By Mark Strotman | | 5 mins
Sixers a Strong Bet in the East After Free-Agent Signings
No team entered free agency with more to lose than the Philadelphia 76ers, whose second, third and fourth leading scorers were all unrestricted free agents.
So it wasn’t surprising to see GM Elton Brand get aggressive when the clock struck 6 p.m. on Sunday, signaling the start of the new NBA (and NBA betting) season.
The result was a max contract for Tobias Harris, a new face in the frontcourt in Al Horford and a two-way guard to replace an old one in Josh Richardson.
The Sixers reloaded in the first 24 hours of free agency and, combined with the expected growth of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, are a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference.
Their 2020 NBA title odds currently sit at +1100 following their moves, tied for fifth best in the NBA and third in the East behind the Milwaukee Bucks and reigning champion Toronto Raptors. Here’s why they could provide excellent value early in the summer.
Philly reloads with new starting five
Brand wasted no time as GM leaving his mark on the Sixers. He traded for Jimmy Butler in November and later dealt a package for Tobias Harris, who was in the midst of a career year.
Both Butler and Harris were free agents at season’s end – part of the reason they were available in the first place – as well as J.J. Redick, the team’s best 3-point shooter and locker room presence.
The Sixers starting five – arguably the best from top to bottom – will look different next year, but it might be better.
Harris signed a five-year, $180 million max deal, and shortly after Horford grabbed a four-year, $109 million deal.
Then the Sixers offered a max extension to Simmons that will be a focal point for the player and organization for the near-future.
Philadelphia has offered a five-year, $168M maximum contract extension to Ben Simmons and the Sixers and agent Rich Paul are expected to work through the details toward an eventual agreement, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 2, 2019
All this came after Jimmy Butler’s desire to play in Miami became public, and Philly was able to secure Richardson as part of the sign-and-trade.
It gives the Sixers a dynamite starting five…again. Their shortest player is Richardson at 6-foot-6, and he’s quietly been one of the best young shooting guards in basketball the last few years. Harris should be able to spread his wings without the ball-dominant Butler in the fold.
Horford will replace Redick – who signed in New Orleans – as the veteran leader while also forming an elite 1-2 punch inside with Joel Embiid.
Horford is versatile enough to play alongside Embiid, and the two could form a truly dominant inside-out two-man game for opposing defenses.
Take this October game against the Thunder last season, for example.
Horford had 19 points and 9 rebounds, at one point connecting on three 3-pointers in a 41-second span. He also scored four times in the paint and had the eventual game-winning assist in the final minute – Horford averaged 4.2 assists this past year, third best among centers.
The Sixers were fourth in the NBA in assists last season, and Horford will only make them a more lethal passing team. He does a little bit of everything, which should complement Embiid.
Sixers have stars in Embiid, Simmons
A well-round starting five and a boost in free agency is nice, but superstars win championships. The good news for Philadelphia is they’ve got a pair of rising stars who feel ready to make that jump to superstardom.
Embiid continues to deal with lingering injuries, but his production is unparalleled. This past season he averaged 27.5 points, 13.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game.
Those numbers had been reached by three other players in NBA history: Shaquille O’Neal (2000), Bob McAdoo (1974, 1975) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1974, 1975, 1976). Embiid is just 24 and only getting better.
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Knock Simmons all you want for his lack of a jump shot, but his numbers speak volumes. He averaged 16.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 7.7 assists last season at age 22, joining Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson (twice) as the only players to reach those numbers in their first or second years in the league.
Simmons was an All-Star in Year 2 and should flirt with All-NBA status in Year 3. He’s now got two new mouths to feed in Horford and Richardson and should have no trouble doing so.
Sixers Fine Winning Unconventionally
Starting three players 6-foot-10 or taller and playing two traditional centers next to one another doesn’t exactly scream “modern basketball.” But Brett Brown’s group should be just fine playing unconventionally.
Let’s not forget that they were a Kawhi Leonard buzzer-beater in Game 7 from forcing overtime on the road against the eventual NBA champions.
What they’re doing is working just fine. Simmons, Embiid and Harris will provide enough offense to allow them to hover around top-10 status like they did a year ago (8th), even if they’re not making as many 3-pointers as some of the elite offenses in the NBA.
And adding Horford and Richardson – two lockdown defenders – to play with Embiid, a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate, could push their defense into top-5 territory. They’re long, athletic, and they care on the defensive end.
Plus, we know from last year that Brand is no stranger to adding players at the deadline if he thinks his team has a shot. Philadelphia played Milwaukee and Toronto well last season, and if Leonard leaves for a team in Los Angeles, the path to the Finals opens up considerably.
In fact, Philly’s odds could shorten once a Leonard announcement comes down. It makes plenty of sense to get in on them now at +1200. They won’t be that low much longer.