Philadelphia 76ers: Brett Brown was right to let Marco Belinelli walk

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

Despite a shared San Antonio Spurs pedigree, Brett Brown was right to let Marco Belinelli walk after the Philadelphia 76ers’ 2018-19 season.

The Philadelphia 76ers haven’t had a better buyout addition than Marco Belinelli during the Brett Brown-era.

A 6-foot-5 sharpshooter with a pension for making acrobatic outside shots, Belinelli was waived midseason by a fledgling, pre-Lloyd Pierce Atlanta Hawks squad slowly sinking into the doldrums of a post-playoff window life and almost immediately signed on to a rest-of-the-season deal with the Sixers alongside once and future teammate Ersan Ilyasova.

From there, Belinelli vaulted up the team’s depth chart and firmly established himself as the team’s most prolific bench scorer in recent memory – putting up a career-high 13.6 points on a career-high 4.9 3 point attempts a game.

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Lou Williams he was not, but Belinelli didn’t have to be.

Finishing out the season as the Sixers’ fifth-leading scorer, Belinelli routinely outperformed the now-former starters like Robert Covington and Dario Saric and even finished out quite a few games with more points than future max contractee Ben Simmons.

But fast forward a few months into the future, and Belinelli was gone – having signed a two-year, $12 million deal to return to the San Antonio Spurs with seemingly no counteroffer from a recently empowered Brett Brown.

On paper, the team’s decision to forgo essential pieces of their 2018 playoff roster for a bite at the LeBron James apple wasn’t the wrong one, as NBA teams win with star power, not 30-year-old reserves, but when the dust finally settled and the Los Angeles Lakers had found their next in a long line of free-agent stars, it was hard to look at that $12 million deal and feel as though the Sixers were worse off than a month and a half prior.

Spoiler alert: Brett Brown was right all along.

Granted, the initial results felt a whole lot less defined, as the Sixers had to ship Saric and Covington to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Jimmy Butler to really get things back on track, but after yet another round of roster reshaping moves in February, the 76ers had their best roster to date going into the postseason – and eventual loss to the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Semis.

While the Sixers were unable to directly replace Belinelli’s 13. 6 points-per-game one-for-one, each member of the team’s starting five averaged at least 30 minutes of action a night both in the regular season and the playoffs – with only two reserves who averaged more than 10 minutes of action a night once the postseason started.

Belinelli didn’t exactly have a bad season in San Antonio, as he averaged 10.5 points in 23 minutes of action a night in San Antonio, but his team couldn’t make it past the first round of the playoffs and appear to have a surplus of dual-threat guards vying for playing time once the 2019-20 season opens up.

Had the Sixers retained Belinelli on anything other than a one-year deal, they very well could have had to flip him to a team like the Washington Wizards along with a second-round pick to get his salary off the books (much like they did with Jonathon Simmons).

Having a legitimately talented sixth man is important, but not as much so when a team has a super-sized starting five featuring legitimate all-star caliber players like Simmons, Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, Al Horford, and Josh Richardson.

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Ultimately, despite a wonderful showing in 38 magical games on a surprisingly formidable playoff contender, Marco Belinelli was never meant to be more than a stop-gap player for the ever-evolving Philadelphia 76ers, and Brett Brown made the right call to allow him to walk in free agency.