2021 NBA Free Agency: Top Targets For The Philadelphia 76ers
After an earlier-than-expected exit from the 2021 NBA playoffs, the Philadelphia 76ers need to upgrade their roster this offseason. That’ll be easier said than done, as they’re limited in how much they can spend in free agency.
The Sixers currently have $118.9 million in guaranteed salary on their books for the 2021-22 season, not counting No. 28 overall pick Jaden Springer. Barring a major trade (involving, say, Ben Simmons), they’re going to be over the projected $112.4 million salary cap and will only have some version of the mid-level exception at their disposal.
If the Sixers waive George Hill (freeing up nearly $8.8 million in cap space) and allow Danny Green, Furkan Korkmaz and Dwight Howard to walk in free agency, they’ll have the $9.5 million non-taxpayer MLE along with the $3.7 million bi-annual exception. If they keep Hill and/or re-sign Green, Korkmaz or Howard, they may have only the $5.9 million taxpayer MLE and no bi-annual exception.
Either way, the Sixers won’t be able to land a top-tier free agent outside of a sign-and-trade, although the hard cap complicates that, too. They’ll likely have to settle for going bargain hunting in free agency.
Who might be a realistic fit? Let’s break it down by position.
Patty Mills should be toward the top of the Sixers’ free-agent big board if he’s amenable to taking the taxpayer MLE. The 32-year-old can play both on and off the ball, and he’s a career 38.8 percent shooter from deep. He’d be a potent scoring threat coming off the bench alongside Shake Milton or Tyrese Maxey, particularly if the Sixers part ways with Hill this offseason.
Bryn Forbes and Austin Rivers would be discount versions of Mills, as both played on minimum contracts this past season. Forbes shot a career-high 45.2 percent from downtown with the Milwaukee Bucks during the regular season, while Rivers provided a nice lift for the injury-ravaged Denver Nuggets in the playoffs, drilling 41.3 percent of his three-point attempts across 10 games (nine starts).
Among shooting guards, J.J. Redick, Wayne Ellington and Reggie Bullock would be the Sixers’ best bets. Redick spent the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons in Philadelphia, although his defensive limitations made him a target in the playoffs. Ellington shot a sizzling 42.2 percent from deep with the Detroit Pistons this past season, while Bullock hit 41.0 percent of his three-point attempts while starting 64 games for the New York Knicks.
The Sixers, Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers have all expressed interest in Bullock, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post. A source told Berman that Bullock will likely seek a three-year deal for the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, which would put him out of the Sixers’ price range.
Avery Bradley could be worth a flier on a minimum deal as a point-of-attack defender, although his effectiveness waned this past season. Jeff Teague‘s NBA career might be on life support after his ineffective stints with the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks this past season, but he’d potentially provide value as a No. 3 point guard on a minimum deal.
Much like the Phoenix Suns did with Cameron Payne last summer, the Sixers could look outside the NBA ranks, too. After an underwhelming four-year stint in the NBA, Shane Larkin has been tearing up the EuroLeague with Anadolu Efes over the past few seasons. Meanwhile, Jeremy Lin played well in the G League this past season and is looking to break back into the NBA next year, per Substack’s Marc Stein. Both players could provide a nice scoring lift off the bench.
Keep an eye on Cory Joseph, too. Only $2.4 million of his $12.6 million contract with the Detroit Pistons is guaranteed, so he could wind up being a salary-cap casualty. He isn’t a great three-point shooter (career 33.3 percent), but he’s careful with the ball and could help run the second-unit offense if the Sixers part ways with Hill.
Sixers head coach Doc Rivers repeatedly bemoaned his roster’s lack of forward depth behind Simmons and Tobias Harris this past season. Team president Daryl Morey figures to prioritize that position in free agency regardless of whether he trades Simmons.
Rudy Gay should be the top realistic target. His days of averaging 20-plus points are long gone, but he’s been a steady veteran presence for the San Antonio Spurs over the past few seasons. He also shot 38.1 percent on 4.4 three-point attempts per game this past season, so he could provide a floor-spacing element at the 4 whenever Harris is resting.
Otto Porter Jr. might be the most high-risk, high-reward option in this group. Injuries have limited him to only 42 games over the past two seasons, but he shot a sensational 42.9 percent from deep on 4.3 attempts per game from 2016-17 through 2018-19. If he’s willing to settle for a one-year minimum deal rather than a portion of the mid-level exception, his upside justifies the injury risk.
Jeff Green has carved out a key role for a Brooklyn Nets team that is the current title favorite for the 2021-22 season, per FanDuel Sportsbook. It’s difficult to see him leaving Brooklyn, even if he must settle for another one-year minimum contract, but the Sixers should at least do their due diligence on him considering his two-way versatility.
