PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Ben Simmons posted Instagram photos of his shirtless shooting drills and wrote the caption, “Let’s have a great week.”
The 76ers are off to a pretty good start.
One win away from the Eastern Conference finals, the Sixers are set for another new look when training camp opens and they chase their first championship since 1983. Jimmy Butler, a four-time All-Star hailed as the missing piece when the Sixers traded for him in November, is off to Miami. JJ Redick, one of the top 3-point shooters in team history, is headed to New Orleans. Meaning the Sixers lost two starters on a 51-win team poised to contend for conference titles and more for years, defections that could have stunted the franchise — had general manager Elton Brand not poached All-Star Al Horford from Boston.
Horford signed on for four years, Tobias Harris agreed to a five-year contract, key reserve Mike Scott has a new deal and Josh Richardson is a solid consolation prize in the Butler deal.
In a chaotic East , the Sixers are still in the mix as a top team.
“Crazy,” 76ers forward Zhaire Smith said of NBA free agency. “I never knew it was that crazy. It was crazy.”
Just a bit.
But winning 50 games and a round in the playoffs is no longer good enough for coach Brett Brown and the Sixers. Redick was their lone reliable 3-point ace and Butler turned into a valuable clutch scorer in the playoffs. The team wouldn’t have gotten to Game 7 against eventual NBA champion Toronto in the semis without them. And Horford, Harris and Richardson are expected to keep the dropoff at a minimum — but are they enough to push the Sixers over the edge into a title team? Throw in Smith, who missed most of his rookie year, and 2019 first-rounder Matisse Thybulle, and the Sixers should be tougher defensively.
Let’s take a look at the Sixers, so far:
— Horford, a five-time All-Star, agreed Sunday to a four-year contract with $97 million guaranteed in a deal that could be worth up to $109 million.
The 33-year-old Horford was one of Boston’s steadiest players, averaging 13.9 points and nine rebounds in the postseason. Horford’s deal may not look so great in 2023, but the Sixers are trying to win now and he can help. Horford can shoot the 3 (37% for his career), rebound and provides a critical presence with All-Star Joel Embiid. He can certainly team with Embiid down low but could also carry big minutes when Embiid needs a breather. Embiid’s health is always an issue and the Sixers were forced to go with a backup-big man-by-committee in the playoffs, with disastrous results. Horford, if healthy, is a fantastic fit for the Sixers as a smart defender and a potential career extender for Embiid.
— Richardson averaged 16.6 points, 4.1 assists, and 3.6 rebounds with the Heat and is young (25), affordable ($10.1 million) and has worked himself into one of the top wing defenders in the East. Richardson also knows how to ingratiate himself with the Philly fans, tweeting, “Where da cheesesteaks ?” More than 2,000 replies later, there was no clue from Richardson which spot he might hit first. Richardson is 6-foot-6 yet is the smallest of the Sixers’ expected five starters. He has shown flashes of developing into a 3-point shooter and could only get better in the catch-and-shoot spot that Redick made so dangerous for the Sixers.
— Harris averaged 20 points and 7.9 rebounds with the Clippers and Sixers and agreed to a $180 million, five-year contract, just shy of the full max value. He explained his decision in a first-person essay on ESPN.com, writing: “I want to be somewhere that I can call home. Finally, I can do that now: I’m a Philadelphia 76er .” The $180 million certainly helped but Harris, who has had a solid but not spectacular career, could emerge as more of a scoring threat with Redick and Butler gone. Just 26, Harris has time to live up to his salary and the big haul the Sixers gave to the Clippers (four draft picks plus rookie star Landry Shamet) to get him in February. With Butler leaving, the Sixers had to pay Harris and not risk the embarrassment of striking out on their two major trades this season. Harris’ shooting numbers dipped once he got to Philly, but that could have had more to do with the star cast around him than anything, though for $180 million, any excuse for a further decline is out the window.
So what’s left? The Sixers have about $7.7 million in salary cap space left and only nine players under contract. They need a backup point guard, another shooter and maybe even a true backup center — and Monday marked just the first full day of NBA free agency.
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