Philadelphia 76ers: Bjelica’s reversal changed the Sixers’ entire offseason

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

It looked like the Philadelphia 76ers were going to add Nemanja Bjelica to the roster, but when he backed out, it threw a wrench into their offseason plans.

On July 5, it was reported that the Philadelphia 76ers had agreed to a one-year, room mid-level exception deal with free agent Nemanja Bjelica. The $4.45 million deal was a shrewd move by Brett Brown, as Bjelica is an unheralded power forward who played his best basketball last season.

Then, just 12 days later, Bjelica informed the team of his intentions to play overseas instead, citing family reasons. Of course, as we now know, Bjelica ended up signing with the Sacramento Kings on a three-year, $20.5 million deal, which, admittedly, is far more attractive than what the Sixers offered.

There are a few reasons why this hurts the Sixers. The most obvious being the fact that Bjelica offered something the Sixers needed: a big man who can stretch the floor. At 6-foot-10, Bjelica plays the power forward position, and like many European bigs, he can knock down jumpers. He shot 41.5 percent from three last season from the Minnesota Timberwolves while playing a little over 20 minutes per game. He also knocked down his free throws, too, hitting them at an 80 percent clip, and he played solid defense. On top of all of that, he’s a good passer, one who could have helped get the ball into the hands of guys like J.J. Redick or Joel Embiid.

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The Sixers needed a backup to Dario Saric after Ersan Ilyasova signed with the Milwaukee Bucks. In theory, Bjelica was the perfect fit, as he’s basically a more nimble Ilyasova. Trying to sign Bjelica made a lot of sense.

Then there’s the other reason this hurt the Sixers. You have to assume the team felt confident they shored up that backup power forward spot with Bjelica, meaning they didn’t pursue some of the other free agents out there or consider potential trades.

Kyle O’Quinn, a player the Sixers supposedly had their eye on, signed with the Indiana Pacers the day after the reported deal with Bjelica. O’Quinn could have spelled Embiid or Saric when they needed rest. While O’Quinn can’t space the floor like Bjelica, he can bang down low and finish around the rim, and his defense alone makes him a fit for what Brown wants to do. His one-year, $4.5 million deal with the Pacers is pretty similar to that room mid-level exception the Sixers were looking to use on Bjelica.

The Sixers may have had zero intention on spending the money for a player like Jabari Parker, but we’ll never know, since they thought they had Bjelica locked up when Parker inked a deal with the Chicago Bulls on July 16.

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Instead, the Sixers ended up with Mike Muscala, a player they needed to trade for after Bjelica left them at the altar. I think Muscala is a nice bench piece and may ultimately have a better season than Bjelica, but the Sixers needed to ship Justin Anderson and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot out of town to get him. Muscala is also more of a center than a stretch four, though he can shoot it and does bring experience to the Sixers. Still, Bjelica showed glimpses of being a really solid role player last year, and he’s someone who would have fit perfectly on the Philadelphia 76ers as a spot up shooting stretch four.