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June 06, 2022

Mailbag: Tobias Harris' role, Doc Rivers' tenure, Paul Reed's future, offseason games and movies

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Sixers-Tobias-Harris-3_0322 Colleen Claggett/for PhillyVoice

Tobias Harris waits to enter the game during the Sixers' game against the Raptors at the Wells Fargo Center on March 20.

As the NBA Finals roll on and Sixers fans can only hope for someone else to take out their most hated rivals, it's time to dip back into the mailbag. That's unless you'd rather discuss Al Horford being good everywhere except for Philadelphia, which I don't particularly care to do myself. 

It's the time of year when only some of the questions are about basketball, but that keeps it interesting for me, so thank you to everyone who did not ask a variation of, "What are the Sixers going to do this summer?" You are appreciated.

If I had to place money on an outcome right now, it would be on Tobias Harris returning, though I don't lean strongly either way. Do I think the Sixers would move Harris in the right deal with proper corresponding moves set up around such a deal? Sure. But I'm still pretty dubious about their ability to move him for either neutral or positive value without needing to give up something they can't or won't give up. And to your point, if you go to the market and you're being forced to pay extra to offload one of your few players who actually produces on a regular basis, that's probably going to hurt your team, not help it.

Let's say, for example, they want to get off of his salary in an attempt to use the money on a new, shiny player who is hitting free agency this summer. If teams become aware you're hunting a big fish, the cost to park a big salary somewhere goes up by default, and the Sixers don't have a ton of appealing sweeteners to offer teams in those scenarios. Their first-round picks are tied up for the foreseeable future, they've signaled that Tyrese Maxey is close to untouchable, and the upside elsewhere is minimal. Other teams watched Matisse Thybulle this season just like the Sixers did. And he's probably the most valuable trade chip if you're looking at their depth pieces, which says as much about the rest of the group as it does him.

The problem with Harris is less about his role and ability to fill it than it is the sticker price, obviously. He seemed to embrace the position he was in with this group down the stretch, taking on tough assignments and increasing his shot volume from the perimeter. It's just very difficult for someone with his general skill set to offer value matching his contract. If he's going to be in a role where the Sixers need him to be a high-level defender and shooter at basically all times, that's asking him to be someone he has only recently shown he can be with any level of consistency. The shooting versatility, for example, is limited to catch-and-shoot looks and the occasional pull-up, nobody expecting him to be a dangerous shooter off of movement. Defensively, he has made real strides, but having him guard the best player every night is a big ask, and I'm not even sure he necessarily wants to do that, even if he said he embraced the challenge at the end of this year.

One of the other things I struggle with evaluating this team is that they also simply need James Harden and Joel Embiid to be better than they were when it really counted. Embiid at least has the excuse of injuries disrupting his playoff run, and if you wanted to be charitable to Harden, you could say that he still doesn't look all there while working through the hamstring injuries from a season prior. On the other hand, I could just as easily say that you basically have to assume at this point that Embiid won't get through a playoff run unscathed and that there's no guarantee Harden is ever going to reclaim his full burst on a regular basis. Putting the responsibility for where the team is at on players like Harris doesn't feel right to me. They would be better off not paying him a king's ransom, for sure, but it's ultimately not going to matter how much he makes or who they (theoretically) replace him with unless their tentpole stars are who the organization expects them to be. 

If instead of Harris at around $37.6 million the Sixers had, for example, Bojan Bogdanovic and Terry Rozier combining to make around that much, does that fundamentally change their trajectory? Probably not, and I like both of those guys well enough. Perhaps there's a combination of players you could put together that would add up to a firm yes. But the realistic cost of getting them is probably out of their price range, as we discussed when OG Anunoby's name came up in the rumor mill recently.

Maybe next summer, when Harris will be on an expiring contract, you could put together some interesting scenarios that benefit Philly in the short term without costing them much (if anything) over the long term. And maybe Daryl Morey has more up his sleeve this summer than I'm giving him credit for currently. But it feels to me like an offseason where it's more realistic to expect smaller moves and tweaking of the depth pieces than it is another franchise-altering trade. 

