Here is an imaginary conversation that relates to the situation the Philadelphia Colangelos find themselves in.
“Son, I’m going to be traveling on business this summer, spending a ton of time all over the country, and then almost a month in Brazil. So I need you to take care of the house. Please clean out all that junk in the garage. There is a ton of it.”
“And I’m going to leave you the keys to the Ferrari. I think you’ve shown that you can handle it. But please be careful.”
“Wow. Thanks, Dad.”
“Also, here’s some money. Pick out some new furniture for the living room, a new master bedroom set, have the roof replaced, get a new air conditioning and heating system installed, and take care of the groceries and all the other stuff. Don’t spend foolishly.”
“Man, this is a lot of money, Dad. Are you sure?”
“Yes, kiddo. Call me if you need any guidance, but you’ll be able to handle it. I’ve spent my whole life preparing you for this, and you have shown yourself to be more than capable. So go make us all proud.”
Yes, Jerry Colangelo will be away this summer, traveling stateside with Team USA before flying down to Rio for the 2016 Summer Olympics. And he is leaving his son, Bryan, in charge of the Philadelphia 76ers.
The “process” is over for the 76ers now that general manager and mad scientist Sam Hinkie has stepped down. His scorched earth policy produced a handful of negative records, including the worst three-year stretch by any team in NBA history. It also generated a collection of assets that, if used properly, could spruce things up very quickly in the City of Brotherly Love.
So when the offseason arrives next Thursday for the 76ers, the younger Colangelo will be not unlike a teenager given the run of his home while his parents are away. It is a position that is envied only by every person who has ever been or aspired to be a general manager.
Some believe Bryan Colangelo will be able to get Philadelphia’s house in order. He is a two-time NBA Executive of the Year, winning the award with both the Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors. He was the primary architect of gathering the proper components for the “Seven Seconds or Less” offense in Phoenix, where some of his gets included Shawn Marion, Amar’e Stoudemire, Steve Nash and coach Mike D’Antoni. His moves in Toronto were more subtle but nevertheless produced the franchise’s first division title in 2007.
But while in Phoenix, Colangelo also traded Jason Kidd for Stephon Marbury. In Toronto, he drafted Andrea Bargnani with the top overall pick, traded for Rasho Nesterovic and appeared to be hoarding international players such as Hedo Turkoglu, Anthony Parker, Jorge Garbajosa and Carlos Delfino in the belief that foreigners would be more welcoming to the prospect of playing in Canada than Americans. He also allowed Chris Bosh to get away in free agency.
Colangelo is certain to seek out the advice of his father in running the 76ers, not unlike Michael Corleone seeking the advice of his father Vito at the tail end of “The Godfather.” Whoever comes to you with this blockbuster trade, he’s a traitor. Don’t forget that.
Hinkie didn’t exactly leave the cupboard bare. The younger Colangelo has a lot of maneuverability, with a handful of young, desirable players, multiple roster spots, as many as four first-round picks this June and as much as $60 million in cap room. And that’s just in this offseason.
With the salary cap projected to climb to at least $107 million in 2017, Colangelo will be able to sign more free agents. He also may have an extra first-round pick in 2017 and 2018 and possesses eight – count ’em, eight – extra second-round picks between now and 2021, not counting possible swaps.
Here are the problems facing Colangelo: He has a glut of young big men, one of whom has yet to play in two years, in a league that gets smaller every season; he has no starting quality wings or point guards; he will likely be unable to convince top-tier free agents to spend their primes helping him drive the tank out of the sinkhole Hinkie drove it into; and he may have to overpay second-tier free agents for the same reason.
So what does he do? Here’s one plan, courtesy of this particular lifelong Sixers fan.
Centers Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor, forwards Nerlens Noel, Carl Landry and Richaun Holmes and shooting guard Nik Stauskas are under contract for next season. It will be hard to get a team to take Embiid and his injury history in a trade, but no one else should be considered untouchable. In fact, at least one of Embiid, Okafor or Noel should be traded.
Forward Jerami Grant ($980,000) and wing Robert Covington ($1.02 million) have team options that should be picked up. The Sixers have invested development in both, and they’ve shown they can be rotation players, although probably not starters. Colangelo should decline the team options on point guards Kendall Marshall ($2.05 million) and T.J. McConnell ($870,000), who are not viable long-term NBA players.
If those eight players are retained and 2014 first-round pick Dario Saric arrives as planned, the Sixers have six spots to fill without making any trades.
The Sixers could have four first-round picks: their own, which could be as high as first; the Lakers’, which could be as high as fourth; Miami’s, which could be as high as 20th; and Oklahoma City’s, which likely will be 27th.
If the Sixers somehow get the Lakers’ pick this year, they should draft Ben Simmons and Kris Dunn, immediately filling needs at the wing and the point. They should also trade the two late first-round picks to a team in need of picks for a player and a future first-round pick, or put both late first-rounders in a multi-player deal. (More on that later.)
However, it is unlikely that the Sixers will receive the top-three protected pick of the Lakers this year.
It has top-three protection in 2016 and 2017 and no protection in 2018, making it a strong asset going forward. While it is hard to imagine the Lakers being this bad again, it is also hard imagining them climbing out of the lottery a year from now.
In that scenario, the Sixers should draft Simmons (or Brandon Ingram) and keep their options open. Point guard Tyler Ulis could be available in the 20-22 range, and shooting guard Malik Beasley could be there at 27. Or they could trade out of the low first round and into the high second round, collecting a future pick and nabbing combo guard Malik Newman. Or they could take a Eurostash player.
When you lose 70-plus games, no one is untouchable. Noel is eligible for a contract extension and Okafor was on the block at the deadline, with Boston among the teams interested. So anyone is fair game to be moved. But for what? Keep in mind that the Sixers have loads of cap room and can take back much more salary than they send out. Here’s a few possibilities:
1. Okafor to the Boston Celtics for Avery Bradley and Brooklyn’s 2016 first-round pick. If Celtics GM Danny Ainge really wants Okafor, then he has to pony up. Ainge still has Dallas’ first-round pick this year plus his own pick, the right to swap with Brooklyn in 2017 and Brooklyn’s pick in 2018. He can spare the 2016 Nets pick. The Sixers should then draft Simmons and Dunn and plug in one of the NBA’s best perimeter defenders at shooting guard. This deal adds $3.5 million to Philadelphia’s cap.
2. Noel, Stauskas and Sacramento’s 2018 first-round pick to the Phoenix Suns for Devin Booker and Tyson Chandler. The Suns get a jumping jack defender to put alongside Alex Len, a shooting guard still on his rookie deal and a possible lottery pick. Yes, they give up Booker. But they also get out from under Chandler’s remaining $39 million. This deal adds $7 million-plus to Philadelphia’s cap.
3. Noel and the right to swap first-round picks with Sacramento in 2017 to the Suns for Eric Bledsoe. The Suns get a big man still on his rookie deal and a chance to move up in the 2017 draft while moving Bledsoe’s remaining three years and $43 million and clearing the backcourt for Booker and Brandon Knight. Colangelo should not want Knight. But he should want Bledsoe, a top-flight scoring point guard who is still just 26 and whose trade value is diminished by a meniscus tear. If the Suns want more, change the first-round pick to 2018 as in the previous deal. This deal adds nearly $10 million to Philadelphia’s cap.
