The starting five was not the problem for the Sixers in their second-round loss to the Raptors. Their top two reserves, James Ennis and Mike Scott, were also strong.
The biggest issue was backup center … and it’s not even close.
As we approach the draft and free agency, figuring out the situation around Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris is the priority. After that, finding a capable backup big is the most pressing need for GM Elton Brand.
“Definitely [backup center is] one of the priorities outside of free agency with the top guys,” Brand said at the team’s practice facility last Tuesday,” but I look forward to being the GM for the first time entering free agency to address certain needs of a backup center, certain depth, certain pieces that I feel needs to be in place.”
Joel Embiid wasn’t himself throughout the playoffs, but his impact was unmistakable. The Sixers were a plus-90 with Embiid on the floor in the Toronto series and minus-111 without him. In Game 7 alone, the Sixers were outscored by 12 points in the 2:49 Embiid was on the bench.
The team certainly didn’t lack options. Greg Monroe, Boban Marjanovic, Amir Johnson and Jonah Bolden weren’t good enough. The three veterans just didn’t have the necessary athleticism and feet to hang in the series. Bolden’s inexperience showed up and discipline continued to be an issue.
So why didn’t the Sixers target that position sooner? Brand pointed out this will be his first real offseason as GM. While the role behind Embiid may not be what a free-agent center is looking for, Brand is confident he can convince players to come here.
Bolden will likely be the only one of aforementioned guys back next season. It’ll be up to Brand to find a capable five behind the team’s “crown jewel.”
“I had a voice and I didn’t speak up loud enough I guess, but there’s definitely some ways that we can sell Philadelphia,” Brand said. “We’re a destination team right now, we’re a destination city. Players want to be here. So if I say, ‘Hey, there’s going to be X amount of minutes for you, we’re going to have a deep playoff run,’ I’m confident we can get some talent in that backup center.”
Brand will scour the free-agent market for a veteran big. It’s likely not something he can address early. Butler and Harris will dictate what happens with the Sixers’ offseason. If they’re able to sign both, it could make filling out the bench a little trickier, but certainly not impossible.
Brand will be able to use the mid-level exception, the amount of which we’ll find out later this offseason. He also has two trade exceptions ($2,339,880 from Markelle Fultz, $957,480 from Dario Saric) if he can swing a deal where the salaries don't match. Still, depending on what the Butler and Harris deals look like along with a possible Ben Simmons rookie max extension, Brand will have his work cut out for him in building his bench.
Former Process Sixer Dewayne Dedmon will be out there, though he may be out of the team’s price range. There are also players like Tyson Chandler and JaVale McGee, though both players seem to prefer the West. Nerlens Noel would be a perfect fit on the floor, but that doesn’t seem likely. Going down the list, Kyle O’Quinn could give you something for a few minutes a night.
But the Sixers could also use an infusion of youth. The draft isn’t exactly flush with centers, but there are a few options. Daniel Gafford from Arkansas is a super athletic rim-running center that could provide energy and toughness. Nic Claxton of Georgia and Bruno Fernando out of Maryland are long, offensively skilled and also athletic. Mfiondu Kabengele from Florida State is another big to keep your eye on.
All of these players will likely be available at pick No. 24 or with one of the Sixers’ four second-round picks. And all four players to an extent fit what Brand said he was looking in this year’s draft.
“Where we are in our trajectory, we need players that can play, players that can add to our team now,” Brand said. “We’re looking for maybe older players. For sure, defensive minded players and we always place a premium on shooting. But defensive-oriented players that can contribute now, we may look at, I don’t want to tip my hand too much, but that may be something we’re looking at.”
Through the draft and free agency, Brand will have to give Brett Brown more options to back up the team’s best player.
And those options need be a whole lot better than they were this season.
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