NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there
Can Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons coexist?
While I’ve wondered about that question, the 76ers have charged ahead with the pairing. Embiid and Simmons are the givens. The surrounding players change. In just two seasons, J.J. Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Markelle Fultz, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris have cycled through as starters.
The latest supporting starters: Harris, Al Horford and Josh Richardson.
This might be the last chance to find a trio that works.
Philadelphia has taken advantage of Embiid’s and Simmons’ low rookie-scale salaries, which was always a selling point of The Process. A roster loaded with cheap young players created a window to add more-expensive talent. Then, with everyone already in place, NBA rules generally allow teams to keep their own players.
But Embiid is already on his max contract extension, and Simmons just signed a max contract extension that will take effect next year. The flexibility is vanishing.
One last time, the 76ers made the most of it. They signed-and-traded Butler for Richardson and let Redick walk in free agency. That left enough cap space to sign Al Horford (four years, $109 million with $97 million guaranteed) and use Bird Rights to re-sign Tobias Harris (five years, $180 million).
That’s a lot of deliberate disruption for a team that was already good and rising.
The big question: Did it make Philadelphia better?
I just don’t know.
As fond as I am of Butler, I understand all the reasons to be wary of offering the 30-year-old a huge contract. But moving on from him to give a huge deal to a 33-year-old Horford? That’s curious. Then again, Philadelphia also added Richardson – a solid replacement for Butler on the wing – in the process.
The 76ers will miss Butler’s shot creation. He often took over their offense in the clutch during the playoffs. Harris can pick up some of the slack, but that still looks like a hole.
At just 27, Harris is young for a player who has already been in the league so long. That’s a big reason it was worth Philadelphia signing him to a sizable long-term contract.
Horford’s deal could age poorly, but he’s a winner still playing quality all-around basketball. If nothing else, the 76ers removed Embiid’s best defender from the rival Celtics.
Philadelphia filled its bench with several value signings – Mike Scott (room exception), James Ennis (minimum), Kyle O'Quinn (minimum), Furkan Korkmaz (minimum), Raul Neto (minimum) and Trey Burke (partially guaranteed minimum). However, sometimes teams need production more than cost-effectiveness. The 76ers’ bench struggled last season, and they devoted minimal resources to upgrading.
In the draft, Philadelphia traded the Nos. 24 and 33 picks for No. 20 pick Matisse Thybulle. That’s a costly move up, especially for a player I rated No. 34. Worse, it seemingly happened because Boston snuffed out the 76ers’ interest in Thybulle then leveraged them. That’s small potatoes, though.
Simmons (No. 9 on our list of the 50 best players in 5 years) and Embiid (No. 11 on our list of the 50 best players in 5 years) will likely define this era for Philadelphia. Embiid is on his way to becoming one of the NBA’s very best players. Simmons is so good, giving him a max extension was a no-brainer.
But they were already in place.
Harris, Horford and Richardson will define this offseason. I just can’t tell whether they made the 76ers’ promising future even brighter or slightly dimmer.
Offseason grade: C