Philadelphia 76ers

Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: Richaun Holmes

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Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: Richaun Holmes

Richaun Holmes

Position: Forward/center

Status for 2018-19: Club option that must be exercised by June 29 at $1,600,520

Holmes in 2017-18
The Sixers made it quite clear from the beginning of the season that they were going to opt for substance over flash at the backup center position. That meant Amir Johnson would receive the bulk of the playing time behind Joel Embiid instead of Holmes.

Sure, Holmes can be the prototypical spark off the bench that comes in throwing down monster dunks, grabbing boards and blocking shots. The 24-year-old can also miss reads on offense and lose his man for easy baskets on the defensive end.

Johnson is nowhere near the level of athlete as Holmes, but the veteran provided a steady approach to the game that Brett Brown favored for the Sixers.

So Holmes, who missed the first eight games of the season with a broken bone in his left wrist, was limited to a career-low 48 contests and saw his minutes dip from 20.9 a night one season ago to 15.5.

Not an ideal situation for a player with a club option on his contract for next season.

Signature game
Holmes had a string of games in mid-December when he put up big numbers, scoring in double figures six times in an eight-game stretch. However, those numbers proved pretty hollow as seven of those eight games resulted in losses.

Let’s go with Dec. 30 instead, a 107-102 road comeback over the Denver Nuggets. With Embiid sidelined, Holmes came off the bench to record 14 points, three rebounds, three assists and a block in 19 minutes before fouling out.

Looking ahead to 2018-19
Unlike T.J. McConnell, Holmes didn’t get verbal confirmation that his option would be picked up from team president Bryan Colangelo at end-of-season press conferences.

While it seems unlikely the Sixers will bring back Johnson at a similar salary to what he made last season, the organization will likely see what else is available on the backup big man market.

Still, at 24 years old and with an extremely manageable salary of $1.6 million, Holmes should expect to be back with the Sixers next season. Anything after that will hinge on the amount of growth he shows in what could be his last chance with the team.

On Holmes
“It’s always a competition. Coach always lets it be known that we’re going to compete for spots, going to compete for playing time. Just have to come in next year ready to compete and ready to compete harder.”

- Holmes on whether he expects to be the backup center next season

Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: Markelle Fultz

Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: Markelle Fultz

Markelle Fultz

Position: Guard

Status for 2018-19: Second year of rookie contract for $8,339,880

Fultz in 2017-18
It’s not hyperbole to say Fultz had one of the most bizarre rookie seasons in NBA history. Let’s quickly run through the entire saga.

First, there was the mysteriously broken shot, the scapular imbalance in his right shoulder, the speculation about whether the injury led to the new shooting form or vice versa, and of course all the eyes on the brief videos of Fultz at practice, meticulously analyzing his jumper.

Then there was the surprise return on Mar. 26 against the Nuggets after missing the past 68 games, flashes of the handles and athleticism during the final 10 games of the regular season that compelled the Sixers to pick him No. 1, a chance to be part of the playoff rotation, and finally a return to the bench after three playoff games.

Got all that?

By the way, Fultz averaged 7.1 points, 3.8 assists and 3.1 rebounds in 14 regular-season games and posted 1.7 points, 1.7 assists and 1.0 rebound per game in his three postseason contests. Those stats obviously don’t tell his story.

Plenty of NBA players have had their rookie seasons derailed by injury, demonstrated flawed shooting mechanics, faced constant scrutiny from fans and media, and given glimpses of their potential. Until Fultz, nobody had combined all those ingredients into a single, surreal season.

Signature game
Fultz made history in the season finale on Apr. 12, a 130-95 win over the Bucks. With 13 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, he became, at 19 years and 317 days old, the youngest player in the NBA to ever record a triple-double.

After securing the accomplishment late with his 10th rebound, Fultz was immediately mobbed by his teammates and then doused with a unique cocktail of strawberry milk, chocolate milk and water afterwards in the locker room celebration.

That night, you saw Fultz’s immense potential. You also felt the human side of his odyssey and saw how much joy his teammates took from his achievement.

Looking ahead to 2018-19
Until Fultz looks comfortable with his jumper, there’s going to be plenty of scrutiny on his shot. He shot 19 for 75 (25.3 percent) from three feet and out and made only 2 of 8 attempts from further than 15 feet.

Fultz and the team haven’t decided yet whether he’ll play in summer league, but that’s a possibility. It could be a good chance for Fultz to get some more time on the court and continue regaining his confidence, and his jumper as well.

While Fultz’s name will probably be tossed around by outsiders as a possible trade piece, it doesn’t seem like potential trade partners would place a very high value on a player with 14 games of NBA experience and a suspect shot. It also would be a huge surprise to see the Sixers give up on their No. 1 pick and a player with Fultz's natural ability after one season. They'll almost certainly give him ample opportunity to show why they took him No. 1. 

On Fultz
“I’ve been going through stuff like this my whole life really, going against the odds and a whole bunch of outside noise. I don’t really look to it. I’m with my team, I’m with family, and that’s all I really care about. All the other stuff doesn’t really matter to me on what other people think or what other people have to say. I’m just worried about how my team’s doing, how my coaches and teammates look at me, and how I look at myself.”

- Fultz on dealing with outside noise at his end-of-season press conference on May 10 

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.