Considering the 76ers must still be thought of as a developing team — something their record in the last four seasons would certainly indicate — the franchise finds itself in the odd position of having little roster flexibility at the moment.
Unless Bryan Colangelo can find some willing trade partners for a few of the redundancies under contract, the Sixers will begin the regular season in October with a collection of pieces all of whom are on the team now.
That becomes official on Thursday when the league’s moratorium on announcing player movement is lifted and power forward Amir Johnson and shooting guard J.J. Redick are welcomed from free agency to their new home.
It is also when trades that sent second-round draft picks Jawun Evans and Sterling Brown to the Clippers and Bucks, respectively, for the ever-popular “cash considerations” should be finalized. With a bonanza of what became six draft selections, the Sixers found it necessary to off-load those two players, simply because it was either that or cut them loose eventually.1
As for the other four picks, it’s a decent bet that Markelle Fultz will stick around, but as for the guy from Latvia playing in Spain, the guy from Australia playing in Serbia, and the guy from Martinique playing in France, that’s probably where they will remain for the time being.
Maybe Colangelo wasn’t beset by an embarrassment of riches — that would depend on your opinion of second-round picks — but he did have to deal with a glut of bodies, and did so the best he could. It was either draft for cash or draft and stash, and he managed both.
Still, the 76ers are up to their necks in players, and while the collective bargaining agreement allows for 15 on the active roster and two more on the inactive roster (or two-way Gatorade League contracts), nobody wants to try to manage 17 players or keep 15 guys happy on the active list.
Colangelo would benefit from more wiggle room in the event that one of his summer-league or training-camp invitees demands a look. Could that be James Blackmon or Melo Trimble, a pair of undrafted shooters, or power forward Jonah Bolden, the Aussie in Serbia, or someone not yet on the radar? Maybe. Beyond that, could they prefer to re-sign one or more of the players they just let drift into free agency, a list that included Sergio Rodriguez, Gerald Henderson, Alex Poythress, and Tiago Splitter? Sure, either of those scenarios is possible, but where to put them?
Adding up the centers and power forwards the Sixers have now, there are Joel Embiid, Richaun Holmes, Jahlil Okafor, Dario Saric, and Johnson. As for the guards, small forwards and swingmen, they have Fultz, Ben Simmons, T.J. McConnell, Redick, Jerryd Bayless, Nik Stauskas, Justin Anderson, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Robert Covington and newly-signed Furkan Korkmaz.
That’s 15 players, all of whom — with the exception of Korkmaz, a 19-year-old who is 6-foot-7 and 190 pounds — could make a case for being part of an NBA rotation. Or, at the very least, would have a right to be miffed if he was not. Korkmaz should see a lot of Newark, Del., this season, but that won’t be a landing place for the others, assuming they are healthy.
It’s a little bit amazing to think a team that has gone 75-253 in the last four seasons (and hasn’t had a winning record over an 82-game schedule since 2004-05) could have 14 players with some NBA resume, but that is what comes of handing out easy minutes on bad teams.2 There might not have been another team in the league in which Stauskas, McConnell, Luwawu-Cabarrot and Holmes could have totaled nearly 7,000 minutes last season. If there was, the list wasn’t long.
Brett Brown will still begin every game with only 240 minutes in his pocket, and with Fultz, Simmons, Bayless, Redick, and Johnson expected to grab chunks of that time from the holdovers. Unless Colangelo can thin the herd somehow, Brown will find himself in the strange position of having more options than he can readily handle.
All right, let’s help them out. Start a list and put Okafor’s name at the top. Then who? Perhaps a choice between McConnell and Bayless, or one between Lawawu-Cabarrot and Anderson, or another between Stauskas and Covington. I know. It’s not easy, but something has to give. If you made those four deletions and stashed Korkmaz with the 87ers, Brown would have a reasonable 10-man rotation. If it were my rotation, it would have Embiid, Saric, Simmons, Redick, and Fultz as starters, with Holmes, Johnson, Covington, McConnell, and Luwawu-Cabarott off the bench. I think that would be worth watching for a season.
The problem with the list, of course, is that every other NBA general manager can count, too. Getting value for the players you decide to move past would be unbelievably difficult. That probably means the Sixers are going to have to accept one-sided deals, or eat some contracts, just to have a manageable roster. If Colangelo does that, he’ll be criticized, not entirely fairly, for failing to get more. (See: Noel, Nerlens.) If he can’t stomach it, he’ll be hampering his coach.
Having too many players is a new one for this team, and not that awful a position to be in. It certainly beats having too few. But it does bring its own problems to solve, and it will be what occupies Bryan Colangelo from now until mid-October.3 Once again, the Sixers are on the clock.
1.The team also recently sold forward Shawn Long to Houston for cash.
2. The 2011-12 Sixers were 35-31, but in an abbreviated season. The 2004-05 team was 43-39 with Allen Iverson and Chris Webber as its leading scorers.
3.The NBA regular season will begin earlier this season, somewhere between Oct. 15-20. It began Oct. 25 last season. The league wants to smooth out the schedule to provide more days between games when possible. The exhibition season will be reduced from eight games to six games in most cases. The schedule will be announced in August.