LeBron James carried his team to an upset sweep in the Eastern Conference semifinals this spring. The Philadelphia 76ers suffered an upset series loss in five games on the same stage. That’s left a superstar-shaped hole in the Sixers’ lineup — and the team’s co-managing partner, Josh Harris, knows exactly who he’d like to spend money on to fix it.
“I think the bar is very high for us in terms of who we are going to put on this team,” said Harris, the Sixers’ principal owner. “But on the other hand, for a certain small number of players, like we are going to go after them hard ... People have asked me about the luxury tax. I don’t have any problem spending for good players.”
Harris, who has control over the team’s finances, couldn’t mention James specifically thanks to the NBA’s tampering rules, but it was clear to whom he was referring. The four-time league MVP is coming off one of the best seasons of his career, and he’ll have the chance to opt-out of his contract with the Cavaliers this summer. That would make him the most sought after player on the free agent market — and a potentially perfect fit on the Philadelphia roster.
The Sixers may not have a better opportunity to add a superstar to their roster. Not only is the team one of the NBA’s fastest risers, but the rookie contracts of building blocks like Ben Simmons and Dario Saric has left the team with up to $30 in useable salary cap space this offseason, pending any future moves. That could easily be tweaked to accommodate the annual $35m bill that comes with signing a 33-year-old James:
Updated salary cap projections.— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) May 13, 2018
- Embiid doesn't get 1st team All-NBA or MVP
- Lakers pick slots in at 10th
- Stretch Jerryd Bayless
- Decline Holmes' option
Gives #sixers $32.5 million in space. Would be easy to get to $35.35m for 35% max. Can get 30% max from jump
That kind of window won’t last long, as Joel Embiid’s 2017 extension proved; the all-star center’s four-year, nearly $20 million rookie deal becomes a five-year, $146.5m max deal starting next season. Saric and Simmons will both be due substantial raises by 2020. Markelle Fultz, should he ever grow from pupae to butterfly, will be in the same boat the following season.
That leaves a limited amount of time for Philadelphia to lure a fortune-changing veteran to the roster. James will be the biggest name on the team’s wish list, but potentially not the only one. Spurs All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard may be on the trading block this summer after his relationship with San Antonio dissolved in 2017-18. Paul George may leave the Thunder after just one season in Oklahoma City and could be another target to add the extra thrust that pushes the club to the top of the Eastern Conference.
Harris isn’t the only member of the Sixers’ front office to think reinforcements are necessary
His statement fits in with head coach Brett Brown’s suggestion the 76ers aren’t yet a finished product.
“At some point, when the time is right, I think we need help to win a championship,” the coach told reporters after his season ended at the hands of the Boston Celtics. “If that’s the goal — and for me and us it is — then that’s the answer I give.
“For the first time since I’ve been here, there is tremendous clarity on what we have ... We don’t have to turn this into calculus — it’s quite clear [what type of player the club should pursue].”
Though Brown didn’t elaborate, it seems clear he’s talking about a premium veteran presence. Philadelphia gave important playoff minutes to J.J. Redick, Marco Belinelli, and Ersan Ilyasova, but three of the team’s four most-used players — Embiid, Simmons, and Saric — are 24 or younger. That inexperience shined through in late-game situations against Boston, where turnovers and sloppy play ultimately doomed the Sixers.
Getting a player who can take over in the final two minutes is of utmost importance in Philadelphia. Both the club’s owner and head coach know that. Fortunately for them, the player who took the reins and swept the top-seeded Raptors out of the playoffs is likely to be a free agent this summer. And the Sixers could have just enough cap space available to sign James — assuming he’s set on leaving Cleveland again.