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June 12, 2024

Sixers mailbag: What if Daryl Morey fails to add a third star this summer?

Is there a world in which the Sixers open the 2024-25 season without a third star-caliber player next to Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey?

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Morey 6.12.24 Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Sixers President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey's appetite for adding a third star to play alongside Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey is well-documented. But what if he fails to pull it off?

With the 2024 NBA Draft officially two weeks away and free agency opening days later, things are coming into focus for Sixers President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey and his front office. As another crucial offseason nears, let's dive into your Sixers questions:

From @nielsrosenquist: Is there a way for the Sixers to keep some cap space for next season/offseason if the pickings end up being slim in FA and trade market? Would that make sense?

Last month, Jake Fischer of Yahoo! Sports did a significant amount of reporting on the Sixers' offseason ambitions. Perhaps the most noteworthy piece of his story was the following tidbit:

"In the event Philadelphia is unable to land a big fish this summer, look for the Sixers to flush out their roster with similar non-guaranteed money as of the past season’s approach. Philadelphia, sources said, will prioritize being nimble with salaries in order to move whenever the next disgruntled star becomes available. Rival executives around the league are both applauding Minnesota and Boston’s starry team builds, but optimistic both the Wolves and Celtics will be unable to keep all of their top pieces in place the deeper the NBA wades into this new second-apron era." [Yahoo! Sports]

This is understandable in some ways and confusing in others. 

Let's start with the good: clearly, Morey and his front office believe that adding a third star by any means necessary gives the team its best chance to finally break through and win a championship, and signing a handful of valuable role players to long-term deals -- even if it improved the quality of the roster -- would make it incredibly difficult to pull that off.

But there are also some reasons for concern stemming from this approach: first of all, Joel Embiid is a perennial MVP candidate with a volatile injury history who is now on the wrong side of 30 -- playing the waiting game in any capacity feels like a massive risk. Additionally, because Tyrese Maxey is set to sign a five-year maximum contract worth north of $200 million this summer, the Sixers are not going to be able to create nearly as much cap flexibility next summer as they are able to in a few weeks.

Without renouncing Maxey or waiving the non-guaranteed contract of Paul Reed, the Sixers could create somewhere in the ballpark of $55 million in cap space this summer (depending on what they choose to do with their minimum free agents and the non-guaranteed deal and team option of Ricky Council IV and Jeff Dowtin Jr.).

Next summer, the Sixers will be preparing for a 2025-26 season in which instead of Maxey having a $13 million cap hold, he will have a salary worth just over $38 million. Combine that massive bump with Embiid's 2025-26 salary of over $55 million, and it becomes a lot harder to find the financial resources to add a third star in free agency. 

If the Sixers fail to sign a free agent to a maximum contract this summer, it will likely be their last chance to do so for at least a few years. That means they would need to acquire a third star via the trade market.

This is why I continue to be intrigued by the idea of the Sixers trading the No. 16 pick in two weeks, but not doing it for a player. What if they traded the selection for as much future draft capital as they can get? Recent precedent suggests that they could get a lightly-protected future first-rounder or even two slightly-heavier-protected first-rounders if the right team is interested in the right available prospect.

By the time the draft is taking place, the Sixers could very well have a strong inclination of whether or not they will be able to sign someone like Paul George. If they trade out of the first round entirely, it could be a sign that they are loading up on future assets to assemble a star-level trade package. Who that star would be is anybody's guess.

From @greedisgood70: Can the Sixers win a championship with Tobias Harris as their fourth-best player? Is a team with Embiid, Maxey, George and Harris a contender?

I do believe that a theoretical Embiid-Maxey-George trio would be good enough to contend for a championship, should their supporting cast also be up to the task. But for many reasons that Harris has displayed over a five-plus-year tenure with the Sixers, it is extremely questionable that Harris can be the fourth-best player -- or even a relied-upon contributor -- for a championship-winning team. For more than a half-decade, Harris has failed to adjust his offensive methodology to accommodate his vastly superior teammates for more than a few weeks at a time. He came up small in crucial game after crucial game. 

But even if the Sixers did believe that Harris could be their fourth-best player behind the aforementioned stars, it is an exceptionally unlikely concept. In order to clear the requisite cap room to sign George, the Sixers would need to renounce their Bird Rights on Harris. That means, in order to re-sign him eventually, he would only be able to sign for up to $8 million -- the room mid-level exception. Even after his disastrous postseason run, he should command far more than that in the open market.

From @dillywack16: What are some sleeper names that could be in play as it goes to filling out the roster? Not star names, but names that haven't really been mentioned as the supporting cast goes.

Many names have been speculated about and connected to the Sixers for a long time. So, allow me to suggest a handful of players who are outside-the-box; players with varying levels of success.

• The Charlotte Hornets are headed towards a rebuild and have little on-court use for Seth Curry as he enters his age-34 season. Curry will only make $4 million next season -- could the Sixers send Charlotte a second-round pick and bring Curry back into the fold? He is a far cry from the player who had career-best numbers with the Sixers a handful of years ago, but as an end-of-bench player, the Sixers could do far worse.

• After falling out of the Indiana Pacers' rotations until injuries struck, Doug McDermott could be easily affordable as a free agent this summer. He may not be an everyday rotation piece for the Sixers, but like Curry, his three-point shooting makes him a viable reserve who can give decent minutes when called upon.

• If the Sixers watch De'Anthony Melton depart in free agency and fail to land someone of a similar caliber to replace him, they should look for a rotation-type player who fits a similar archetype from a positional and skillset perspective. One name that could make sense is Delon Wright, who spent the last few months of 2023-24 with the Miami Heat and gave them solid minutes.

• If the Sixers do sign a free agent of George's stature, they will have the aforementioned room MLE worth a hair over $8 million. One player they could target with most (or all) of that money is sharpshooter Malik Beasley, who spent last season with the Milwaukee Bucks on a veteran's minimum contract and started 77 games. Over the last four seasons, Beasley has attempted 7.8 three-point tries per game -- a gargantuan figure -- and knocked down 38.3 percent of those attempts. In 2023-24, Beasley shot 41.3 percent from beyond the arc.

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