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Grotz: From LeBron to a Jimmy redeux, Sixers’ offseason intrigues

PHILADELPHIA — Paul George, LeBron James or Pascal Siakam?

With an estimated $60 million in salary cap space and chief of basketball operations Daryl Morey working the system, the Sixers can add one of those stars to a max contract, hang on to restricted free agent Tyrese Maxey and likely bring in enough quality depth to make a serious playoff run next season.

George is the superstar the Sixers have been targeting for months according to NBA people, but there could be others available depending on how teams adjust to the increasingly rigid enforcement of the salary cap rules. A recent rumor flashing on social media was such that James would join the Sixers and his son, Bronny, would play for Villanova. But reports Thursday indicated that latter move for Bronny would not come to be.

There’s also been speculation that Jimmy Butler, who spent the 2018-19 season with the Sixers, could again be on the team’s radar.

The Sixers might be able to squeeze George or James in as well as Siakam, one of the most versatile forwards in the league. Rest assured that Joel Embiid, whose opinion obviously counts, thinks the possibilities are exciting.

“Don’t know what they are going to do but they do have a lot of cap space and picks,” Embiid said. “So, they have the opportunity to do something good. But then again, who is going to be available with free agency and trades? So, you can have all that stuff, but you also have to be lucky that something comes up. I mean that’s a great position to be in. You got a superstar coming in, you know the face of the franchise for the next … for his whole career really coming in and that’s exciting, you know, for myself, trying to build something great here.”

Look for several surprise player availabilities around the NBA this offseason because penalties for exceeding payroll thresholds or aprons kick in fully in 2024-25. Beyond the luxury tax, the penalties include among other items not being able to aggregate salaries in trades. The rules almost certainly will force teams flirting with two tiers of luxury tax levels to release quality players.

The flip side is the Sixers have only Embiid and obscure point guard Jeff Dowtin under guaranteed contracts for next season, meaning there are a lot of tough decisions immediately ahead to fill out the roster.

Forward Tobias Harris almost certainly won’t be coming back at an average salary of $39 million per season, but do the Sixers exercise their Bird rights (named after Larry Bird) and bring him back for roughly $10 million a year over three years? Bird rights contracts vary by years in the league, but the Sixers also have those options on Buddy Hield, Robert Covington, Nicolas Batum, De’Anthony Melton and Kenyon Martin Jr.

Like the above group, Kyle Lowry, Kelly Oubre and Cameron Payne are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents minus Bird rights.

So, what do the Sixers do? It shouldn’t be difficult bringing Oubre and Lowry back. The 35-year-old Batum, a valuable sub, may retire. Hield showed what he could do and might be a Bird rights keeper.

The Sixers have trade ammunition with the 16th and 41st picks in the draft, and Maxey obviously isn’t going anywhere. The Sixers will make a qualifying offer to him, giving them the right of first refusal if another team slams them with a massive offer sheet.

The flexibility that Morey and Sixers general manager Elton Brand have with the cap is real. The Sixers are projected to be $110 million away from the first apron, or threshold, that would bring the luxury tax. But here’s the problem – the Sixers struggled with injuries and continuity most of the season. And once again, approaching playoff time, Embiid was hurt.

While Embiid said it’s not his job to figure out who to add to the roster, he doesn’t sound happy about breaking in a lot of new teammates. And who can blame him? Embiid appreciates having Maxey back next season. Their chemistry is real. Losing James Harden after a short stint? Not so much fun. Embiid doesn’t want another one-and-done superstar acquisition.

“Like I said, all of them lasted one year,” Embiid said. “That’s the problem. You look at who won (the NBA title) last year. Denver, they won last year. Jamal Murray and Nikola [Jokic] have been together for what, eight years? You look at some of the teams that have won, the Golden State Warriors. They have been together for a long time. I don’t remember the last time you just put a team together and hope that it worked out for one year.”

While change is inevitable in professional sports, some players adapt to it better than others. With the right max addition plus Maxey and Embiid, the Sixers at least theoretically would have enough firepower to get through injuries. But can they play Nick Nurse basketball, which requires continuity? The Sixers’ execution late in games left much to be desired in their six-game loss in the first round of the playoffs to the Knicks.

“The season was kind of like this series,” Nurse said. “It was really tough and difficult. I think we had a lot of injury issues all year long, but I thought we fought and tried to figure out a way to fight. I think when you’re coaching and you’ve got so much movement with who’s in and who’s out, you can never get quite as organized or in-sync, or (have) the connectivity that you’d love to have as a coach. It felt like we had to do a lot of stuff on the fly. A lot of stuff off the board. So that makes it tough, but again, it is what it is.”

George turned 34 Thursday, James will be 40 late next season and Butler will be 35. None played more than 74 regular season games. Siakam played 80. In a few months we’ll see who the Sixers feel gives them the best shot to move forward.

Contact Bob Grotz at rgrotz@delcotimes.com.


Source: Berkshire mont

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