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Misadventures stall progress for 76ers

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NBCSports.com’s 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.

After an extended period of mediocrity then several years of tanking, the 76ers won 52 games and reached the second round, their best season since Allen Iverson led them to the 2001 NBA Finals.

But Philadelphia sure didn’t get the typical stability that follows a breakthrough like that.

The 76ers experienced plenty of disorder this offseason – some welcomed, some not, some between and most of it in service of adding another star.

The Process was always built on the understanding that acquiring multiple stars is both extremely difficult and all but necessary to win a championship. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, a combination many teams would envy, aren’t enough for Philadelphia.

That’s a reason the 76ers ousted Sam Hinkie, who drafted Embiid and positioned Philadelphia to make the easy call of drafting Simmons. Hinkie executed his vision smartly, but also callously. It’s hard to tank for that long without upsetting people, and the perception he turned the franchise into an embarrassment only grew. So, the 76ers turned to an executive with a more acceptable reputation around the league.

That decision that came home to roost this summer, as Bryan Colangelo’s tenure ended in a scandal far more tawdry than anything under Hinkie.

We still don’t know precisely what happened with those burner Twitter accounts, but the 76ers determined Colangelo’s wife, Barbara Bottini, ran the accounts and he mishandled private and sensitive information. The 76ers didn’t find proof he knew about the accounts, and he denied prior knowledge. But it shouldn’t be lost the team’s investigation was impeded by Bottini deleting the contents of her cell phone. Also remember: Two days after news broke of the accounts’ existence, Colangelo was still denying any knowledge of anything about them. In the midst of the biggest scandal of his career, his wife never came clean to him? That is the most unbelievable part of this saga.

So, the 76ers rightfully dumped Colangelo, even though it left them without a general manager for the draft and free agency. With that void in leadership, LeBron James, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard all ended up elsewhere.

Unable to get that additional star via trade or free agency, Philadelphia used most of its cap space on J.J. Redick and Wilson Chandler.

Re-signing Redick (one year, $12.25 million) was especially important given Ersan Ilyasova’s and Marco Belinelli’s departures in free agency. Ilyasova (two years, $14 million guaranteed from the Bucks with an unguaranteed third season) and Belinelli (two years, $12 million from Spurs) were important cogs on last year’s team due their shooting. The 76ers were +42 in the playoffs when Ilyasova and Belinelli shared the court and -3 otherwise – a remarkable split for a pair of reserves.

But Philadelphia clearly didn’t want to limit its long-term star-acquiring flexibility. So, matching multi-year contracts for Ilyasova and Belinelli was a no go.

That’s why trading for Chandler was at least logical. Though overpaid, he’s on an expiring contract can can still pay. The 76ers also got second-round consideration for taking him from the tax-avoiding Nuggets.Still, it seems Philadelphia could have gotten a better free agent for that money, someone good enough to justify passing on the Denver picks.

Keeping a theme, the 76ers lost Nemanja Bjelica when he determined the one-year room exception didn’t provide him enough stability. Why he didn’t figure that out before agreeing to the deal with Philadelphia is on him, but the 76ers paid the price for his defection to the Kings on a multi-year deal.

So, still in need of a stretch big with Ilyasova and Bjelica out of the picture, Philadelphia traded Justin Anderson and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot for the Hawks’ Mike Muscala, who, naturally, is on an expiring contract. Because Muscala is a four/five (to Bjelica’s four/three), the 76ers dumped reserve center Richaun Holmes for cash. They also re-signed backup center Amir Johnson to a minimum contract for – you guessed it – one year.

Not only are the 76ers preserving 2019 cap space, they’re also stockpiling assets for their star search. On draft night, they traded No. 10 pick Mikal Bridges – who profiles as a solid role player and would have acclimated nicely to Philadelphia, where he grew up and played collegiately at Villanova – to the Suns for No. 16 pick Zhaire Smith and the Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick. That Miami pick has major upside and could be valuable in a trade with a team moving its star and rebuilding.

Philadelphia left the draft with Smith, No. 26 pick Landry Shamet and No. 54 pick Shake Milton. The 76ers also signed last year’s second-rounder Jonah Bolden to a four-year contract. It’s a nice haul of young talent to add to Philadelphia’s stockpile.

But none of those players is the star the 76ers clearly seek. After undercutting themselves, they at least did well to give themselves a chance to try again next year.

That said, maybe they already have the additional star they desire. Markelle Fultz suffered through a miserable rookie year due to the yips. Whether injury was the cause or effect barely matters now. If he finds his groove, that could swing the franchise’s fortunes for a decade. His development might be more important to Philadelphia’s offseason than any signing, trade or draft pick.

I believe Fultz has improved over the summer. But I just can’t project he’ll return to the star track that made him the No. 1 pick a year ago. That’s too big a leap of faith. Even major advances could still leave him well short of stardom.

But he is the biggest variable in offseason that saw Philadelphia lose helpful contributors, fail to maximize its ample cap space and move one year closer to Simmons joining Embiid on max contracts that will limit flexibility.