4. Okafor, Landry, Sacramento’s 2018 first-round pick, Sacramento’s 2019 second-round pick and a future second-round pick to the Kings for DeMarcus Cousins. This deal can’t happen if the Kings fire coach George Karl, because that will mean that Cousins has won another feud with a coach in management’s eyes. But if Karl stays put, he will want Cousins out – and let’s face it, the guy needs a change of scenery. The Kings get a highly skilled, younger big man in return, plus a familar face on an expiring deal, plus most of their missing draft picks. If you’re wondering about their logjam at center with Okafor, Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos, they can find a taker for Koufos in about 10 minutes. The Sixers get a top-10 talent who has a relationship with Jerry Colangelo from Team USA and send out draft picks they didn’t even have a year ago. This deal adds $5 million-plus to Philadelphia’s cap. And here’s the scary part: By showing a little flexibility with the draft picks, the Sixers can do the Bledsoe deal and the Cousins deal.
5. Okafor to the Milwaukee Bucks for Khris Middleton. The Bucks are moving forward with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker as their cornerstones. But those guys will have to be maxed out, and Milwaukee needs a scoring big man, especially with Greg Monroe able to opt out in 2017. The Sixers immediately slot Middleton at shooting guard, with some minutes at small forward. This deal adds $10 million-plus to Philadelphia’s cap.
Colangelo should definitely place a call to Roc Nation and ask about Kevin Durant. He will almost certainly hear “No thanks.” But it doesn’t cost anything to ask, and Colangelo should be aggressive in this regard. Mike Conley? DeMar DeRozan? Nic Batum? Joakim Noah? Hey, call ’em all.
Realistically, however, most players who have had a taste of winning or starting their third contracts are not going to be interested in being the site manager for a massive renovation. So the primary targets should be young players who may not have reached their ceilings.
In house, the only free agent the Sixers have who is worth retaining is point guard Ish Smith at a backup salary. Smith was a nice in-season acquisition but his long-term ceiling is as a Nate Robinson type who can come off the bench and change tempo. If after playing for nine teams in six seasons he turns down $15 million over three years, let him walk.
Much of what Colangelo does in free agency will be determined by what he does in the draft. But if he cannot swing a deal for a veteran, his glaring needs are at the wing and point guard. The good news is that with nearly $60 million in cap room, he can present a max offer sheet to a restricted free agent and not be hamstrung by the three-day waiting period. The bad news is that he will have to overpay.
If he goes in that direction, Colangelo should make a max offer to shooting guard Bradley Beal and force the Wizards to match. Plan B should be a max offer to Warriors forward Harrison Barnes. Plan C should be Magic shooting guard Evan Fournier, who might cost between $50 million and $60 million for four years. Plan D should be Hawks wing Kent Bazemore, who might cost between $40 million and $48 million for four years.
A high-risk, high-reward pursuit may be Lance Stephenson, a shooting guard will ballhandling skills who needs a fresh start and could come relatively cheaply. Other veteran bargains include Gerald Henderson, Courtney Lee and Jared Dudley.
At point guard, Conley seems unlikely, Rajon Rondo would just add to the spacing problems the poor-shooting Sixers already have and $12 million annually seems a bit much for Jordan Clarkson, who looks like he is at his ceiling. This is why we suggested the deal for Bledsoe. Colangelo also could find a way to get Jeff Teague.
Depth up front could come from restricted free agents Meyers Leonard, Terrence Jones or Donatas Motiejunas, all of whom do something Philadelphia’s big men currently do not – make 3-pointers.
If some of these salaries seem obscene, keep in mind that with a salary cap of $90 million, the salary floor is $81 million. So Colangelo is going to overpay somebody, and maybe two somebodies.
Free agency will probably be an exercise in futility for the Sixers, although you cannot underestimate the influence the elder Colangelo has with some of the league’s biggest stars from having spent quality time with them on Team USA.
Bryan Colangelo’s best course of action is trades. He cannot be shy about moving Okafor or Noel or both if he feels it will make the Sixers better. He can use his extra cap room to facilitate trades and get back back more than the bag of hammers Hinkie usually landed.
And he has plenty of draft picks that can be turned into immediate help in the form of veterans.
There are 13 teams he can deal with starting Thursday. He will be working the phones, and Kings GM Vlade Divac and Suns GM Ryan McDonough should be his first two calls.
Chris Bernucca is the managing editor of SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter.