NBA free agency: Will the Philadelphia 76ers make a big splash?


Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the long-awaited NBA Draft is over, Philadelphia 76ers fans are pumped to see how all their new draft picks will fare on the court. Unfortunately, in the case of their top two picks, that won’t happen until 2015 at the earliest.

Based on the current roster, it looks like the 2014-2015 Sixers are going to be even worse than they were last year. But thanks to free agency, General Manager Sam Hinkie and company still have an opportunity to improve the roster before the start of the season.

As much as we like to consider the 2013-2014 Sixers a “tank job,” the team was actually somewhat competitive at the beginning of the season. When they had Evan Turner, Lavoy Allen, and Spencer Hawes, they could at least put a semblance of an NBA team on the court. It wasn’t until the trade deadline when things really got bad.

With that in mind, I can’t imagine that the Sixers roster on opening night will look the same as it does right now. Hinkie may want to get another high draft pick next year, but I don’t think he’s going to put a D-League caliber lineup on the floor in order to do so. (And why bother when the NBA will likely just rig the lottery in favor of another team anyway?)

He also needs to get the team’s payroll up to the CBA-mandated floor, although this isn’t really a major concern. If a team isn’t at the minimum level, they just spread the deficit among the other players on the roster.

So the Sixers will likely sign some players in free agency. The question is: Who will they go after?

LeBron likely isn’t coming to Philly. Image Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

If anyone has dreams of the Sixers going after a big name player like LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony…I respect your optimism. And who knows? Maybe the Sixers will make an offer to one of those players. They certainly have enough cap room to accommodate them.

But the chances of those players actually coming to Philly are infinitesimal. If you hadn’t noticed, in the modern NBA, big name free agents want to go someplace where they can win. Maybe in a few years, a star would want to come here, but I can’t see Carmelo leaving New York just for the privilege of playing next to Thaddeus Young.

I would be very worried if that was indeed the Sixers plan, because there is quite a bit of danger for teams that are unable to attract the top free agents. If you can sign a franchise star like LeBron, then it makes sense to give him a max deal. The problem is that the teams that can’t sign a franchise-level star are often left with that money burning a hole in their pockets.

Not wanting to go home empty-handed, they sometimes throw an over-sized contract at a second-tier player. These players are often All-Stars, but there’s a big difference between an All-Star and a player you can build a championship team around.

The Atlanta Hawks made this mistake during the great free agent shopping spree of 2010. They had plenty of cap room and had dreams of attracting one of the big names on the market. When none of them wanted to come to Atlanta, they decided to just give a huge deal to their own star – Joe Johnson – instead.

Joe Johnson is a very good player. But after signing him to that contract, barring extremely good fortune in the draft, they were resigned to having Joe Johnson as their best player for the next few years. Unless the team can find exactly the right mix of pieces around him, Joe Johnson is never going to be the best player on a NBA finalist.

As a result, the Hawks became stuck in NBA purgatory: They were just good enough to make the playoffs, but they weren’t good enough to get past the second round. And thanks to Johnson’s cap-hogging deal, they had no real ability to improve.

Sixers management wisely appears determined to avoid this fate. I would be shocked if they gave an overpriced deal to a player simply because they possess the cap room to do so or because some of the fans might be getting a bit impatient.

Unfortunately, overpaying would likely be the only way that the Sixers end up with a quality free agent. Coach Brett Brown said as much back in March:

"No free agent is going to want to come to Philadelphia at this stage. Why would a good free agent want to come in and be a part of a rebuild?"

Any players who sign with the Sixers are either going to be guys who want to mentor younger players, guys who don’t have any other options, or guys who think the team might give them a chance to showcase themselves.

I could see a veteran signing a short-term deal with the Sixers because he thinks that the team’s up-tempo playing style and lack of established options could provide an opportunity to put up big numbers. He could then parlay those numbers into a more expensive deal next year.

That said, I would inquire if Jameer Nelson was interested in playing in his hometown. He might prove to be a steadying influence next to Michael Carter-Williams. They’ve also reportedly been in contact with former Celtics shooting guard Avery Bradley, who would improve the team’s weak shooting. And considering the dearth of NBA-capable big men on the roster, I’d be shocked if they didn’t bring in a center or two.

I realize that these aren’t the most exciting players, and it’s doubtful that anyone is going to sign up for a season ticket package based on Avery Bradley. But at this stage of the rebuilding process, that’s about the best that Sixers fans can hope for.