I think this is what some (though not all) people in the organization are hoping for. In an ideal world, you don't continue to roster a bunch of big men who can't play together and essentially offer you nothing if they can't win the backup job. It wouldn't mean Charles Bassey or Paul Reed is undeserving of an NBA roster spot if they're stuck on the bench here, but you can't provide value without playing (sorry, Udonis Haslem). Unlike with guards and wings, you can't just play big-heavy lineups without suffering awful consequences on one or both ends of the floor.

That's a good bridge to this topic...

If I had any trust in Reed as a shooter, this would be an emphatic yes. I am not too worried about him having to chase around perimeter-sized players on defense, and most of his value as a professional is going to stem from his switchability. Playing a guy like Reed at the five is your path to throwing out long, athletic lineups that can shuffle assignments with ease and not worry so much about ball screens creating openings for the opponent. So long as he can avoid taking silly fouls in space, Reed will be a big asset on the defensive end, even though that's a big qualifier.

The shot mechanics, though, are just all sorts of wonky. He's going to be able to get some easy buckets playing out of the dunker's spot if he's on the floor with another big, but in an Embiid-centric world, you want a guy who can do that and serve as a credible floor spacer, dragging players away from the paint so that Embiid can go one-on-one. Doc Rivers has said over and over again how much they emphasize spacing with this group, so the only way Reed is ever going to get serious consideration beyond center is if he offers real offensive utility.

There are definitely some teams who have shown you can play and succeed with two-big styles for portions of games, namely the Boston Celtics, who have played Al Horford and Robert Williams a lot together despite the latter being a total non-entity beyond around 10 feet. But Williams is also a much more dangerous vertical threat than Reed and one of the league's most impactful shot blockers, and he wasn't as foul prone as Reed even when he was more erratic to start his career. As an occasional changeup, I don't mind some Reed at the four minutes, but he has to figure out a way to be helpful on offense in that role if they're going to try it.

One more Reed-related question...

Despite all my skepticism of Thybulle expressed over the last year or so, I think it basically has to be him. No one else on the roster has proven they have any sort of high-level skill or path to production on an NBA floor. Whatever you think of Thybulle, he has made All-Defense teams in back-to-back seasons and has a level of name recognition around the league, which by default makes him more valuable than just about everyone else on the roster.

It does highlight, though, how ugly the roster looks right now. After everything I said about Harris up top, it still feels like the smart play is hoping this rebuilding team takes his money off of the books for you. That's one of your actually useful players! 

You're not going to get an honest answer from anybody with the team on this until somebody (or everybody) moves on. All the important people say the right things about good relationships and learning from one another and so forth, and yes, the Rockets did look into hiring Rivers when Morey was still with Houston. But it is still an unusual situation for a head coach to be hired before the lead executive, particularly when you bestow the sort of money and influence the Sixers did on Rivers.

Truthfully, you'll find out pretty quickly how instrumental Rivers is in whatever they can accomplish in the offseason, because he's not going to be shy about telling you that himself. Rivers has been happy to make note of every player he helped steer toward the organization the last couple of years. And I don't mean that as a dig, either. Self-promotion and politics are a huge part of this business, and you have to look out for yourself when you know how quickly (and sometimes inaccurately) the rush for credit and blame can work against you.

Even if Rivers becomes noticeably less influential on the management side of things, I do think he'll continue to draw a firm-ish line as the coach directing the players on the floor. That's not to say he's not going to listen to anyone else, but he's of a firm belief that the locker room is his to command once the roster decisions are made, for better or worse. I don't think that's unreasonable.

Not sure I've seen this purported "rumor" anywhere, let alone from a credible source, so that's a no for me. Weirdly enough this might actually make the Sixers worse even if they're clearly "winning" the trade on paper, because they might give up 135 points per game unless they pluck several defensive-minded wings out of thin air.