Nic Batum may be more obtainable than expected in the wake of Kawhi Leonard’s ACL tear. The 32-year-old resurrected his career with the Los Angeles Clippers this past season, but Leonard’s uncertain status for the 2021-22 campaign could cause Batum to look elsewhere. He won’t score in droves, but he’ll do just about everything else.
The Milwaukee Bucks inexplicably sent Torrey Craig to the Phoenix Suns for cash considerations ahead of the March trade deadline, and it nearly came back to bite them in the NBA Finals. Craig is a switchable defender who knocked down a career-high 36.8 percent of his three-point attempts this past season, which would make him well worth a flier on a minimum contract.
P.J. Tucker was an integral part of the Bucks’ championship run because of his defense and toughness, but his lack of offensive upside could dissuade the Sixers from pursuing him. They might instead choose to pursue veteran three-and-D wings such as Trevor Ariza or Wes Matthews, both of whom could settle into low-usage roles either in the starting lineup or off the bench.
Georges Niang could be a wild card, as luxury-tax considerations might push him out of Utah. He’s a career 40.4 percent shooter from deep who knocked down 42.5 percent of his 4.1 three-point attempts per game this year, but he has yet to average more than 16.0 minutes per game in any of his five NBA seasons. ProFitX projects him to be worth $9.1 million next season, which could put him out of the Sixers’ price range, but he’d be worth a look with some portion of the MLE.
Garrett Temple and Moe Harkless are three-and-D wings in name only, as neither shoot well enough from deep to be considered true sharpshooters. However, both players can at least knock down the occasional three-ball while playing steady defense. Carmelo Anthony is the exact inverse: a score-first, defense-optional forward who can still cook opponents with his crafty footwork and off-the-dribble shot-making ability.
Howard was a largely pleasant surprise as Joel Embiid’s backup during the regular season, but the Atlanta Hawks exposed his limitations in the playoffs. If the Sixers decide not to re-sign him, they’ll again need to hunt for cheap frontcourt depth behind Embiid.
Kelly Olynyk likely priced himself out of the Sixers’ range after averaging 19.0 points and 8.4 rebounds in 27 games with the Houston Rockets following the trade deadline. Even if they can’t afford Olynyk, the Sixers should prioritize adding a stretch 5 like him, particularly if they don’t trade Simmons.
Daniel Theis might be the Sixers’ best realistic target among bigs. He isn’t a high-volume three-point shooter, but he’s capable of knocking them down on occasion, and he’s an otherwise steady contributor. Although Theis won’t score in droves, he’ll set hard screens, make the right rotations defensively and embrace a low-usage role on offense.
Gorgui Dieng and Dewayne Dedmon figure to be among the cheaper stretch 5 options on the free-agent market. Neither should play more than 10-15 minutes per game on a contender, but they wouldn’t have to in Philly. Both would space the floor on offense, clean the glass and protect the rim whenever Embiid needs a breather.
Nemanja Bjelica and Frank Kaminsky are better shooters than Theis, Dieng and Dedmon, but they’re much worse defensively. Bjelica originally agreed to terms on a one-year, $4.4 million contract with the Sixers in 2018, only to renege on the agreement and sign a three-year, $20.5 million deal with the Sacramento Kings. Could the second time be the charm? Mike Muscala also merits a look after shooting 37.0 percent from deep on a career-high 5.3 attempts per game this past season with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Milwaukee Bucks figure to prioritize re-signing Bobby Portis after his role in their championship run, but financial restrictions could open the door to his departure. The Bucks only have his non-Bird rights, so they can’t offer him a starting salary above $4.4 million unless they dip into their taxpayer MLE. He can play either frontcourt spot, but the Sixers aren’t likely to pry him out of Milwaukee.
Denver Nuggets big men Paul Millsap and JaMychal Green could be of interest, too. Both are primarily power forwards, but they can log minutes at the 5 in small-ball lineups. Green turned down a $7.6 million player option, which suggests he’ll be out of the Sixers’ price range, but the 36-year-old Millsap is at the point of his career where he might prioritize championship contention over earnings.
Blake Griffin would be a logical target if only to weaken the Nets, but the Detroit Pistons still owe him $29.8 million next season. Money likely won’t be an issue for him, so he figures to stay with in Brooklyn. However, the Nets’ luxury-tax issues could open the door for the Sixers to snipe him if they’re willing to offer their full MLE.
Enes Kanter might be more obtainable as the Portland Trail Blazers look to retool in their last-ditch effort to appease Damian Lillard. Although he’s a liability on defense, he’s one of the league’s most potent rebounders, so he could slide right into the role Howard filled this past season. But with only 44 career made three-pointers, he’d be a potentially clunky fit alongside Simmons, much as Howard was.
Although the Sixers will have only the MLE at their disposal in free agency, they’ll have plenty of options from which to choose. How they spend that money—if at all—may go a long way toward determining whether they can challenge the Bucks and Nets for Eastern Conference supremacy next season.