The Philadelphia 76ers have begun preparations for their climb out of the NBA’s cellar and toward the construction of a championship team. The number one pick in next week’s NBA Draft – presumably Ben Simmons – will certainly help, but a team that won just 10 games last season is hardly one player away from a shot at the championship. One invaluable resource bequeathed by former general manager Sam Hinkie is salary cap space – about $57 million for 2016. In fact, the Sixers barely met the salary floor, last season of $63 M. Fun fact: of the Sixers’ $63.6 M they paid in salary in 2015 – 2016, $22 M or 35% went to JaVale McGee and Gerald Wallace, neither of which played any basketball games for the Sixers this past season.
With all this money available to new gm Bryan Colangelo, judicious free agent signings will be critical to the Sixers short-term and long-term success. The following players could be perfect for the Sixers as they begin to rise from the ashes of the Hinkie era, but they come with risks.
Dion Waiters | SG | 24 years old
South Philadelphia’s own Dion Waiters returning to his hometown 76ers would be a compelling storyline, but could also make a lot of basketball sense. Waiters has shown glimpses of what his potential could be even this past year in the playoffs with the Thunder, but has tended to lose focus and plays out of control, at times. Surely playing with talented-but-oft-unhinged Russell Westbrook has done little to improve that trouble spot, for Waiters. In the right environment, Waiters could be a tremendous two-way player, but he certainly is not without risk.
Jeremy Lin | PG | 27 years old
After the hype, over-hype, and backlash cycle of his Linsanity breakout in New York, Jeremy Lin has settled into a very nice backup point guard role. Lin continues to excel at cutting and driving hard to the basket, getting fouled, and making his free throws (82% on FTs last year). Coming off the bench, Lin could provide some desperately needed depth for the Sixers who have struggled with miserable guard play for years. Earlier this month, Lin opted out of his final year with the Charlotte Hornets. He should be affordable, and is unlikely to command a long-term contract, but could turn out to be only a marginal improvement over recent Sixers’ point guards.
Eric Gordon | SG | 27 years old
Despite a reputation for being injury-prone, Eric Gordon has turned in some great shooting performances in his stints with the Clippers and the Pelicans. In his third year in the league, Gordon averaged 22 points per game, but hasn’t had found that consistency since. As a career 38% three-point shooter, Gordon could be a perfect 2-guard to stretch the floor for whichever bigs are cutting or posting up in the paint, next season. He wouldn’t come nearly as cheaply as Lin might, but Gordon, if healthy, would be a substantial upgrade over Nik Stauskas at shooting guard. Of course, he could also re-injure himself and turn into the Sam Bradford of the NBA.
Bradley Beal | SG | 22 years old
Washington Wizards‘ shooting guard Bradley Beal is a restricted free agent, but the odds of he and the team agreeing on his value are anything but assured. Rumors abound that Washington plans to pursue Kevin Durant this offseason, leaving the likelihood of the Wizards also paying Beal max money, or close to it, rather slim. Beal can flat out shoot the basketball. For his career, he has shot 39.7% from three point range. The critique of Beal is that he hasn’t yet developed other aspects of his game (read: defense), but taking a chance on a player with Beal’s shooting ability could be worth it, and the Sixers certainly have the cap space to pay Beal what he wants. The upside is that Beal develops into an all-around NBA star, while the downside is he continues to score but plays zero defense.
Certainly the draft will have a big impact on which needs the Sixers will have to address in free agency, but whatever happens, it will be paramount for Colangelo to resist the urge to go on a no-holds-barred spending spree that could undo the enviable salary cap flexibility which the Sixers currently enjoy. That is not to say that no money should be spent or that no risks should be taken, but locking up too much money in long-term deals will prove counterproductive when the Sixers’ young core become eligible for free agency, themselves.
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