Here are the 21st selections in the NBA draft dating back to 2010: Keon Johnson, Tyrese Maxey, Brandon Clarke, Grayson Allen, Terrance Ferguson, DeAndre Bembry, Justin Anderson, Mitch McGary, Gorgui Dieng, Jared Sullinger, Nolan Smith, Craig Brackins. Of that group, you have one big hit (Maxey), a good role player (Clarke), a situational role player for a good team (Allen), middling depth guys (Dieng, Bembry), and not much else to speak of, with the jury still out on Johnson. So let's say that Bembry is roughly the 50th percentile outcome, a player whose name you know who has had some nice moments but ultimately has played for four teams in six seasons. Playable when his shot falls, tough to justify keeping on the floor if not.

Essentially, you're asking me how dire it would be if instead of Maxey the Sixers had a player who was about as good as the rest of their regular bench players. That would indeed be a huge problem, and I'm not sure what Philadelphia's out would be if that were the case. They would be praying for Harden to beat back father time with no clear openings otherwise. You'd have no exciting piece to offer in a trade to shake things up, minimal draft assets to move, limited salary flexibility, and a lot of bad vibes. Thankfully for everyone, we don't live in that part of the multiverse.

Tyrese Haliburton is No. 1 because he's the only guy on that list who I have any semblance of hope for as a playoff defender long-term. That's less because he's proven he's actively good at this level than about his size compared to the rest of this group — they're basically all one-position defenders who can be exploited if teams make a reasonable effort to attack them, or even if teams just prey on some of their poor instincts. Haliburton has proven he can at least be disruptive, and with relatively normal physical development, he should have the ability to hold up against a wider variety of assignments than the rest while offering excellent playmaking and good scoring punch, even if he's behind the others in the latter department.

After that, I would probably have Garland and Maxey in the two and three slots. Garland and Maxey are comparable as scorers but Cleveland's young guard is far ahead of him as a passer/playmaker, something that doesn't necessarily matter as much next to Harden but certainly matters in a ranking exercise. In fact, I am probably overrating Haliburton putting him at No. 1 currently, given the season Garland had last year. At the very least, Garland's offensive utility gives him a leg up here, as much as Maxey's three-level scoring ability excites you. Maxey being further away from making real money also can't be ignored, obviously.

I don't really want to be the guy paying big money to either Brunson or Simons, and those paydays are coming soon.

I sort of think the answer is none of them, which is the point of the show. Once the "innie" realizes they're basically a slave, I don't see how that leads to worker productivity. And you're still bringing baggage to work even if you don't realize it or understand why mentally — a late night at the club, for example, is still going to impact the basketball player half of James Harden even if he has no idea what he did away from the game the night before.

If anyone might benefit, I suppose it would be the coaches. If half of Doc Rivers can worry about playing golf and not coaching, maybe that would lean in Philly's favor.

Goose from "Top Gun," Oberyn Martell, The Iron Giant. 

I am technically still making my way through a Sopranos rewatch at the moment, though I don't feel bad pausing that if something new comes out that I'm interested in. More of a case where if I'm not jonesing to watch anything else, I'll put on an episode before I go to bed. In absolutely no order, shows that are out or releasing soon that I'll watch are "Obi-Wan Kenobi," "Stranger Things," "The Boys," "Better Call Saul" (top priority), "Foundation," the rest of this season of "Barry," maybe the "Game of Thrones: spinoff if reviewers tell me they didn't screw it up again. 

Knowing myself, what I will actually end up doing is continuing to dig deeper into the movie backlog that I've been cutting down over the last couple of years of pandemic life. I've knocked out a lot of movies I wanted to get around to and hadn't previously — "Chinatown," "The Conversation," "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," and "The King of Comedy" as some examples — and I'll probably end up doing more of that than TV watching. As prestige TV trends more toward movie-length episodes, I find it even harder to justify regularly sinking 10-15 hours per season compared to sitting down for a movie once, though I get that people with kids don't have the same view on that.

I am perpetually behind on new movies, so I guess by default it's "The Batman" then? Going to try to see the new "Top Gun" movie soon but I have been slacking something fierce on anything released this year. The straight to HBO Max pipeline really spoiled me last year.

Not going to go that far yet, but it would take a shockingly good game coming out between now and December for me to move "Elden Ring" out of first place this year. Staggering achievement, that game. And no, I have not started a new-game plus playthrough yet. More energy being spent on correcting my diet, sleep and exercise habits after the playoff run had me all over the place.

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