Philadelphia 76ers: The case to finally free Dario Saric

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Is it time for the Philadelphia 76ers to finally #FreeDario?

It’s 1 AM. The night before free agency. My head hurts. I got four hours of sleep last night, staying up to watch the draft and the unfolding of the Josh Richardson/Seth Curry trade. I had an 8 AM class where, when asked to check-in, I declared, “sorry if I’m a bit out of it, Daryl Morey finally showed up to the offseason.”

It’s been a long time coming.

I’ve been intensely following NBA offseason rumors since about March of this year, most notably regarding my comfort Process-era Philadelphia 76ers member of choice. The rumor itself has been everything, at this point. After a bad season leading into the hiatus — the Suns would never bring him back. After a ridiculous 8-0 Bubble run — oh yeah, the Suns are absolutely bringing him back. After assistant coach Darko Rajakovic, who worked extensively with Dario during the hiatus, left for the Grizzlies — they’re signing-and-trading Dario off to Memphis. After trading Kelly Oubre and Ricky Rubio and waiving Frank Kaminsky — the Suns obviously need Dario. After drafting PF/C, Jalen Smith — Dario is out of the desert. After giving Dario a qualifying offer — he’s a ValleyBoy— er, Fella, for life.

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Right now, it could go either way. Dario has a qualifying offer from the Suns. Morey and Elton Brand basically just either traded or waived every available four the Sixers had on their roster, moving former three Tobias Harris over to power forward. Besides Mike Scott, who’s been heavily tossed around in the trade machine, there’s no depth after that. The Sixers need a stretch four/five to be what Al Horford was supposed to be, and Dario played small-ball center in Phoenix. It certainly seems like the Sixers front office very well could be gearing up to bring the Homie back to the City of Brotherly Love.

We don’t know what Doc Rivers wants. We don’t know what Morey and Brand have cooking up in the front office . As a journalist, those elements are out of my control and realm of knowledge. What I hope to convey in this article is the reasoning behind potentially signing Dario Saric — and why it makes sense to finally free Dario, once and for all.

Now-OKC Thunder superstar Horford was signed by the Sixers during the 2019 offseason as an effort to patch up the hole at the four that had been left following basically the whole team leaving in free agency the departure of Saric in a trade for Jimmy Butler. Horford was mostly a center, and it was obvious. He was quite clunky when on the floor as anything but a center. It was a fit issue and an obvious one. There’s no way a player could instantly just regress from an Embiid stopper on the opposing team to… an Embiid stopper on the Sixers. Brick after brick, clap after clap, the affectionately-dubbed Milkman was absolutely not what the city of Philadelphia needed for their basketball team, whatsoever.

I’m not a Horford hater. While I’m glad we shipped him off, he was a pretty decent backup center, putting up some good numbers during that stretch of time back in  January (aka decades ago) when Joel Embiid was out with a dislocated finger. Most notably, he and Ben Simmons put up 20 points each in a January 17th game vs. the Chicago Bulls. Without Embiid on the floor, Horford played quite decently. However, Philadelphia has two stars, and it’s imperative for the front office to build around them. Although Al Horford is a solid backup center, he’s not a stretch four whatsoever, and it’s obvious that Philly needs a versatile player who can accommodate two very different stars with two very different skill sets.

Saric was that player in Philadelphia. For two seasons, he lobbed passes to Simmons for full-court sprints and posted up for rebounds off Embiid’s threes. He was always ready to play his heart out and hustle for the city and the basketball fandom that showed him so much love after a painfully long journey to come over. Plus, the Homie always brought more to the locker room than chocolate milk and “stuff going on” — there are articles on articles out there about how much everyone loved him and was sad to see him go.

Philly had a great season following Saric’s departure. It was sad, sure, but Butler and the gang propelled the Sixers to game seven of the second round of the playoffs before being knocked out by a Kawhi Leonard buzzer-beater. Saric’s 2018-19 season didn’t go as well. He put up miserable numbers in Minnesota and was promptly shipped off to Phoenix for the sixth pick in the 2019 NBA draft (sup, Jarrett Culver?). He started to do a bit better once finding his place in the Valley – stats-wise, most notably upping his PPG from 10.1 to 10.7 by the end of the season. He was instrumental in the Suns’ undefeated Bubble run and even started playing at the 5 as a backup to Deandre Ayton.

If he returns to the Sixers, Saric will be a backup PF to Harris and potentially play as a small-ball center if Rivers goes that route. He’ll probably have close to the same role that he currently does in Phoenix – a sixth man, plain and simple. Would he do it, though? Would he even want to come back? Does he have a reason to leave Phoenix? To put it simply – I’m no Dario scholar. He doesn’t use Twitter and rarely does interviews. We have no idea how he feels about the fact that he’s a free agent. Because of this, there are hardly any rumors – for example, the Orlando Magic could as easily as ever scoop him up and finally fulfill their pipe dream of making him a star. But that’s a completely different story I’m not going to touch on because this is a Sixers blog, and I keep forgetting he isn’t a Sixer anymore.

For now.

If I’m remembering everything correctly, the Sixers currently are roughly $31 million over the cap and have a $5.7 million taxpayer mid-level exception to spend on free agents if no more trades are made, or players are waived. That’s a headache and a half. Phoenix has already given their qualifying offer to Dario. The Sixers front office has waived Norvel Pelle and traded Horford, and Kyle O’Quinn may leave in free agency. We need a solid backup center, first of all. But after drafting guards Tyrese Maxey and Isaiah Joe, with PF/C Paul Reed most likely headed to the G-League, this team is absolutely swimming with guards, and the Sixers may end up with only two players available at the 4 going into free agency. We would basically have to offer anyone a minimum unless Harris is traded, which doesn’t look likely. Unless they’re going after Christian Wood or Davis Bertans in free agency, there’s no way the Suns offered Dario less than what the Sixers would.

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Would Dario take a minimum to come back to the city he once called home? There’s really no way to know. All I can tell you is that he’s definitely my pick to fill out the Sixers’ roster this free agency.