $20 million -- to add pieces who can help fill in the gaps between young cornerstones LaMelo Ball and Brandon Miller. Melton is a player who can fit alongside those two and help the team get better right away, while being young enough that they can at least hope for more growth from him.

Other teams that could make sense: Oklahoma City Thunder, Toronto Raptors

Nic Batum: San Antonio Spurs

The primary question surrounding Batum is not exactly whether or not he enjoys playing in Philadelphia; it certainly appeared that he was grateful to spend much of last season with the Sixers. The question is whether he will play at all, or if he will retire following this summer's Olympics. If Batum does elect to play another NBA season, the Sixers give him the best combination of role, familiarity and chance to compete at the highest level.

In order for another team to swoop in and sign Batum, they would likely need to overwhelm him with their offer from a financial standpoint and present a compelling vision as to why he would be of use to them.

What about the San Antonio Spurs? Batum could team up with a fellow Frenchman Victor Wembanyama, who Batum said in an old interview that he first watched play when the 7-foot-4 sensation was just 14 years old. The Spurs desperately need three-point shooting and post entry passing to help make life easier for Wembanyama on the offensive end of the floor, and Batum is excellent in both of those areas.

It's probably a long shot, but it's something to keep in mind.

Other teams that could make sense: Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors

Kyle Lowry: Phoenix Suns

Because of their horrific salary cap standing, the Suns could only offer Lowry a veteran's minimum deal. On the surface, it may seem unrealistic. But the Sixers cannot offer him much more than that, and at this stage of his career, a few million dollars will likely not swing Lowry's decision in either direction.

The Suns' strongest asset in a hypothetical pursuit of Lowry is that they could, in theory, promise him the team's starting point guard job -- something most teams will not do for a player who just turned 38 years old. Lowry started for the Sixers for the last couple of months of last season out of necessity, but his lack of on-ball juice at his advanced age made it difficult for Sixers head coach Nick Nurse to give him too significant of a minutes load. Because the Suns have a starting five that already features Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal, Lowry's diminished burst and explosiveness could be mollified in Phoenix.

The Sixers should absolutely try to bring Lowry back, but not if he wants to be guaranteed a starting job. The Sixers have the financial advantage over Phoenix -- as well as the fact that Lowry is a Philadelphia native who seemed to be excited to join his hometown team and expressed nothing but positive thoughts about his experience with the Sixers at the end of the season -- but the Suns could offer him more minutes on a nightly basis.

Other teams that could make sense: Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers

Buddy Hield: Chicago Bulls

The Bulls finished 20th in the NBA in three-point percentage, 26th in three-pointers attempted and 27th in three-pointers made last season, and while Hield is a flawed player, he can undoubtedly help Chicago remedy that issue. He is truly one of the elite long-range shooters in the history of the sport, even if his production in Philadelphia did not always resemble that.

The Sixers appeared to think highly of Hield as far as his personality and work ethic go, but after his disappointing stint with the team, the math is going to catch up to him: the Sixers must renounce Hield's cap hold of nearly $29 million in order to make any of the moves they are expected to attempt to facilitate this summer. If they carry out their free agency goals, they would only be able to offer Hield around $8 million per year: not a bad price for someone who flamed out down the stretch last season, but likely less valuable than the deals he could be offered on the open market.

In a perfect world, the Sixers would bring back Hield and hope that extended experience playing alongside Joel Embiid could help the pair develop a dangerous two-man game resembling the rapport Embiid built with JJ Redick and Seth Curry. But unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world.

Other teams that could make sense: Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic

Cam Payne: Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves are a defensive juggernaut, but with Mike Conley turning 37 before the start of next season and a lack of reliable backup ball-handlers hurting them at certain points during their playoff run this season, they will likely be in the market for a reliable backup point guard.

In doing a similar exercise last season, I predicted the Timberwolves would sign then-Sixers free agent Shake Milton. My guess worked out; the signing did not. Milton failed to fill their bench shot creation needs, and the same could be said for trade acquisition Monte Morris.

The field of players for Minnesota to choose from will be thin because of the many expensive contracts already on their books. But Payne signing another veteran's minimum deal is certainly conceivable, and the Timberwolves should absolutely be a team interested in his services. 

Other teams that could make sense: Cleveland Cavaliers, Phoenix Suns

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