Star Hunting: Was the Sixers Offseason a Failure?
Sixers coach Brett Brown pulled no punches when asked about Philadelphia’s offseason plans after the NBA Draft. Brown and the Sixers were star hunting this summer and with the likes of LeBron James, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard available via trade or free agency, the hunt had the potential to be fruitful.
Fast forward to August and James has a west coast area code, George’s remains the same and Leonard is sampling maple syrup with his new Canadian teammates. So, does this mean the Sixers’ offseason as a failure?
Missing out on Stars
As mentioned, none of the Sixers’ superstar targets reside in Philadelphia. As frustrating as that may be, it is fair to ask how available were this summer’s “big three” of stars. Pundits and tea leaf readers alike suspected that James was LA bound for some time now. Although James’ representatives did meet with the Sixers brass, now-surfaced stories suggest the former Cavaliers star may have already made his decision during a meeting with Magic Johnson the night prior.
George was attending a party hosted by Russell Westbrook the night free agency began. During the party, George announced his decision to a raucous crowd. Formerly considered a lock to join James and the Lakers, the Palmdale native elected to remain with the Thunder before a meeting could even take place.
The Sixers’ best shot at landing a star may have been Leonard, yet two facts hampered the validity of that thought. With several reports claiming the rebuilt Markelle Fultz as off limits, Philadelphia was offering a package centered more on picks and solid role players. San Antonio, with a desire to get an impact player in return for its disgruntled star, was searching for more established stars, which was something the Sixers were not willing to offer.
The Sixers were honest in their approach to acquire more star talent this summer. Unfortunately for interim general manager Brett Brown, those stars didn’t have Philadelphia in their plans.
The Sixers were relatively active this summer in terms of acquisitions. After losing Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova to the Spurs and Bucks respectively, the team knew they needed to replace those key reserves. Mike Muscala was brought in via a trade for Justin Anderson and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. Muscala should serve as an effective “Ersan replacement” as he offers floor spacing and solid defense as a reserve big.
Wilson Chandler was the rare salary dump with juice left in the tank. The former Nugget was brought to secure more shooting and add defensive versatility. Chandler should be an ideal postseason reserve to help ease the nightmares of Belinelli constantly being switched on to Jayson Tatum this past postseason.
The draft served as the first showing of the Sixers’ motives this summer as well as their shining moment of the offseason. After drafting Villanova standout Mikal Bridges with the tenth pick, Sixers brass completed a trade with Phoenix, shipping out the swingman in exchange for the raw but talented Zhaire Smith as well as a Miami 2021 first round pick. In an era where first round picks are the foundation of blockbuster trades, the Sixers were able to draft a touted prospect for the future while restocking their cupboard of assets with a potential future lottery pick.
JJ Redick and Amir Johnson were brought back on one-year deals at a fraction of their prior contracts, offering stability and veteran production. The Sixers will likely trot out the same starting line up in consecutive years for the first time since Doug Collins was at the helm.
Was it a Failure?
It’s fair to think that in a failing effort to secure another star, the Sixers offseason should not be seen in a successful light. I, however contest that thought. Would the Sixers be better off with George or Leonard? Of course. But the fact that both players ended up elsewhere should not dictate the totality of success or failure of the team’s offseason.
The Sixers were able to add and retain shooting, find suitable wing defenders and come away from draft night with an intriguing future pick. All the while, the team’s most important players--Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Fultz and Dario Saric--should see an offseason of improvements that could bring to bear a season of even greater success.
Should Embiid have the MVP season he predicts and is capable of and Simmons improves upon his Rookie of the Year campaign, the Sixers will be sitting pretty. If this can occur while Fultz and famed trainer Drew Hanlen resurrect the shot of the former Washington star, the Sixers will have a real shot at the Eastern Conference Finals where a playoff rematch with the Boston Celtics inevitably and poetically, awaits.