At least they’re still in strong shape for next summer.

Offseason grade: C-

Report: 76ers trading Richaun Holmes to Suns, signing Jonah Bolden

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The Thunder-Hawks-76ers three-team trade was reportedly on hold to becoming official while Philadelphia eyed another move.

Trading Jerryd Bayless (and surely something positive, like a draft pick) for Kyle Korver? The 76ers could still do that.

But this appears to be the move that had to precede the three-team trade – and the move that completed the Suns’ trade with the Nets.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

The Suns did well to add Richaun Holmes, a 24-year-old energy center. The only question is whether did it in the optimal way.

Instead of trading a second-rounder to go from Jared Dudley‘s $9,530,000 salary to Darrell Arthur‘s $7,464,912 salary, Phoenix could have cleared the cap room necessary to acquire Holmes by waiving Davon Reed or Shaquille Harrison.

Instead, Phoenix will keep Reed and Harrison. The Suns should know Reed and Harrison, both of whom played limited minutes as rookies last year, better than outsiders do. To a certain extent, there’s little choice but to defer to the team’s judgment.

Holmes was behind Joel Embiid and Amir Johnson at center in Philadelphia. Given Embiid’s injury history, third center is an important role on the 76ers. But, after Nemanja Bjelica backed out of his deal with them, they traded for Mike Muscala as their stretch four. However, unlike Bjelica (who swung more toward small forward when switching positions), Muscala swings toward center. He provides enough depth behind Embiid and Johnson.

So, Holmes became the odd man out with Philadelphia needing to clear a roster spot to sign 2017 No. 36 pick Jonah Bolden (a player I liked quite a bit in the draft).

Bolden’s minimum salary would have been $5,721,234 over the next four years. So, he got a little more and likely some of it guaranteed. In exchange, he gave the 76ers team control at a cheap salary for the longest possible time. He’s betting against himself.

After signing Bolden into cap space, Philadelphia can now execute the deal with Oklahoma City and Atlanta.

Reports: Amir Johnson returning to Philadelphia next year

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Amir Johnson is going back to the Philadelphia 76ers for at least one more season.

A person with knowledge of the negotiations said Wednesday that Johnson has agreed to a one-year contract with Philadelphia that could become official as soon as Friday, when the NBA’s offseason moratorium on player movement ends. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of that moratorium.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story.

The 6-foot-9 Johnson was primarily a reserve for the 76ers last season, when he averaged 4.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. Philadelphia is the fourth club for the 31-year-old, who will be entering his 14th NBA season this fall.

 

Amir Johnson on South Beach: 2006 Pistons ‘let the streets beat us’

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Amir Johnson is a savvy veteran on the young 76ers.

On the 2006 Pistons, he was a scarcely used rookie straight out of high school.

But he was learning lessons he’d apply to his current role.

Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press:

Philadelphia heeded Johnson’s advice. The 76ers won Games 3 and 4 in Miami to take a 3-1 series lead.

The Pistons went 0-3 in Miami during the six-game 2006 Eastern Conference finals. There was little shame in losing to those Heat. They pushed Detroit to seven games in the 2005 conference finals and were – with Dwyane Wade transcendent while Shaquille O’Neal remained in his prime – even better the following year.

But too much partying is a major charge and a somewhat surprising one. The Pistons were led by the same veteran core – Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace – that made the previous two NBA Finals and won the 2004 title. They’d been around long enough to know better.

Report: Sixers hope Joel Embiid will only miss one playoff game

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Joel Embiid has yet to have surgery to repair his fractured eye socket, the swelling has to go down before he can go under the knife. His absence has changed the Eastern playoff race — a few days ago there was talk of the Sixers passing the Cavaliers for the three seed and having a reasonable path to the conference finals, now they may not be able to hold off the Pacers and keep home court in the first round. And if Embiid is not back for that first round…

Want some good news Sixers fans? Want some hope?

The Sixers are optimistic that Embiid will only miss one playoff game, maybe two, if everything goes right, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN said on the NBA Countdown show today. That is on the short end of the 2-4 week timeframe for these injuries, it would require everything going right — he gets surgery this weekend, it’s not more complicated than they think now, there are no setbacks in healing — but it’s possible.

With Embiid back, and if he can step in and quickly be close to his old self, the Sixers become a real threat in the postseason. While Ben Simmons may be Rookie of the Year, and they have good fit role players such as J.J. Redick and Robert Covington, it is Embiid that makes it all work. When Embiid has been off the court this season the Sixers are 15.2 points per 100 possessions worse. When Embiid is sitting the Sixers defense goes from elite to about average, and the offense falls and becomes one of the worst in the NBA.

That’s not a formula that lasts long in the postseason.

The Sixers will try to plug the hole with some combination of Amir Johnson, Richaun Holmes, and Dario Saric at center, depending on the matchup, but the Sixers need Embiid back to have any real shot in the postseason.

Which is why this report matters. Hope, it’s the best of things.