With a plethora of superstars set to hit the open market, the start of the NBA free agency period was sure to induce major changes across the league. Although the salary cap didn’t jump up as much as originally anticipated, money was certainly going to spent in droves once the floodgates were opened and players could officially put pen to paper.
Despite all the expected movement, the Sixers seemed intent on bringing their core back from last season in an attempt to conclude unfinished business in their quest for a title. Unfortunately for the Philly-based franchise, it took all of a couple of hours of free agency mayhem to cease all hope of that reality.
In a somewhat surprising move, sharpshooter JJ Redick joined the new-look Pelicans on a two-year pact. Although Redick was only a member of the Sixers briefly, the pain of his departure will certainly be felt both on and off the court. Redick was not only the best shooter on the squad, but a highly-respected veteran leader in the locker room with the playoff experience to match. Replicating the success and chemistry Redick had with Sixers star Joel Embiid will be no small order, but it also won’t be nearly as hard as replacing the other wing player Philly lost to free agency thus far.
After just one season in the City of Brotherly Love, 4x All-Star Jimmy Butler has taken his talents to South Beach via a sign-and-trade agreement with the Miami Heat. Once viewed as a virtual lock to return to Philly, Butler is now inked to a 4-year, $142M max contract with the Heat- spurning the Sixers five-year max contract offer in the process. Unlike the departure of JJ Redick, however, this move affects the Sixers on both ends of the floor.
As is common knowledge amongst NBA faithfuls, former Sixer Jimmy Butler is one of the premier two-way players in the league. Butler is one of the few players that fit the mold of both tireless scorer and tenacious defender and his absence will certainly be felt next season.
Fortunately, sophomore Sixers GM Elton Brand was able to not only get something in return for Butler- who could have simply walked in free agency- but managed to land a young, talented scorer with a high floor in G/F Josh Richardson. Since being drafted by Miami near the top of the second round in 2015, Richardson, 25, has blossomed from a steady role player to an adequate starter in just four years time.
Brand wasn’t done there, though, as he signed ex-Celtic F/C Al Horford to a 4-year, $109M deal before the first day of free agency came to an end. Horford may not be the sexiest pickup, but his defensive prowess, ability to stretch the floor, floor vision, and team-first attitude should fit perfectly alongside the new-look Sixers. With the talented big man in tow, the Sixers once again boast one the more talented starting lineups in the league:
Whether or not this new Sixers lineup leads to more success remains to be seen, but there is certainly a lot to be encouraged about. Unlike the star-studded, offensive-minded starting five of last season, this year’s crop figures to wreak havoc defensively, with each member of the starting lineup standing at 6’6 or taller. In a small ball era, the Sixers presumably have decided to go against the grain and hitch their wagon to a jumbo lineup.
What I like most about their new starting five, however, is the amount of efficient, low-volume scorers present. Last season, Brett Brown struggled a bit to feed all his stars the ball adequately and keep everyone happy. Embiid complained about being delegated to three-point duty when he much preferred to do damage in the paint and ex-Sixer Jimmy Butler wasn’t too fond of his role as a beta dog in Philly.
With Butler now out of the picture, the offense should prosper with Embiid as the unquestioned alpha and everyone else carrying out their role as complementary scorers. I’d expect the ball to move a lot more freely and over time become a lot more difficult to scheme against than last year’s group.
This freshly-minted Sixers starting five may not have the star power or be as fearsome as last season, but with three unselfish all-stars and two budding stars leading the charge, they should have little trouble catching up on the top seeds in the Eastern Conference and threatening for a championship.
Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports