2019 NBA free agency: Predictions for where Sixers' Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, JJ Redick will sign

2019 NBA free agency: Predictions for where Sixers' Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, JJ Redick will sign

The Sixers have a heap of unrestricted free agents, but there are a few names drawing the majority of the attention.

NBC Sports Philadelphia's Paul Hudrick and Noah Levick predict where Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and JJ Redick will land.

Jimmy Butler 

It’s hard to see Butler wanting to force the reported sign-and-trades to the Rockets or Heat. He forced his way out of Minnesota in part because the Timberwolves weren’t willing to give him a max deal. Would he now pass an opportunity to get the max with the Sixers, the team that got him out of Minnesota? Don’t underestimate the fact that Butler’s agent, Bernie Lee, was reportedly instrumental in getting Philly involved. He clearly saw a long-term fit with Butler and the Sixers.

Sure, Butler’s from Tomball, Texas, just outside of Houston, and there’s certainly an appeal to playing next to two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul, but is that enough for Butler to force the Sixers into a sign-and-trade? Plus, it’s hard for me to imagine Butler playing defense next to Harden. With Miami, their cap situation is a disaster. Butler would basically play his age-30 season knowing he has no chance at a title.

It’s also important to note that Butler has openly talked about wanting to retire at 35. The Sixers are the only team that can offer him a five-year deal, which would take him to his age-35 season. He signs the deal and continues to be a cult hero in Philadelphia. —Hudrick

There are parts of Jimmy Butler's personality that are easy to understand, like the dogged competitiveness, and his love of the big moment and minivans. Still, Butler is an enigmatic person. He’s a “free spirit,” according to Brett Brown, and that makes predicting his next move more difficult.

From an outside perspective, the Sixers seem to present the best situation for him. There’s the chance to be a leader to young stars in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, something Butler seemed to enjoy last season. There’s the responsibility of having the ball in his hands in the clutch. There’s the knowledge that he’d be on a team good enough to contend for a championship. And, of course, there’s also the extra year and extra $49 million the Sixers can offer him. Given the amount of reported interest around the league in Butler, the Sixers may very well have to offer the full max.

I expect them to do so, and for Butler to stay in Philadelphia. —Levick

Tobias Harris

Harris is the trickiest to predict. Like Butler, Harris can only sign a five-year deal with the Sixers. But unlike Butler, Harris is just 26 and will likely still have another big NBA payday coming down the road. All of this comes to down to what Harris truly wants and the demand.

If Harris wants the most money and the best chance to win, that’s in Philly. If he wants a bigger role, that might be elsewhere. The issue may be that there aren’t a ton of choices and he’ll likely have to wait to be a team’s consolation prize. Maybe Brooklyn is a fit, but the Nets are going to try to court Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. If just Irving signs, perhaps they could target Butler. Maybe Indiana is a fit if they choose not to re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic. 

The rumored interest the Sixers have in Al Horford could be related to Harris. Perhaps the team already knows that Harris is pursuing other options. Maybe the Horford rumors are a negotiating tactic to hurry Harris’ decision. It’s also possible that Horford is simply their Plan B if another team entices Harris.

Harris knows he still has years to pursue a championship. If he can find a team willing to pay him the max to be a bigger scoring option, he leaves. I’ll put it at 50-50 on his chances of returning. —Hudrick

Harris is the hardest to figure out of the Sixers’ free agents. My sense is he’s not someone who will sign shortly after free agency officially begins. The New York Daily News’ Stefan Bondy reports Harris will conduct meetings on the East Coast on Sunday, and on the West Coast on Monday.

You can understand if he takes his time to make an important decision, though the Sixers might not have the luxury to be patient. Plenty of non-star free agents’ next destination could be tied to where Harris ends up, and they’re not going to wait forever. The worry over free agents possibly discarding the Sixers as an option if there’s prolonged uncertainty over Harris could in turn lead to the Sixers having limited willingness to wait for his decision.

