When researching the best signings in Sixers history, one thing is evident: They haven’t made that many.
The most successful eras of Sixers basketball were mostly made possible with draft picks and trades. You could even make the argument that the top two players on this list weren’t actually signings … but we’re counting them.
After looking at the five worst, today we look at the five best signings in team history.
Honorable mention: Marco Belinelli/Ersan Ilyasova
The 2017-18 Sixers were making a somewhat surprising push behind a second-year Joel Embiid and rookie Ben Simmons. But the team was lacking in bench scoring. All that changed when the team added Belinelli and Ilyasova, two veterans bought out by struggling teams.
Belinelli went on to have arguably the best stretch of his entire career. It was somewhat of a homecoming for Ilyasova, who had success playing with the Sixers the year prior. The duo was a huge part of the team going on a 16-game winning streak to close the season and earning the East’s third seed.
5. Robert Covington
Then-GM Sam Hinkie expressed regret over not signing Covington as an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee State. Hinkie’s former boss Daryl Morey scooped him up for the Rockets instead. Houston waived Covington in October of 2014 and Hinkie pounced.
Say what you want about Covington, but from a pure value standpoint, this was a tremendous signing. Covington went on to earn First Team All-Defensive honors in 2017-18 and helped the team earn its first 50-win season since 2000-01. He was part of the trade that landed the Sixers Jimmy Butler.
4. JJ Redick
In the previous offseason, Bryan Colangelo unsuccessfully tried to use the Sixers’ expansive cap space to land a veteran free agent. At that point, Embiid had yet to play a game and Simmons had just been drafted. After the league saw 31 games from Embiid and knew Simmons would be coming back healthy, the Sixers would have better luck.
Brett Brown sold Redick on the idea of playing with Embiid. It wasn’t just talk. The two-man game between the dominant center and sharpshooter was lethal. Redick had his two best NBA scoring seasons with the Sixers, averaging 17.6 points a game. In just two seasons, he made the sixth-most threes in franchise history at the fourth-highest percentage (40.7).
3. Steve Mix
Many of us grew up listening to “The Mayor” Steve Mix as the analyst alongside play-by-play announcer Marc Zumoff. Before that, Mix had a winding 13-year NBA career. Drafted by the Pistons in the fifth round in 1969, Mix spent parts of three seasons in the NBA and played one game in the ABA. After he failed to make the Sixers out of training camp in 1972, he dominated in the Continental Basketball League.
After that run, the Sixers signed him for the 1973-74 campaign. He went on to play nine seasons in Philly, becoming an All-Star in 1974-75. While Mix played on some excellent Sixers teams, he was unfortunately on the other bench with the Lakers when his former team won it all in 1982-83. Mix is 12th all-time in franchise history in win shares.
2. George McGinnis
McGinnis’ story is a little complex and even got a little ugly at one point. The big man was drafted by the Sixers in the second round in 1973. McGinnis, who left school in 1971 to play professionally, was already an All-Star in the ABA. His first choice was to play in New York and the Knicks signed him to a deal against the league’s rules. After commissioner Larry O’Brien disapproved the contract, McGinnis signed with the Sixers as a “free agent.”
McGinnis made two All-Stars teams with the Sixers and averaged 21.6 points and 11.5 rebounds a game in three seasons. He helped the Sixers regain respectability in the late 1970s. He was also a part of the trade for Bobby Jones, who became an integral defensive piece for the Sixers.
1. Julius Erving
We can quibble over whether Erving was a “signing,” but the reality is the Sixers were the highest bidders for Dr. J’s services in 1976. The ABA-NBA merger had left the Nets in a bad place financially. The transaction doesn’t say Erving was “traded,” rather he was “sold” to the Sixers. We’re counting it.
The rest of the story doesn’t take much explaining. Erving was an 11-time All-Star, the 1981 NBA MVP and won the franchise’s last championship in 1983. Erving is arguably the greatest Sixer of all time.
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