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76ers get better-fitting players, better coach, better lead executive

NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons remain the center of the 76ers’ universe.

Everything revolves around those two stars.

Philadelphia upgraded its lead executive (Daryl Morey from Elton Brand from Bryan Colangelo from Jerry Colangelo) and coach (Doc Rivers from Brett Brown) in attempts to optimize Embiid and Simmons.

And of course, Morey continued the 76ers’ cycle through supporting starters (previously: J.J. Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Markelle Fultz, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, Al Horford, Josh Richardson). The new trio:

  • Seth Curry
  • Danny Green
  • Tobias Harris at power forward (back from small forward)

The fit looks better.

Curry and Green are good 3-point shooters who should provide far more spacing around Embiid and Simmons. Playing with a big defensive-minded playmaking point guard in Simmons should especially benefit Curry, who’s ideally cast as an undersized shooting guard. Harris is more effective as a four, and he had his best year playing that position for Rivers on the Clippers.

But talent and assets also matter.

Josh Richardson (sent to the Mavericks for Curry) is better than either newcomer on the wing. Al Horford (sent to the Thunder for Green) is better than he looked next to Embiid last season. Curry has real defensive and playmaking limitations. Green, as underrated as he once was, appears to be slipping at age 33. Philadelphia also surrendered the Nos. 34 and 36 picks and a future first-rounder in those trades.

Obviously, unloading the $81 million ($69 million guaranteed) over the final three years of Horford’s contract was a priority. But that provides more financial relief than maneuverability. Well into the luxury tax, the 76ers don’t project to have cap space for the foreseeable future.

Essentially, Philadelphia raised its floor and lowered its ceiling. The tradeoff was worthwhile, because Embiid and Simmons still offer a high ceiling, and last year’s jumbo group had little chance of ever reaching its potential. But it was a tradeoff.

At least the 76ers effectively restocked their asset base by drafting well. With the Nos. 21, 49 and 58 picks, Philadelphia got the Nos. 14, 25 and 29 players on my board: Tyrese Maxey, Isaiah Joe and Paul Reed. I don’t expect much from that group this season – maybe ever. This was a fairly weak-looking draft. But these players were worth betting on.

Terrance Ferguson, acquired in the Horford trade, is a 22-year-old who’d been starting on the wing in Oklahoma City. I’m not sure how much value he adds to a team that already had Matisse Thybulle, but Ferguson could also develop into a contributor for the 76ers.

For more-immediate help, Philadelphia signed Dwight Howard (one year, minimum) to back up Embiid. That’s a bargain based on how Howard played for the Lakers last season, but chemistry questions follow him. Tony Bradley (acquired from the Pistons) and Vincent Poirier (included in the Horford trade) boost the 76ers’ center depth – always important considering Embiid’s health.

Relatedly, Embiid might not offer as long a prime as his age (26) would suggest. That’s one reason Philadelphia was so strongly linked to James Harden this offseason.

Though their talent can overcome problems and more surrounding shooting will help, Embiid and Simmons just don’t naturally complement each other – as much as the organization insists otherwise. It wouldn’t be crazy to trade Simmons for Harden and immediately improve.

Morey’s declaration he won’t trade Simmons just isn’t reliable. Harden is still available, and Morey’s fondness for the Rockets star is well-established.

But the possibility of a Harden trade exposes a downside of the 76ers’ offseason. Prioritizing fits around Embiid and Simmons would be a misallocation of resources if that tandem doesn’t stay intact. For example, Richardson would fit better than Curry next to Harden.

These are the types of dilemmas that emerge when a team is trying to win. Philadelphia will constantly be trying to fit players together on the court, on the roster.

Mostly, I have far more faith in Rivers to solve many micro problems and Morey to solve macro problems than I did the previous regime.

Offseason grade: B