For star-hungry Sixers, this summer could be their last chance

For star-hungry Sixers, this summer could be their last chance

This was always going to be an important summer for the star-hungry Sixers.

But it may be even more dire than it seems.

The Athletic Bay Area reported last week that Klay Thompson and the Warriors have already engaged in discussions about a contract extension. While the two sides reportedly won’t re-engage talks until the offseason, it’s a somewhat surprising development. 

As the report notes, if Thompson waits to become a free agent in 2019, he can re-sign for five years, $188 million. But there are serious questions as to whether Warriors ownership would sign off on that deal, as an already expensive Golden State team is going to cost only more and more with the repeater tax looming. So if Thompson wants to stay with the Warriors and they’ll do it only at a bargain price, he could sign a cheaper four-year extension, which would put a serious dent into those projected luxury tax bills.

But if Thompson, who would be an absolutely perfect fit in Philly, wasn’t going to be a free agent until 2019 anyway, what does this have to do with the Sixers’ upcoming offseason?

The Sixers right now have a two-year window in which they can readily access max cap space to sign a third star. After the summer of 2019, they’ll have to start extending some of their young core, starting with Ben Simmons.

If the Sixers lock up Simmons prior to his fourth season, similar to what they did with Joel Embiid, they can give him a designated maximum rookie extension that would start in the 2020-21 season. While the league’s salary cap numbers for that season haven’t been released yet (the cap is projected to rise from $101 million in 2018 to $108 million in 2019 for what it’s worth), Simmons will make at least 25 percent of the cap (he can earn up to 30 percent if he meets certain criteria).

So if we assume Simmons will just sign for the 25 percent max and project the cap to make a reasonable jump to $114 million, he and Embiid alone will account for just under $58 million in 2020. Add the final year of Markelle Fultz’s rookie deal and they’re near $71 million. Throw in Robert Covington’s contract and they’re over $83 million. Include Dario Saric’s cap hold as he hits restricted free agency and they’re eclipsing $90 million, and that’s working under a scenario in which Saric wasn’t previously extended at an even higher number.

The point here is that the path to a 30- and 35-percent max contract, valued at $34.2 million and $39.9 million, respectively in this example, won’t be as easy past 2019, when the cost of opening significant cap space will come at the expense of quality pieces and depth.

And that’s why this summer will be so important, because if the Sixers truly believe another established star is “required” to compete for a title, this may be their only chance to land one for the foreseeable future.

Let’s say the Sixers strike out this summer on the three megastars who project to be available. LeBron James and Paul George team up on the Lakers. Kawhi Leonard forces his way to a team he has serious interest re-signing with (similar to Kyrie Irving last summer) or he puts pen to paper on the $219 million super-max the Spurs can offer him. And to top it off, Thompson signs an extension with Golden State. 

All of the sudden, the only notable star projected to hit the open market in 2019 would be Jimmy Butler, who will be entering his age 30 season and isn’t as seamless a fit as Thompson, George, Leonard and James, whose supreme talent eases fit concerns.

Will disgruntled stars become available via trade past this summer, as Irving and George have? Probably. And who knows, maybe both Thompson and Leonard become free agents and the Sixers are serious players for both. 

But with dwindling high-value assets, trading for a star will become much tougher for the Sixers as time wears on. And banking on Leonard and/or Thompson becoming free agents in a year seems overly optimistic at this point.

Rather than waiting on stars to demand trades or hoping they test free agency, the Sixers have the ability to bring in James or George without surrendering any of their young core. Or if Leonard is actually on the block, the Sixers could acquire him and still have legit cap space to make up for the depth lost in a potential trade.

The Sixers could have three legitimate shots at landing a third star this summer, and if they feel they need another star to win a title, they better hope they land at least one.

Because this could be the closest they get for a while.

Should Ben Simmons shoot right-handed? He doesn't seem to think so

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Should Ben Simmons shoot right-handed? He doesn't seem to think so

For those sharing the conspiracy theory that Ben Simmons should be shooting with his right hand, prepare to be disappointed.

The Rookie of the Year appeared to shoot down the notion on Twitter, commenting on a story suggesting the Sixers’ point guard is shooting with the wrong hand.

This story stemmed from a piece by The New York Times basketball writer Marc Stein, but questions of the 22-year-old’s handedness were first posted by Kevin O’Connor — formerly of SB Nation, now with The Ringer. O’Connor has been charting Simmons’ shots since LSU. In a feature for SB Nation back in 2016, O’Connor noted that Simmons used his right hand on 81.5 percent of his shots. That’s pretty much reverse for any lefty currently in the NBA.

