Ersan Ilyasova sounds like a guy who wants to stay in Philly.

A free-agent at season's end, Ilyasova landed in the perfect spot to showcase what he can do in extended minutes. 

With the Sixers, he's playing a career-high 27.8 minutes a night and scoring a career-high 15.3 points. His 12.4 field goal attempts and 5.7 threes attempted per game are also, by far, career highs. 

He's been a useful stretch-four for the Sixers, making multiple threes per game, pleasantly surprising on the fastbreak and in traffic, and taking charges on the defensive end. 

He's had 12 games with 20-plus points and just five in single-digits. He's shown that at the very least, he can give you solid minutes most nights as a third forward. And at the most on occasional nights, he can be a difference-making scorer. 

Is free agency on his mind?
"Of course," he told CSN Philly Wednesday. "To be traded, it sucks. Middle of the season, you have to kinda readjust your whole game. But I'm really looking forward kinda to just being in one place, maybe a while. Obviously, I was with Milwaukee for eight years, but the last year and a half, I changed [teams four times]. So obviously just one place for me and my family, not having to move from one place to another.

"I think this opportunity is really great for me, as far as being in a consistent role in what I'm doing here, and hopefully you know, we'll see what it's going to be for next year."

 

Ilyasova's not perfect. He's taken a lot of contested jumpers this season, which of course could also be a result of his playing a lot of minutes for a team without a No. 1 option when Joel Embiid is off the floor. 

He has a high release on his jumper, which gives him the confidence to take (and sometimes) make a three over someone's outstretched hand. We've seen a lot of those this season from Ilyasova and Robert Covington — the no-no-no, yes-yes-yes shots.

"Each team has a scouting report before the games and it's not like a team's going to leave me alone and let me shoot wide-open shots," Ilyasova said. "Sometimes it happens, sometimes not, but I have to, for my part, have much better judgment as far as just being able if I'm open or not. The thing is, it happens so quick, split-second decision as far as just make a decision. 

"Sometimes you shoot over people and you make or don't. You have to be always aggressive."

Still, the good of Ilyasova has mostly outweighed the bad this season, at least within the context of this particular Sixers team.

He feels like he fits here, so it's a matter of whether the Sixers are willing to be the team that pays him.

Contract outlook
Ilyasova makes $8.4 million this season, his last before unrestricted free agency. For a player who's been traded four times in the last two years, free agency in this particular offseason is quite an opportunity. 

The NBA salary cap exploded this past offseason, rising to a little over $94 million. It will increase again next offseason with the projection at $103 million.

Last summer, we saw many mid-tier free agents get paid handsomely. When looking at the three perhaps most similar to Ilyasova in terms of age, position and skill set, a safe estimate is that he'll find a deal in the $15 million per year range.

Hornets forward Marvin Williams signed a four-year, $55 million contract last summer. Ryan Anderson signed for $80 million over four years with the Rockets. The Lakers (probably overpaid and) got Luol Deng for four years, $72 million.

The average of those three deals is $68 million, or $17 mil per year. May sound high for Ilyasova, but there will be teams interested in his services as a stretch-four with the NBA continuing to shift toward the more wiry power forward who can drill threes.

"I remember my first, second year, it was always being about big guys, heavy post-up players," Ilyasova said Wednesday.

"But the way basketball is going now, it's all about stretching the floor, playing small and underweight and outside the three-point line. Obviously, that's a big credit to Golden State, you think about it, the way they won the championship ... this is the new NBA, I'd say. It's all about movement and stretching the floor, being able to shoot those threes."

 

Ilyasova might even be a top-five free agent at his position. He's clearly behind impending free agents Blake Griffin, Paul Millsap and Serge Ibaka, but the next tier would include Ilyasova, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic. (The expectation is Griffin will re-sign with the Clippers, but who knows with the other five.)

Next year's rotation
It's been made pretty clear this season that the ideal complement to Embiid is a four with Ilyasova's skill set. That doesn't necessarily mean the Sixers must or even should keep Ilyasova, but through him, the team has identified the type of player that makes the most sense in a lineup with Embiid.

When projecting the Sixers' starting lineup next season, obviously include Ben Simmons and Embiid, then probably Robert Covington for his defensive presence and long-range shooting. (Covington has made himself a solid pro.) 

General manager Bryan Colangelo has said often that he no longer prioritizes building a team with the traditional five positions, but rather with guards, wings and bigs. 

Thus, you'll likely see some Sixers lineups next year that include Simmons as the point guard with a shooter at the other guard spot, but you could also see some lineups with two guards and Simmons serving as a wing.

The draft this summer is guard-heavy, and with the Sixers holding potentially two top-five picks, they'll be able to fill their need for a more dynamic player at the two. But if they don't bring back Ilyasova, they'd have a bit of a hole at the four. Is Dario Saric ready to step into that starting role? Even if he does, the Sixers would need a capable backup, especially against bigger teams. 

Obviously, a lot of this will be determined by how Simmons fits in both offensively and defensively. That's why there's importance to his playing after the All-Star break if he's healthy enough, even though resting him a full season after the Jones fracture might be the safest long-term decision. The Sixers will want to see how they need to build a team around these two young stars and you can only get a somewhat complete picture of that if you see them play together in meaningful NBA games.

To pay or not to pay
The Sixers have oodles of salary cap space, but that's not necessarily an argument to give Ilyasova that $15 million-plus per year.

They could certainly afford him, but that also means they could afford someone better, via free agency or trade. If the Sixers were to bring back both Ilyasova and Nerlens Noel, they'd be keeping a core intact but also hampering their ability to splurge on another piece down the road.

How Ilyasova finishes this season will determine things. Hopefully, we get at least a glimpse in the second half of a Sixers lineup of say, Simmons, Gerald Henderson, Covington, Ilyasova and Embiid.