76ers

2020 NBA free agency: 6 bigs the Sixers could target this offseason

2020 NBA free agency: 6 bigs the Sixers could target this offseason

Another big man may not be high on the priority list for the Sixers this offseason, but a lot can change between when/if the season resumes and when next season starts.

Will the Sixers try to move Al Horford’s contract? Does the team trust Norvel Pelle to take on a bigger role next season? Would Kyle O’Quinn consider returning after he reportedly asked to be waived?

Here are six bigs that could fit the Sixers in free agency depending on how everything shakes out.

Marc Gasol

Gasol is most known around these parts for being a thorn in Joel Embiid’s side. A former Defensive Player of the Year, Gasol is big, smart and physical — a combination that has caused Embiid serious difficulty. He’s not the offensive player he was in his prime, but he can still shoot it (40.2 percent from three), pass it (3.4 assists) and is an excellent screen setter.

At 35, it will be interesting see what kind of offers Gasol will get. The only scenario in which the Sixers would likely be able to make it work is if they successfully trade Horford and his massive contract. Is it worth taking a shot on Gasol with the team’s mid-level exception? With the Sixers having other pressing needs, it’s a tough call. Gasol would make an excellent Embiid backup and mentor.

Aron Baynes

Baynes had a solid run in Boston and was having a strong season in Monty Williams’ system in Phoenix. The Sixers were the first team to experience Baynes’ evolution as a three-point shooter in the 2018 playoffs. He was hitting 35 percent on over four attempts a game before the 2019-20 season was suspended. He also has proven to be a solid post defender and screen setter.

This is going to be all about what Baynes’ preferences are. If he wants to get paid like a starting center, the Sixers aren’t the team for him. If he’s willing to accept a backup role to Embiid on a lesser deal, there’s a possibility. It seems more likely Baynes could find a better situation, but he’d be a solid option for the Sixers if he can’t.

Alex Len

Len hasn’t lived up to the status of being the fifth overall pick, but he’s become a solid rotational NBA big. His career numbers per 36 minutes are solid: 14.6 points, 11.5 rebounds, 1.8 blocks. Though he struggled to hit threes this season, he’s had some success for a big (33 percent for his career).

Still just 26, there could be a team that views Len as having a higher ceiling. Being so young, he also could value playing time and money over being a reserve on a contender. Like Baynes, if he can’t find a better situation, the Sixers could do worse in a backup center.

Noah Vonleh

Vonleh is another top-10 pick that hasn’t quite panned out but has shown he can be a serviceable NBA player. After a strong campaign for the Knicks in 2018-19, Vonleh had a tough year for the Timberwolves. He was eventually shipped to the Nuggets in that crazy four-team deal ahead of the trade deadline.

Signing Vonleh would be similar to when the Sixers signed O’Quinn this past offseason. He won’t have a definitive role but could be a nice insurance policy if there are injuries and Pelle struggles. Though he’s only 24, the price shouldn’t be high given his struggles in Minnesota this season.

Dario Saric

If you’re reading this, you should know all about this guy. Saric hasn’t been the same player since he was dealt to the Timberwolves in the Jimmy Butler trade. Still, he’s played a solid role for Williams in Phoenix. Saric has flashed the combination of skill and grit he did here, but his lack of athleticism has limited him.

Saric is a true four. Though you could get away with using Saric as a small-ball five in certain lineups, you wouldn’t want him back there for an extended period of time with a true NBA center. Saric did love his time here and played the best basketball of his NBA career. He's a restricted free agent so the Suns would likely have to rescind his rights for the Sixers to have a chance. If the price is right, you can’t rule out a reunion.

Markieff Morris

The Philly native was having a good year in Detroit before being bought out and signing with the Lakers. He’s struggled with his shot during his eight-game stint in L.A. but was hitting just below 40 percent of his threes with the Pistons. Morris plays with an edge and could bring that physical style and attitude back home.

Morris could be repetitive with Mike Scott already signed for next season. Though Scott struggled this year, he’d come on a bit before the season was suspended and looked more like the player we saw during last year's playoff run.

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Sixers release hype video of sorts before NBA restart at Disney World

Sixers release hype video of sorts before NBA restart at Disney World

NBA teams don’t usually release hype videos 65 games into the regular season.

The Sixers did on Thursday, however. That seems an appropriate way to label the video the team put out on social media ahead of its departure for Orlando for the NBA’s planned resumption. It contains footage of players working out at the team’s practice facility in Camden, New Jersey, during the NBA’s Phase 2 protocol, as well as some of the more confident remarks from players during video conference calls with reporters over the last week. Tobias Harris chucking a medicine ball against a wall is an especially striking image. 

“The way that I look at it is we have another opportunity,” Al Horford says over footage of him sinking a jumper. “I believe that our group is built for the playoffs.”

Horford is among the players who noted the NBA’s hiatus was beneficial in terms of health. He’s also far from the first Sixer to insist this season that the team is constructed to succeed in the postseason.

The 39-26 Sixers are sixth in the Eastern Conference. They’re scheduled to resume play on Aug. 1 against the Pacers (see game-by-game predictions).

Though the video is a bit less energetic and more reserved than the typical hype video — which makes sense as the NBA attempts to play through a pandemic — it does convey a belief that the team’s inability to meet expectations before the hiatus is no longer relevant. 

If the league’s health and safety measures are effective, we’ll get to see if that’s actually the case. 

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Sixers may be counting on youth in a big way at Disney World

Sixers may be counting on youth in a big way at Disney World

Normally once the playoffs start, coaches will look to players with experience. They want battle-tested veterans that have been through the rigors of an NBA postseason.

For the Sixers, there is a chance that they’ll be counting on three players 23 years old or younger. Two of them have never played a single playoff game while the other has played less than 40 career postseason minutes.

Yet Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz and Shake Milton have all played significant roles for the Sixers at one time or another this season. Will they be ready if their numbers are called in the playoffs?

The Sixers will have to hope their young contributors don’t think too much about the situation they’re in and just play basketball.

You don’t know — no team knows what they look like as a team,” Thybulle said. “I know what I’ve been doing individually in my workouts, I know that I feel good, my shot looks good, I feel like I’m in shape, but in terms of what that means for the 76ers or for any other team in the league, I think it’s fairly unknown. I think for us, for me, it’s all about the challenge of hitting the ground running.

Throughout the course of his rookie year, Thybulle has done well to take things as they come. Whether it was being asked to guard Kemba Walker on opening night or start for a stretch when Joel Embiid was out, Thybulle has been thrown into the fire more than once this season.

Though he’s had his ups and downs and his playing time has fluctuated, Thybulle proved to be a strong and disruptive defender. He’s one of only eight players in the league to have at least 80 steals and 40 blocks. If a guard or wing is giving the Sixers an exceptionally hard time in the playoffs, Brett Brown could look to Thybulle to help mitigate the damage.

If the Sixers are in need of shooting, Brown would likely turn to Korkmaz. The Turkish wing has had somewhat of an improbable season. After the Sixers struck out on signing veteran sharpshooter Kyle Korver this summer, GM Elton Brand circled back to Korkmaz, who was reportedly on the verge of heading back overseas to play. 

Korkmaz has rewarded the organization by providing some ridiculously hot shooting that has bailed the Sixers’ sometimes clunky offense out of jams. He leads the team in threes made and is shooting 39.7 percent from three, the second-best mark on the team.

We were having this conversation every time with Coach Brown,” Korkmaz said. “Every time he just keeps telling me I just need to keep doing what I did all season and keep doing it for the playoffs in Orlando. Nothing changed. Also, we know playoffs in Orlando is going to be more physical than the regular season. We all expect that and we’re all ready for that and we’re all working for that. And Brett said to me just keep doing what you’re doing, you’re going to be an important piece, and I’m trying to get ready for it.

Brown had a similar message for Milton, who may have the upper hand on Thybulle and Korkmaz because of his diverse skillset. If Brown is truly interested in unleashing Ben Simmons as a screener and roller, Milton could be key in tapping into that look as the primary ball handler.

Unlike Thybulle and Korkmaz, Milton’s true opportunity didn’t come until later in the season. After a few solid performances before the All-Star break, Milton was told by Brown that he wasn’t going to be in the rotation with everyone healthy and the additions of Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III.

Milton simply waited for his next chance to play and got it when Ben Simmons went down with a nerve impingement in his lower back. The second-year player took over as the team’s starting point guard and crushed the opportunity, averaging 17.8 points and shooting a blistering 60.4 percent from three over his last nine games.

I definitely feel more confident,” Milton said. “I’d say it’s probably stemming from the fact that playing those last nine games or whatever with all those guys out, it gave me the opportunity to kind of go out there and test things and see what could work, and really explore my game. I feel like for any player, when they’re given an opportunity to do something like that, to see what works and have freedoms, I feel like you’re going to see growth anywhere. I definitely feel good, I feel confident, and I’m excited.

None of these players have a rotational spot locked up. Burks, Robinson and Mike Scott have the advantage of experience. Newcomer Ryan Broekhoff may even force his way into the mix. Brown has said he'd like to have his playoff rotation down to nine, which should create healthy competition and perhaps another "quiet tournament" during the eight seeding games.

In an unprecedented situation at Disney World, the Sixers hope this trio of young players doesn’t concern themselves with going into uncharted territory and focuses more on doing the things that got them here. 

At the end of the day, it’s still basketball.

“We’re finding ourselves in a situation where [the playoffs will be different than usual],” Thybulle said, “so I think it’s going to be new for everyone, even vets who have been part of the playoffs, trying to get a feel for what this is going to be like. But I’m open to the challenge and I’m excited for what’s in store.”

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