“I think a high-level free agent is required. I feel like we have the ability to attract one.”
The Philadelphia 76ers entered the 2018 offseason with a boatload of cap space and assets in hopes of landing a star. We've heard the term star-hunting time and time again ever since Brett Brown uttered the words during his exit interview. He claimed the Sixers needed another star to compete for a title and didn't shy away from that one bit.
"The whole notion of star hunting, star chasing, star development is at the forefront of everything we do," Brown told Tom Moore of the Bucks County Courier Times. "I would just like to go there to admit it to all of us. The timeline is now."
After only a few days into free agency though, the stars began to disappear. The Sixers saw Paul George decide to stay in Oklahoma City and LeBron James sign a four-year deal with the Lakers. In the past week, Kawhi Leonard was traded to Toronto. While it is disappointing to see the Sixers technically go 0-for-3 on stars this offseason, let's not forget that Brown also said this wouldn't be easy.
“I think it’s going to be difficult (to land an elite free agent),” Brown said. “I think it’s going to be a challenge. A tiny number of players (are stars).”
He's right. Only a tiny number of players are stars. At midnight on July 1, Paul George made his decision and while LeBron gave the Sixers a meeting, he seemed bound for L.A. or a stay in Cleveland. As for Kawhi, well...the Spurs reportedly wanted either Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid in return, which isn't a thing that was going to happen. Ultimately, it is up to the players being pursued to decide where they end up, but the only guy they seemed to have a stab at was LeBron and that was never a sure thing even after their meeting with his representatives.
Do the Sixers need a GM? Yes. Is it fair to blame Brett Brown for their failure to recruit a star this offseason? No.
By definition, hunting means to search determinedly for someone or something. Hunting, chasing, whatever you want to call it...that is what the Sixers planned to do and it is what they did. There was never a guarantee it was going to happen, and as disappointing as it may be that it didn't, the fact of the matter is that their core remains intact.
Ben Simmons is 22 and won Rookie of the Year. Joel Embiid is in the midst of his first fully-healthy offseason. Markelle Fultz is working out three times a day with Drew Hanlen. The organization added an athletic 19-year-old in Zhaire Smith on draft night that has an extremely high ceiling, especially on defense to start his career. Dario Saric is still in the mix.
There are a few things to keep in mind when judging the Sixers offseason to this point. It's okay to be disappointed, but it's equally important to remain realistic and remember that the organization has a handful of young talent coming off of their first playoff experience in their careers. They will improve. There's no reason to believe that they will not.
Since star-hunting didn't happen this offseason, the Sixers will reload their cap for 2019 and give it another go. They're projected to have between $35-$42 million, which should be enough to offer a max deal to a free agent and they also have Miami's unprotected 2021 first-rounder which could be the sweetener in a trade. The pressure was on this offseason and the Sixers didn't come through, making 2019 a make-or-break year of sorts in free agency since extension time is coming up for guys like Dario Saric and Ben Simmons.
As a response to not landing a star, the Sixers intelligently began to fill-out their roster and sign important role players that played a part in their success last season. Bringing back JJ Redick means that one of the NBA's most efficient starting lineups will return with another year under their belts. Amir Johnson, not a fan favorite to all, provided defensive stability behind Joel Embiid and his veteran leadership was key in a locker room full of youngsters. The Sixers also added wing depth with Wilson Chandler and acquired Mike Muscala recently, who is a big man that can stretch the floor at both the forward and center positions.
Depth-wise, the team is better off than last year to start already. Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala are solid replacements for Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli. Defensively, the Sixers' second-unit should be very good with Zhaire Smith, Wilson Chandler and Markelle Fultz.
Be disappointed, feel underwhelmed, but make sure to take some perspective, take a deep breath in and a deep breath out.
The Sixers, coming of a 52-win season, have a young group of players that are thirsty to fight their way up the Eastern Conference and prove that even without a star, they can make the city of Philadelphia proud.