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July 09, 2024

Kelly Oubre Jr. returns to Sixers after 'falling in love with basketball' in Philadelphia

The Sixers agreed to a two-year deal with Kelly Oubre Jr. that contains a player option in the second season, with the veteran wing expected to be part of head coach Nick Nurse's starting five.

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Oubre 7.8.24 Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday morning, Kelly Oubre Jr. spoke to the media for the first time since inking a new contract to return to the Sixers.

Kelly Oubre Jr. was always the guy.

It had been evident for months that in order for the Sixers to realize their cap space dreams this summer, they would have to let many of their own free agents walk -- including valuable members of their 2023-24 roster. But it was nearly a unanimous opinion that if the Sixers managed to take advantage of their financial flexibility and add a star-caliber player in free agency, they should still prioritize retaining the services of Oubre if at all possible.

Oubre, 28, starred in several roles for the team last year after signing a veteran's minimum contract days before the start of training camp. He thrived as an on-ball defender all season long, began the year as a high-volume three-point shooter and adept cutter and was relied upon for his rim pressure more often as the season progressed.

At the start of the season, Oubre was expected to be a key reserve, but was forced into the starting lineup after the trade that sent James Harden and P.J. Tucker to the Los Angeles Clippers after just a handful of regular season games. It was seen as a temporary fix, but Oubre ended up starting the vast majority of the team's remaining games -- including all seven of their postseason contests.

Sixers stay or go: Has Kelly Oubre Jr. earned a pay raise?

In 68 games (52 starts) with the Sixers last year, Oubre played 30.2 minutes per game and averaged 15.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.1 steals per contest.

In six playoff games (all starts), he played 37.3 minutes per game and averaged 13.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.2 blocks per contest, knocking down 39.1 percent of his long-distance attempts.

Last week, the team inked Oubre to a two-year, $16.3 million contract that contains a player option in the second season, with a permanent spot in head coach Nick Nurse's starting lineup appearing to be in his future. If Oubre has another strong season and opts out of his deal next summer, the Sixers will have Early Bird rights on him, allowing them to offer him a four-year deal that could be worth nearly $60 million in total. 

In other words: Oubre's contract may only guarantee one more year for him in Philadelphia, but it sets the stage for this to become a long-term partnership should things go as planned in 2024-25.

On Tuesday morning, Oubre spoke to the media for the first time since agreeing to the new contract, and said that his goal is to eventually ink a long-term deal with the Sixers.

Oubre admitted that there was plenty of interest in his services from other teams, and indicated that he was offered more money to play elsewhere, but said he returned to Philadelphia because he prioritized "situation" and 

Perhaps the biggest difference between the Sixers team Oubre was part of last season and the one he will play for beginning in the fall is that next season, he will be playing alongside Paul George on the wing. The Sixers agreed to a four-year max deal with the nine-time All-Star, creating a dynamic trio of stars in George, Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey. Oubre has shared the floor with talented players before, but nothing quite like this -- regardless, he shed light on his entire team, not just its three highest-profile names.

"I feel like we've got a 'Big 12' or a 'Big 15,'" Oubre quipped.

On the most recent episode of George's podcast ,"Podcast P," the newest Sixers star mentioned Oubre as someone he was excited to team with moving forward. Oubre expressed a similar sentiment about one of the league's most well-rounded wing players.

"I've always studied his game, I've always been a fan from afar," Oubre said of George. "I feel we offer different things, but we both can feed and learn off each other."

The reality is that at this time a year ago, Oubre had little interest on the free agent market despite averaging more than 20 points per game in the prior season. He was squeezed into a minimum deal as the entire basketball world wondered what his niche could be on a team that actually wins -- something he had yet to prove in eight years of NBA action.

Then came 2023-24, and Oubre helped the Sixers win games with his shooting, his driving, his cutting and his defense.

Oubre proved last season that he is capable of filling several roles on a winning team. now he has a new deal to show for it.

"It's kind of tough doing that in your first year with an organization or program," Oubre said. "In my first year, it happened really fast."

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