With 'Process' Behind Them, Sixers Are Becoming a Free-Agent Destination Again

Josh Martin@@JoshMartinNBANBA Lead WriterJuly 2, 2017

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid in action during an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Matt Slocum/Associated Press

If you ask some Philadelphia 76ers fans, former general manager Sam Hinkie became a martyr for The Process. 

On Page 12 of his resignation letter that made the rounds last spring, Hinkie proclaimed a coming end to the franchise's unprecedented pain in pursuit of the ultimate gain:

"The NBA can be a league of desperation, those that are in it and those that can avoid it. So many find themselves caught in the zugzwang, the point in the game where all possible moves make you worse off. Your positioning is now the opposite of that."

That may be understating the strength of where the Sixers currently stand. Four years of misery—five if you include the pre-Hinkie 2012-13 season, during which Philly went 34-48 after an ill-fated trade for Andrew Bynum—have borne an abundance of ripe NBA talent, from budding stars (Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz) and intriguing role players (Dario Saric, Jahlil Okafor, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Nik Stauskas, Justin Anderson, Richaun Holmes) to undrafted gems (Robert Covington, T.J. McConnell) and a handful of rookies with intriguing futures (Anzejs Pasecniks, Jonah Bolden, Mathias Lessort).

With all of that in tow, the Sixers took another important step forward this summer by bringing in veterans who can help the team win now and teach the kids how to do so later. On the first day of free agency, Philly came to terms on a one-year, $23 million deal with former Los Angeles Clippers sharpshooter JJ Redick and a one-year, $11 million contract with former Boston Celtics big man Amir Johnson, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

The former is a three-point flamethrower who will spread the floor for the team's youthful playmakers. The latter is an athletic big who's stretched his shooting range over the past four seasons, having shot 34.4 percent from deep on 221 attempts.

What's more important, though, is what Redick and Johnson have in common.

Both are accustomed to competing in the playoffs on a perennial basis. Johnson tasted the postseason in each of the last four years with the Celtics and Toronto Raptors. Redick has played past mid-April during each of his 11 NBA seasons, including a trip to the Finals with the Orlando Magic in 2009.

Neither can be discounted as a token veteran who's just been yanked out of retirement—like, say, Elton Brand was in 2016. Johnson, 30, started 77 games during the 2016-17 regular season and nine times in the playoffs for a Celtics squad that snagged the East's No. 1 seed and advanced to the conference finals. Redick, 33, remained an integral part of a Los Angeles Clippers offense that was once again one of the league's most efficient in 2016-17.

Each should help the Sixers leap into playoff contention in the suddenly battered Eastern Conference next season. Moreover, neither will be a drag on Philly's cap next summer, as both will re-enter free agency.

By then, the Sixers could look like a rising juggernaut—if Simmons gets healthy, if Embiid stays healthy, if Fultz lives up to the hype and if Philly's other youngsters take their own steps forward.

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 12:  Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers brings the ball up court against the Golden State Warriors during the 2016 NBA Las Vegas Summer League on July 12, 2016 at The Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: Use
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

In a year's time, some of those ifs may well look like whens.

Embiid performed like an All-Star, if not a potential top-10 player, during his 31 games last season. This past April, head coach Brett Brown designated Simmons, all 6'10" and 240 pounds of him, as the team's point guard—not point-forward, but point guard—of the future. Fultz, with his ability to score and make plays out of the pick-and-roll, looks like he was made in a lab for the modern NBA. If any of the team's other prospects pop, the Sixers could be in business.

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Or, as Hinkie put it in his resignation letter:

"A bevy of young players. A deep and passionate coaching staff. An innovative management team. A beautiful new practice facility set to open before training camp. In a city with wonderful basketball heritage. You could do worse."

That could double as the framework of a formidable pitch to free agents, just in time to sell it to one of the deepest free-agent classes in years.

Russell Westbrook and Paul George, set to team up in Oklahoma City this coming season, could both be on the market. So will Isaiah Thomas. DeMarcus Cousins and Brook Lopez will headline a loaded frontcourt class, with LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan considering player options. The Banana Boat, while currently empty, figures to be full next July, when Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade become unrestricted free agents and LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony consider taking the outs in their respective contracts.

The Sixers could have both the incumbent talent to attract and the financial flexibility to sign a player or two from that pack. Depending on where the salary cap lands and to whom Philly extends qualifying offers, the team could clear more than $40 million to throw at free agents.

Tony Dejak/Associated Press

For all of the talk about the Los Angeles Lakers being major players on the free-agent market next summer, the 76ers might be in better position to strike. Their roster could be both more formidable at the top and deeper all the way through. And whereas getting through the Western Conference playoff bracket with the Lakers would require a gauntlet-like run—with the Warriors reigning supreme and the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves among those giving chase—Philly should have access to a smoother path through the weaker East.

There may be no time like next summer for Philly to make its move, too. Beyond the array of outside talent, the Sixers will have their own players to attend to in the coming years.

Embiid will be a restricted free agent next summer, and he figures to command a hefty contract if he's able to stay on the court in 2017-18. Covington, one of The Process' early prizes, will be unrestricted if the Sixers don't renegotiate and extend his contract this fall. Philadelphia will also have to grapple with the restricted free agency of Stauskas (2018), Okafor (2019) and the trio of Simmons, Saric and Luwawu-Cabarrot in 2020 if the team doesn't sign any of them to extensions beforehand.

Life will come at the 76ers fast. Fortunately for long-suffering fans in Philadelphia, the team has the talent to start its ascent now and the assetsbetween cap room and future draft picksto finish scaling the NBA's mountain later.

Just as Hinkie predicted—and intended.

     

All stats via NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.

Josh Martin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on TwitterInstagram and Facebook, and listen to his Hollywood Hoops podcast with B/R Lakers lead writer Eric Pincus.

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