Since O’Connor first presented this theory, it’s picked up some steam.

Below is a video of Simmons taking free throws right-handed during warm-ups last season.

You have to admit, it looks pretty smooth. It’s a tough angle, but his elbow looks more tucked in than when he shoots with his left. His wrist action and follow through look smoother as well. 

Let’s also not forget when Simmons was given the chance to throw the first pitch at a Phillies game earlier this season.

That’s a pretty nice right-handed strike.

His free throw shooting was an issue last season. As dominant as Simmons was at times, he shot just 56 percent from the line. In a game against the Wizards on Nov. 11, the Sixers held a big lead. Sensing the game was slipping away, Washington head coach Scott Brooks went to the hack-a-Ben strategy. Simmons took 29 free throws, hitting just 15. It allowed the Wizards to make the game a little too close for comfort.

With all that said, there have been instances where Simmons has showed promise with his left-handed shot. In the playoffs, Simmons shot 70 percent from the line.

He’s also flashed the ability to shoot in practice …

… and in games …

Would Simmons be better if he shot with his right hand? If Simmons’ reaction to that notion is any indication, we may never know.

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Sixers remain quiet as contenders make their case for Eastern Conference supremacy

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Sixers remain quiet as contenders make their case for Eastern Conference supremacy

These are truly the dog days of summer when it comes to the NBA.

Players are likely either putting in work with daily workouts or enjoying some vacation time before things get cranked back up in the fall.

However, those aren’t the only activities that are presented with that extra free time. There is also more opportunity for guys to do some boasting about what is to come. After all, they’re probably feeling good about the progress made during the offseason and the recent 2018-19 schedule release has put a jolt in their system.

Unless you’re a Sixer. They’ve remained relatively silent as members of one team after another have stated their case for the Eastern Conference crown now that LeBron James took his talents to Hollywood.

Boston swingman Jaylen Brown openly laid claim to the East during an appearance last week on Portland guard C.J. McCollum’s Pull Up podcast.

“Oh, we're getting to the Finals. No question about it,” Brown said.

And Brown made it clear that he didn’t feel that way about his Celtics just because James signed with the Los Angeles Lakers. In fact, he said the C’s were going win next season regardless of whether James stayed in the Eastern Conference or not.

“I hate how everybody is like, ‘Oh, LeBron's gone in the East,’” Brown said. “I know he did have a strong hold on the East for the last seven years, but he barely got us out of there this year. And our mindset was like, ‘Man, he’s not beating us again.’”

That’s pretty bold, but the Celtics have a right to feel good about themselves. They were on the cusp of reaching the NBA Finals a year ago and are getting All-Star reinforcements back in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.

New Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez was a bit more diplomatic with his expectations for next season. Still, he presented the case for his squad to become the new big dogs in the East.

“We definitely think the East is wide open,” Lopez said to Hoopshype a week ago. “It’s going to be such a fun, exciting time in the East and it’s going to be super competitive. There are a lot of teams that can do [big] things, from Toronto to Boston to Philly — you just go down the list and it’s clear that the East is as exciting as it’s been in a long time. I think we’re very confident that we can, no question, win the East.”

Even Washington Wizards guard John Wall explained why his group could be the one to rise to the top of the conference.

“I feel like we’re all equal,” Wall told Yahoo! Sports. “None of them won a championship. This is no knock on no other team. Don’t get me wrong. Boston is a hell of a team. Philly has great young talent with those guys (Joel) Embiid, (Ben) Simmons. And Toronto, losing DeMar (DeRozan), they still get Kawhi (Leonard). Y’all might have been to the Eastern Conference finals, where we haven’t been to, but none of y’all were going to the Finals. It was one guy going to the Finals. Ain’t nobody separated from nothing. I know one guy that separated himself from the Eastern Conference every year and that was LeBron James and the Cavs. Other than that … if you lose in the second round or the conference finals, you still didn’t get to your ultimate goal.”

Throughout all of the chest-puffing discussions, the Sixers haven’t made a peep. Not even the 7-foot-2 All-Star known for trash-talking anyone in sight. Embiid barely gave a response to No. 1 overall pick DeAndre Ayton when the rookie recently decided to draw himself dunking on the Sixers’ center.

It’s a stark departure from Embiid’s normal back-and-forth nature, but it’s safe to assume that the big man and his team will wait until they step on the court to let their game do the talking.

With a healthy offseason under his belt for the first time as a professional, you can bet that Embiid — and in turn the Sixers — will have plenty to say at that time.

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