As far as Harris himself is concerned, he has a complicated choice. Like with Butler, there’s the additional year and additional money the Sixers can give him, as well as the opportunity to play on a highly competitive team. He’s said he’ll prioritize style of play and culture in free agency, both areas where the Sixers would seem to score well. Though Harris took a similar number of shots in Philadelphia as he did in Los Angeles (14.8 vs. 15.5 per game), the widespread perception seems to be that his role diminished, and that he wasn’t a “star.” That might be a factor, despite Harris being consistent in saying he values ball movement and doesn’t place a massive emphasis on personal production. 

The meetings with Harris are likely going to matter. It wouldn’t be a surprise by any means if Harris returns but, if I had to guess, I’d say he ends up going elsewhere — perhaps to the Pacers — and the Sixers turn to a Plan B, whether that’s Al Horford or a couple of solid role players. —Levick

JJ Redick 

It’s hard to imagine Redick not being back. He makes the Sixers’ best player better and has enjoyed two of the best seasons of his NBA career in Philadelphia. I thought he really bounced back this postseason after a tough playoff run in 2018.

Both sides will be motivated to make this work. Redick is back. —Hudrick

Redick said at his exit interview in May that he’d like to finish his career in Philadelphia, so there’s no question about his preferences. He laid out a clear set of items he’ll consider in free agency, including money, stability and “the opportunity to win,” which he said becomes more important to him each year. 

The Sixers value Redick’s outside shooting along with all the things he does that are hard to capture through stats, like constantly circling around screens, setting good ones himself and garnering respect and attention from opposing defenses. 

If the Sixers sign both Butler and Harris to max or near-max deals, they’ll have to be thrifty in how they fill out the remainder of the roster. Even in that scenario, though, it seems probable that Redick sticks around. —Levick

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2019 NBA free agency: Where our basketball analysts think the biggest free agents should go

2019 NBA free agency: Where our basketball analysts think the biggest free agents should go

NBA free agency is almost upon us. Our resident basketball analysts Paul Hudrick and Noah Levick give their opinion on which spot would be best for the league's biggest free agents.

Kawhi Leonard

If you’re the Sixers, you just want him to go out West. The Clippers would make a ton of sense. It moves him back to the West Coast without being in the limelight of being a Laker — though that’s certainly also a possibility. Toronto still seems like the right choice, though. He’d have the chance to run it back in the East. He is reportedly giving Toronto the last meeting. With Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka all on the last years of their deals, Leonard signing for a year with a player option for 2020-21 makes the most sense. But as we’ve all learned through the Raptors’ playoff run, Leonard is a different kind of dude. —Hudrick

Kevin Durant

Few know all the behind-the-scenes details of what led Durant to return from a calf strain in Game 5 of the Finals, when he ruptured his Achilles tendon in the second quarter. Regardless, you could understand if Durant has a sour final impression of his time with the Warriors and wants to move on, despite Golden State being able to offer him a year and $57 million more than any other team. Brooklyn would be a logical destination, provided he’s comfortable with the prospects of rehabbing with the Nets’ medical staff. There’s a good chance he’d be able to play with his good friend Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn. —Levick

Kyrie Irving

All signs point to Brooklyn. Irving signed with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation and will be the star with the Nets. Kind of like with Leonard, Irving won’t face nearly as much scrutiny in Brooklyn as he did in Boston or if he goes to the Knicks. Will Durant join him? That’s probably the biggest question remaining in free agency. It would be interesting for Irving to lead the way with the Nets this year and then have to defer to one of the best offensive basketball players of all time the following season. One thing is for sure: anywhere Irving goes will be a better fit for him than the Celtics. —Hudrick

Kemba Walker

There’s been too much smoke connecting Walker to the Celtics for a reasonable person not to think there’s a fire, with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski calling Boston the “strong frontrunners."

