The Philadelphia 76ers, regardless of what happens with their playoff run this season, have a lot to consider going into this summer.
On one side, they have a rather young team that now has two seasons worth of playoff experience. On the other side, they have four players who will all merit a max contract, three of whom will be eligible for one this upcoming summer. A quick look into how that math will work leads one to believe keeping all four might be impossible.
What’s worse is the current roster might not even be good enough to make it out of the Eastern Conference. With the impending decisions to be made this summer, it is not hard to see that – apart from serious player development – the 76ers could actually be worse going into next season.
This leads to the next question: Which of the stars do they keep? They already have Joel Embiid under contract for four more seasons. Ben Simmons, thanks in part to current NBA rules, is eligible to sign up to a five-year extension this offseason. Both Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler will be unrestricted free agents and eligible to sign with whomever they want.
Back to the original question of who to keep. Embiid has essentially been “kept,” so getting rid of him would have to come via trade. Ben Simmons is incredibly young and highly skilled for his age, but in a jump-shooting league, he refuses to shoot anything outside of seven feet. He’s never even attempted a legitimate three-pointer.
Tobias Harris puts up solid numbers at an efficient rate, but he’s barely eclipsed double-digit playoff games in his already-veteran career. Jimmy Butler is a beast, but he doesn’t necessarily help the team with their three-point shooting woes – and we all know about his drama-filled locker room sagas. Yes, that’s plural.
Joel Embiid is likely the best player of the four. He’s elite both on offense and on defense, and he’s developing a rather nice three-point shooting game. But his injury history is horrid and he’s only 25. He was drafted in 2014 and didn’t even see the floor until the 2016-17 season. He played just 31 games his first season, 63 his second, and 64 this latest season. He’s missed a handful of playoff games both last year and this year, too. The man can play basketball at an incredibly high level. But players are only valuable when they are on the floor.
Ben Simmons is uber athletic with an ideal body size for today’s NBA. He is a highly intelligent floor general and runs the break as good as any point guard in the league. In the half court, his post game is arguably top-20 in the league – if not better – and he plays the one! But he’s an immense liability outside of the three-point line. Teams won’t even guard him and elect to leave his primary defender hanging back in the paint.
It’s not just that Simmons is a bad shooter. It’s that he won’t even try. Sure, videos emerge almost weekly of Simmons working on his shots during practice or pre-game. But we’ve yet to see any semblance of his shot during an actual game. Again, it is hard for people to gauge just how bad his shooting is because we have exactly zero samples to work with.
Tobias Harris has had quite the career. In his eight seasons in the league, he’s played for five different teams. It’s never been his fault – he’s usually thrown into trades to sweeten the deal. He started to flourish with the Los Angeles Clippers post-Blake Griffin trade, then was abruptly traded to the Philadelphia 76ers this latest trade deadline. Again, it’s not that the Clippers didn’t want him, they just knew they’d have to pay him this offseason so they’d prefer to exchange him for future pieces (which they got in a large way from Philadelphia).
Since joining the 76ers, Harris’ success has been up and down. He has been second on the team in scoring behind Embiid, but his three-point shooting has been considerably lower than his career average. Regardless of how he’s played, Tobias is about as ideal as you’d want a forward in today’s league, at least on offense. He stretches the floor, finishes at multiple levels and takes efficient shots. But is he the guy to get you to the NBA Finals? Many would argue his ceiling on a championship team is the second if not the third best player.
Finally, let’s look at Jimmy Butler. He’s a high-level defender, a great scorer – albeit below average from three – and he’s definitely not afraid of the moment whatsoever. He loves to compete, he challenges teammates and he’s never been known to slack off with his preparation both physically and mentally. His biggest issues have always come from the locker room.
He has had fallouts with both the Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves, and plenty of reports have surfaced about his happiness – or lack thereof – with his current situation. Embiid and Simmons both bring a lot of unnecessary drama to the team, and you wonder if it’s only a matter of time before that begins to affect Butler’s relationship with them.
The 76ers have a lot of tough choices this upcoming free agency period. No one will argue that. It is assumed they are evaluating the four aforementioned players to the umpteenth degree during this playoff run.
Trading Embiid could free up room to sign one of the other players. Letting either Harris or Butler walk (or both) would allow them to focus primarily on their young pieces for optimal development. If they choose to move away from Simmons – or if Simmons chooses to move away from the team – they’d need to find a new guard to lead the starting squad. Unfortunately for the 76ers, they simply can’t have the cake and eat it, too.
Monitoring the Philly situation this summer will certainly be interesting.
But if any avid fan hasn’t learned already, oftentimes it’s essential to “Trust the Process.”
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