July 13, 2018
A free agency period that looked like it was going to start with a bang for the Sixers was certainly ushered in with some noise, but it was closer in scope to a hungover college student knocking over some leftover beer cans than it was a fourth of July fireworks extravaganza. Having missed out on their top targets in free agency, the Sixers took a look at the landscape and decided (mostly) maintaining the status quo was the right move.
And let's be fair to them — they are probably right on that front. Philadelphia is coming off a 52-win season and a playoff series victory, all while led by a pair of players under 25 years old and with a No. 1 overall pick on the shelf for the majority of the season. The Sixers are loaded with upside moving forward, and have flexibility through salary cap space and draft assets that can help them morph into a contender rather quickly should they be so inclined.
From where they sit today, there's just one small problem facing the Sixers: they are going to have to move on from some players on their roster between now and the beginning of the season. Philadelphia has 17 roster players at the moment, and that's not including Jonah Bolden (who appears poised to join the group this fall) or Shake Milton, the team's late second-round selection from draft night.
That means some hard decisions are on the horizon for Philadelphia in order to get the roster down to 15 players, the limit imposed on clubs during the regular season. So with the roster taking shape and a little bit more Summer League action to inform our views, let's take a look at some candidates to hit the road between now and the fall.
I'm not one to offer guarantees unless, you know, I've been told something is a guarantee, but there's no real logic to Bayless sticking around this season for anyone involved. Unless he's such a strong figure in the locker room that the Sixers would collapse into nothingness without him — and there's no indication this would be the case — parting ways with the veteran guard is the easiest decision the front office will have to make.
Granted, there are the actual machinations to sort through on this one, but those have become a lot less complicated/important in the wake of losing out on max free agents this summer. There's no longer any real urgency to stretch Bayless now that his cap hit won't impact their ability to get, say, LeBron James, and the Sixers can work out a simple buyout between now and the start of the regular season.
His tenure in Philadelphia will end with about as little fanfare as any Sixers contributor in recent memory. How much is his fault? That's hard to say. Bayless effectively missed all of his first season with the franchise due to a wrist injury, and did not exactly endear himself with his work last season. The weird thing is that he mostly delivered as a shooter — 37 percent from deep last season — though it felt like all the makes came at low-impact spots in games.
With Markelle Fultz expected to be back in full swing, Zhaire Smith joining the fold, and the rest of the rotation solidifying around the core, there's no real place for him in Philly. Both he and the Sixers would be better off with him searching for a bigger opportunity elsewhere.
One thing has been made abundantly clear over the last year or so: Brett Brown is not the biggest Richaun Holmes fan in the world. Presented with the opportunity to use him as Joel Embiid's backup last season, Brown leaned instead on veteran big man Amir Johnson, who was a steady, if unspectacular defensive presence off the bench.
That shouldn't really come as any surprise if you pay attention how Brown thinks about the game. The Sixers' head coach (and now interim GM) has always prided himself on being a defensive coach above all else, and Johnson is just straight up better than Holmes there. Holmes is flashier on that end with some monster highlight blocks, but Johnson consistently graded out better and put himself in the right position to snuff out plays before they could develop.
To a degree, that is the story of Holmes' career so far. The highs are extremely high, and he showed some positional fluidity last season that offered a glimmer of hope for him as a potential backup at the four. During one particularly noteworthy performance against the Lakers last winter, Holmes and Embiid showed nice synergy and expressed excitement about playing together.
But Brown never really gave that partnership a whole lot of time to develop, and with good reason. The Sixers need shooting at as many spots as they can find around Embiid and Ben Simmons, and Holmes is shooting less than 26 percent from three for his career there. The NBA is trending smaller, which also makes it a tough sell on defense despite Holmes' plus athleticism at his size.
There are likely still some admirers of Holmes around the league who would be happy to give him some burn in the final year of his contract and chase the little bit of upside he might theoretically have. But he'll turn 25 before the season starts, and many of the same defensive awareness issues persist as he heads into his fourth season, so it's unlikely the Sixers are missing out on a potential star should they move on from Holmes before late October.
Speaking of potential stars, last year's Summer League phenom was spoken of with plenty of reverence after an encouraging performance in last year's edition. Not dissimilar to Holmes, Bolden has the sort of flashes that tend to pop enough to stick in your memory even if they come few and far between.
Perhaps it's a function of role and the personnel around him this go around, but the shine has come off Bolden in the public eye a whole lot after an admittedly short time in Las Vegas this summer. It has been his shooting that most people will zero in on — Bolden has been stationed on the perimeter quite a bit, and he has missed a lot of his looks from deep in near-comic fashion.