Wojnarowski reports Hornets owner Michael Jordan is “no longer determined to extend far enough financially to re-sign his franchise player,” which eliminates Charlotte as a possibility. As an outside team, the Celtics are a sensible choice. Walker would be the star attraction in Boston with Irving poised to depart, and he wouldn't be stuck in mediocrity. —Levick

Klay Thompson

This would’ve have been a lot more interesting had Thompson not torn his ACL in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. As it stands, Thompson is still one of the more underrated players in the league as a dead-eye shooter and an excellent defender. Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris got into the fold, but man, Thompson would’ve been such a tremendous fit for the Sixers. Given the knee and what he’s established with the Warriors, it would make the most sense for him to stay with Golden State and continue to build his legacy with Stephen Curry. Both L.A. teams are certainly still in play. Thompson’s recovery is likely 10 months or so, so there is a chance he could help his new team for the stretch run. —Hudrick

Al Horford

Horford has been linked with a number of teams after declining his $30.1 million contract with the Celtics. ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and Brian Windhorst name the Mavs, Pelicans, Kings and Sixers as among those interested. You’d figure the Mavs might have the strongest case, with Horford seeming to fit perfectly next to Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. The Sixers might be the best team interested in Horford’s services. which could sway the 33-year-old as he seeks his first NBA title. However, Horford might not love the idea of waiting to see what the Sixers do with Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris and having other potential offers disappear as a result. —Levick

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6 takeaways from Sixers GM Elton Brand ahead of the 2019 NBA draft

6 takeaways from Sixers GM Elton Brand ahead of the 2019 NBA draft

Sixers GM Elton Brand spoke to reporters Tuesday ahead of the NBA draft Thursday night. Here are six takeaways including how close Brand thinks they are, "optionality" with five picks and more.

The agony of defeat

Any time you're not the last team standing at the end of the NBA season, it's not going to sit well. For Brand and the Sixers, watching the Toronto Raptors hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy stings a little more after taking them to seven games.

But Brand is looking ahead, and giving the reigning NBA champions their stiffest fight is only fueling him to make his team better.

"Hats off to the champs, but it just shows me that we were close," Brand said. "We are so close. So my goal this summer is to get better through the draft, through free agency, whatever we have to do and be able to compete again at that level. It definitely hurts. From the players to the coaches to my staff – we want to grow and we want to get better."

Embiid and Ben Simmons didn't take the loss well. Especially Embiid, who appeared to take all of the questions about his health and ability to play against Marc Gasol to heart.

Brand is confident his young All-Stars are prepared to use it all as motivation.

"A lot of promises, vows – it's raw. It hurts," Brand said. "You're passionate. 'I can't believe we lost like that.' They've been in the gym, they've been rehabbing, they've been working hard, so the goal is to just keep the momentum. How do we take that into the summer? But they've been executing their plans. They're still hungry. They still feel that pain to lose how they lost. As tough as it was losing like that, we're going to get better from it."

Character evaluations

Pre-draft workouts are a good opportunity for Brand and his staff to learn a little more about prospects. It gives them a chance to talk to the player 1-on-1 and see what they're all about. But it doesn't end there.

I don't want to give too much intel, but we talked to people that pick up their laundry," Brand said. "It's a whole range of people. From their coaches, their mom, their family, but we get specific intel, then we meet with them. It's different. It's like an interview. You're on your best behavior. So we try to just get to know them the best we can, know their personalities, talk to middle school coaches, high school coaches, just to be clear on what kind of person they are.

What kind of character are the Sixers are looking for?

"Tough, hard-nosed, respectful, wants to get better. Treat your teammates with respect. Younger players, we like a high IQ. A guy that knows how to play defense, make the right pass, take the shot when warranted and competitive. We want tough competitors that can think the game."

Feels like the first time

It's easy to forget that Brand wasn't named GM until after the draft last season. While he was part of the process, Brett Brown held the interim general manager title.

This year, Brand is running the show and will have final say.

