Top 5 Offseason Moves for the Philadelphia 76ers After Playoff Elimination
The Philadelphia 76ers were in the thick of the NBA championship race—if not leading it—until they weren't.
But they couldn't protect an 18-point lead in Game 4 or a 26-point advantage in Game 5 before completing their collapse with a 103-96 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 7 at Wells Fargo Center on Sunday.
Just like that, the Sixers are gone fishing, and their front office is off to fortify the roster with limited resources available.
This squad is as expensive as you would expect a heavyweight contender to be, as Philly already has $112.4 million on next season's books despite having only eight players with fully guaranteed contracts. The Sixers have their first-round draft pick, but since they had this campaign's third-highest winning percentage, it lands at 28th overall.
The budget is tight, at least outside of the trade market. There, Philly might find an opportunity to make a big splash.
1. Shop Ben Simmons
On defense, Ben Simmons is a shape-shifting superhero. On offense, he's a question mark—if not an outright liability.
He can be a creative playmaker and a 6'11" locomotive steamrolling toward the basket. Too often, though, he's a passive bystander who lurks in the dunker's spot and crowds the interior area Joel Embiid is trying to attack.
Philly doesn't trust Simmons to be the primary table-setter. He's often tasked with those duties, but repeated attempts to bring in other players to handle the rock and create offense—from Markelle Fultz to Jimmy Butler to Al Horford and finally to sharpshooter Seth Curry and an injured George Hill—says everything you need to know about the Sixers' true feelings on Simmons being on the ball.
His shooting woes are well-documented—he's either unwilling or unable to stretch the floor—and worsening. Forget the three-point arc, he can't find the touch to hit free throws. He's a career 59.7 percent shooter at the stripe and entered Sunday night's series finale with a 33.8 percent connection rate this postseason. For context, Shaquille O'Neal's worst free-throw percentage (during the regular season) was 42.2.
The Sixers were ready to part with Simmons before he flopped in the playoffs. They pushed so hard to turn him and more into James Harden that Simmons' agent was reportedly informed of an expected swap, per Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Simmons, of course, wasn't enough to land Harden. A dream deal for Damian Lillard probably isn't happening either. But the Sixers should get something good for the 24-year-old All-Star, almost assuredly something that fits a lot better with Embiid. Trading Simmons for pennies on the dollar makes no sense, but turning him into a couple of quarters and a few dimes just might.
2. Try Landing Kyle Lowry (Again)
Philly's offensive menu needs some new items.
The Sixers got an MVP-caliber campaign out of Embiid, the most efficient season of Tobias Harris' career, tons of long-range bombs by Curry and Danny Green, and their offense still landed 13th in efficiency.
They need more shot-creation, more shooting and more scoring support for Embiid.
Frankly, they need Kyle Lowry, a Philadelphia native. And they know it.
They chased him at the March 25 trade deadline and reportedly plan to pursue him via sign-and-trade this summer, per The Athletic's Sam Amick and John Hollinger. The Toronto Raptors can't ask for too much, since Lowry has the power to sign elsewhere in free agency. But he needs Toronto's help to get to Philly, and perhaps the Raptors would facilitate the move for something like a package of George Hill, Seth Curry and a prospect or a draft pick.
Lowry makes an absurd amount of sense for the Sixers, regardless what happens with Simmons.
The 35-year-old is only two seasons removed from serving as one of the top supporting actors in Toronto's run to the 2019 title. This season, Lowry was one of 11 players to average 17 points and seven assists, ranked fifth among point guards in ESPN's real plus-minus and had the third-highest true shooting percentage of his career (59.3).
He is equal parts offensive organizer, off-ball sniper, tenacious defender and off-court leader. If the Sixers can find a way to make the money work—president of basketball operations Daryl Morey is one of the most creative in the business—they could correct some of their biggest roster imbalances.
3. Re-Sign Danny Green
The last time Danny Green suited up is the last time Philadelphia won a game.
We're not saying the Sixers' struggles tie directly back to the veteran's right calf strain, but we're not not saying that either.
As cliche as this sounds, the guy is a winner. Just check his jewelry collection, which features three rings from his 12-year NBA career and another from his college days at North Carolina.
"He finds himself on winning teams, and I don't think that's a coincidence," Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said, per Liberty Ballers' Tom West. "I think that's part of who he is and what he gives the team, on the floor and in the locker room."
Green is a master of the little things. He sneaks behind snoozing defenders for timely cuts to the basket. He buried his threes at a 40.5 percent clip this season. He pesters perimeter players of all types with his combination of length, instincts and veteran savvy.
Every contender in the three-and-D market—i.e., every contender in the modern NBA—could use him. He pocketed $15.4 million this season and could secure another eight-figure salary for the next. The Sixers need to be the ones signing those checks.
4. Make the Exceptions Count
The Sixers spent $146.2 million on their 2020-21 roster, so it's hard to accuse the organization of pinching any pennies.
But Philly did effectively eschew its mid-level exception. It used a portion of it to ink second-round picks Isaiah Joe and Paul Reed to give the team more control of those players going forward, but that was it.
Given the way the Sixers' supporting cast disappeared this postseason, it's hard not to view that as a missed opportunity. Granted, the taxpayer's MLE can only net so much, but it would have covered the costs of someone like Bryn Forbes, who has given the Milwaukee Bucks 8.4 points and 2.0 triples per game this postseason.
Think Philly could have used that extra scoring punch? Without question. When this team was busy coughing up a 26-point advantage in Game 5, all Sixers not named Embiid or Curry went without a field goal for the entire second half.
This supporting cast needs an upgrade, and Morey has the tools to find some, assuming he is given the green light to use them. The Sixers have their MLE, the bi-annual exception and an $8.2 million trade exception from the Al Horford deal. That should be enough to sniff out a couple of contributors.
5. Search for Shooting, Readiness at the Draft
The Sixers probably aren't in a position to hit a home run on draft night. But connecting on a solid single would help, and legging out a double would be phenomenal.
They'll get two cracks at the draft board at pick Nos. 28 and 50. While they could throw a couple of darts at risk-reward upside players, their proximity to the title should nudge them more toward safety than long-shot star power.
Rotation players can be plucked out of the 28th spot. The Sixers just rostered one this season in reserve center Tony Bradley, 2017's 28th overall pick who averaged 14.4 minutes per game before being traded in the deadline deal for Hill.
Golden State Warriors spark plug Jordan Poole was drafted in this spot. So were Wayne Ellington, Tiago Splitter, Ian Mahinmi, Beno Udrih, Leandro Barbosa, Greg Ostertag and, the crown jewel of this pick position, Tony Parker.
With the right combination of scouting and good fortune, the Sixers might find something of value (preferably, someone with a jump shot). Oregon wing Chris Duarte, Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu and Baylor guard Jared Butler may offer the right blend of experience, readiness and shooting to entice Morey.
Or Philly's front office can explore flipping this pick for someone who has logged NBA minutes already. If a high-ceiling, low-floor prospect like Texas forward Greg Brown or Kentucky wing Brandon Boston Jr. is on the board at No. 28, a long-term rebuilder might want to trade for the draft rights to this spot and send Philly more win-now support.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.