It hasn't all been bad for Bolden in Vegas, and his defensive effort against Phoenix on Thursday evening was a big reason why No. 1 overall pick DeAndre Ayton struggled to build any momentum against Philadelphia. Bolden was clearly prepared to compete against the highly-touted prospect, and got his work done with positioning and tough contests, rather than chasing after blocks. That's a good thing.
The question simply becomes whether the Sixers think his ultimate upside is worth stowing on the bench relative to what they know they have in Holmes. Given Bolden's relative ineffectiveness as a second-year player at Summer League, there's an argument to be made to stick with the player you already know, especially since the Sixers don't have to bring Bolden over right this instant. In cases where draftees sign and play for a non-NBA team following a selection, NBA franchises retain the rights to said draftees for a full year after the player's obligation to the non-NBA team ends. Bolden signed a three-year deal with Maccabi Tel Aviv last summer, which gives Philadelphia time to figure things out on their end.
It seems like Philadelphia probably wants to get Bolden in here — they have yet to announce deals for Amir Johnson or Nemanja Bjelica, which points to wanting to squeeze their salary cap to the limit. Second-round picks can only be signed using cap room or an available exception, a point of difference from the cap holds used for first-round picks, so signs point to the order of operations being held up until they figure out his situation.
If I were a betting man, I'd say Holmes is the more likely guy to hit the ol' dusty trail. But keep an eye on Bolden's situation, at least.
Heralded as a draft-day steal when he fell to the Sixers in 2016, it seems like a lifetime ago that fans were excited about what TLC could bring to the table. Despite some flashes of competence from time to time — including in an encouraging stretch as a starter with JJ Redick injured earlier this year — Luwawu-Cabarrot has been fairly disappointing in red, white, and blue.
Some of that isn't necessarily on him. The Sixers probably did not have a proper guage of just how important shooting would be around Simmons when they selected him, and TLC hasn't been as competent as he has needed to be yet. He improved his percentage by a couple points between his rookie and sophomore years, but low 30's is not going to cut it as a wing player next to a (current) non-shooter.
It's the rest of the game that has been the real disappointment for the Frenchman, however, particularly on defense. Despite having the requisite athleticism and length to be a competent, if not an impactful defender, Luwawu-Cabarrot routinely struggles to deter opponents on the defensive end of the floor. Too often, the man he's tasked with tracking is allowed to get to spots on the floor teams try to steer players away from, and the result ends up being a quality attempt or a desparation foul on the behalf of TLC. Neither is a good outcome for the Sixers, obviously.
With his third season approaching, it's fair to wonder just how much development time will be available to TLC next season. The aforementioned arrivals of Fultz and Smith will add depth to the rotation, and if you compare how Furkan Korkmaz looks this Summer League compared to Luwawu-Cabarrot last summer in his second attempt, the Turkish wing has a much better case to get back end rotation minutes this year.
I wouldn't call him a lost cause just yet, but if his career is going to work out it seems like it may have to be elsewhere.
Once lamented as the token return for Nerlens Noel, Anderson has won himself a few fans in Philadelphia with a lot of energy and a theoretical outline of a defensive player. Say what you will about his overall game, but there were few players in Philadelphia's rotation better equipped to spark the Sixers in a tough, physical series with the Miami Heat. He certainly made his presence felt in limited action there.
Brown has more trust and belief in Anderson than he does in TLC, from what I can tell, but the problem last season was Anderson's inability to stay on the floor. A combination of malidies allowed him to play just 38 games for the Sixers last season, and Wilson Chandler's arrival will eliminate some if not all of the role Anderson could have expected to have entering last year.
Knowing Anderson, he will come in and compete for his spot all the same, and he's the perfect sort of candidate to be an end of the bench guy with a hint of upside. He's buddies with the team's franchise player, he brings the same level of effort and intensity each time out, and he's been good enough in spurts that maybe you can talk yourself into believing he can help when healthy. Anderson underwent surgery in late June to address tibial stress syndrome in his left leg, so a clean bill of health should be forthcoming.
But he's certainly not shielded from risk heading into the fall, and having to prove he can stay healthy does not exactly strengthen his case to stick around.
Bayless, TLC, and Holmes are taking their talents elsewhere. Unless there's a Kawhi Leonard trade, in which case you can effectively throw out everything we think we know about the roster makeup.
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