"The first thing I learned is making a recommendation vs. making a call, there's a big difference," Brand said. "Under Bryan [Colangelo], it was, 'Oh yeah, that sounds good.' But now I'm making the call – that's a big difference. A lot of posturing going on. You talk to a team about future picks and it's like, 'Oh no, we don't want to give up futures.' But now as the draft comes along, getting calls like, 'Hey, would you consider it?' Similar to the trade deadline. Very similar to the trade deadline with everyone trying to get an angle and trying to get an advantage for their organization and their team."

With the team being so close and looking for guys that can contribute right away, Brand definitely understands the responsibility of being the one that pulls the trigger.

"It's definitely much more pressure than making a recommendation. Last year, I was just like, 'Yeah, this guy can shoot, I saw him in L.A. His change of motion, he can get to the rim. He has a short neck like me, but he's really taller.' Just whatever it is. But now I'm making that call, so there's more pressure to get it right, especially for the trajectory of our team, because we need young talent. Even if we do get to the championship level we aspire to, I don't want to fall off a cliff either. I want to have talent in the kiddies so they can grow and get better."

Optionality 

"Optionality" was a word former general manager Sam Hinkie used often and fondly during the days of "The Process," and it's one Brand returned to several times Tuesday when describing the Sixers' outlook heading into the draft. With five picks, it sounds like just about everything is a possibility.

Having the five picks, that gives us that optionality. If there's a player that we're targeting that looks like they could be available, we could move up. We could move back. We could move out. We could sell a pick. That's what's great about having those options. Regarding selling the picks, [it's a] possibility. There's some later picks that teams would pay for, and if we don't have anybody on our draft board that we want to grow with the Blue Coats or come to the G League, that's a possibility.

Because the Sixers have only four players guaranteed to be under contract next season and will need to commit a substantial amount of money should they wish to sign free agents Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, using four or even all five of the selections the team currently holds could be an appealing idea. That said, it's just one of many options on the table for what promises to be an eventful Thursday evening.

Looking for immediate contributors 

Unlike in previous years, when the Sixers were building for the future and willing to select developmental players, this draft is about snagging players who can help as rookies.

"We definitely are looking for players that can compete for a spot to be in our top-eight right now," Brand said.

That mindset has been reflected in the players the Sixers have brought in for pre-draft workouts – plenty of prospects in the 21 to 23-year-old range, with seasoned games and little projection required about their ability to play in the NBA. 

Senior director of scouting Vince Rozman has said the team is targeting "mature" players, which doesn't necessarily exclude one-and-done prospects. But, if there was any doubt, Brand made it clear Tuesday the Sixers are not going to place a high value on players with potential who lack an NBA-ready skill. 

"You're looking for a guy that can contribute right now," Brand said, "which starts with a specific skill where Brett [Brown] can look down that bench and say, 'All right, I need defense. … Oh, I need some shotmaking. The defense might not be there or something else might not be there, but I know I can get this from this rookie.' Just something that they can contribute right away and they might not be elite at it, but they'll be good at it."

Willing to wait

Brand and the Sixers have been consistent over the last five weeks in describing the type of players they'll be targeting in the draft.

However, Brand clarified Tuesday that the team won't automatically eliminate players who can't contribute immediately, whether that's because they need more time to develop overseas or because they're currently injured. 

"With the five picks, it depends on where – later in the second round, one of those picks, if the value proposition is there and you're like, 'OK, he has to rehab and get better,' you think of that because in two years, we're going to need talent. But the appetite to wait, it's all going to be determined on the clock and who the player is."

Nineteen-year-old Croatian forward Luka Samanic is one player who the Sixers might consider worth the wait if he's available late in the second round, though Samanic said at his pre-draft workout with the Sixers that he believes he's capable of playing in the NBA next season.

Auburn's Chuma Okeke, who tore his ACL during the NCAA Tournament, is one player who could slip in the draft because of his injury. His "3 and D" skills would seem to fit well on the Sixers. 

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