Why are the Philadelphia 76ers trying out so many old players?

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

With one spot left to fill going into training camp, the Philadelphia 76ers are trying out veteran scorers Spencer Hawes and Joe Johnson. But why?

The Philadelphia 76ers really want to go into training camp with 20 players, and frankly, they should.

I mean, why not, right? T.J. McConnell had virtually no chance to make the Sixers’ roster when he signed with the team after going undrafted in 2014, and he spent four wonderful seasons with the team after beating out more established vets like Ish Smith, Isaiah Canaan, and Tony Wroten for playing time.

But, if you don’t mind me asking, what is the reasoning behind trying out a pair of players who spent a decade-plus in the league for a potentially fruitless training camp contract?

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Well, that’s what the team has on the books with a pair of tryouts set up for Joe Johnson and Spencer Hawes.

First a little backstory on the two players.

Johnson, 38, spent 17 seasons in the NBA split over seven different clubs – but no matter which team’s name graced the front of his jersey, ‘ISO Joe’ did what he did best: score. A career 16, four and four-player, Johnson became almost infamous for his playoff streak, appearing in 11 straight postseasons from 2008-2018.

Since his final stint with the Houston Rockets, the seven-time All-Star has been lighting up Ice Cube’s Big 3 on their ‘Triplets‘ squad – filling up box scores with a league-high 21.9 points and 3.9 assists a game.

While Hawes, 31, is much less decorated, he’s still a grizzled NBA veteran, having spent a decade in the league split over six different teams – including the Sixers from 2010-2014. Averaging 8.7 points and 5.7 rebounds a game over his 718 NBA games, Hawes was one of the first ‘stretch 5s’ to inch NBA centers out of the paint, and finished out his career with a commendable 3 point shooting percentage of 35 on over 1,000 attempts.

Since his final stint with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2017, Hawes took some time off before spending nine games with the South Bay Lakers in 2018-19 – averaging 14.2 points and 7.2 rebounds a game against a bunch of opponents in their (mostly) early 20s.

While both players should be commended for continuing to find ways to keep themselves in contention for NBA rosters spots despite not playing in the league – even if it comes against much lesser competition –  do the 76ers really need to invest any time in a pair of over-30, low-minute vets when they already have 15 guaranteed contracts on the books?

Probably not.

No, when you really sit back and think about it, the only real connection between the 2019-20 Sixers and the players listed above (outside of Hawes being an alum) is in the front office: Namely Philadelphia 76ers GM Elton Brand.

You see, Brand was actually teammates with Hawes from 2010-12 and faced off against the duo dozens and dozens of times over their shared tenures in the league. While there’s no way of knowing what the Sixers GM’s relationship is like with either player at this point, he clearly has enough respect for their games to bring them in for a workout.

And look, I get it, after the Sixers took a chance on Brand, a player they literally waived with the amnesty clause because he failed to live up to his max contract, as a first time executive and fast-tracked his development from consultant to G-League GM to NBA GM, he may want to return the favor to other ex-players looking to continue on with basketball into their 30s – just ask Roy Hibbert (more on that here) – but charity shouldn’t come above actually fielding a championship-caliber roster.

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While either player could prove a viable addition in, say, March depending on how things shake out on the depth chart, the Sixers owe it to themselves to see what they have with the 15 players they already have under contract. With only two players on the Philadelphia 76ers’ roster born before 1990, it seems like a weird misstep to sign a player like Spencer Hawes or Joe Johnson at the expense of a player like Trey Burke, Raul Neto, Jonah Bolden, or Furkan Korkmaz.