It’s always been two summers. Philadelphia had a chance to add a max guy this year, but failed to sign LeBron James, or trade for Kawhi Leonard. Next summer will be Philadelphia’s last opportunity to sign or trade for a marquee player with cap space. Ben Simmons and Dario Saric will have to be paid. The cap space will be gone, as Philadelphia knows it. It’s certainly disappointing to strike out this off-season, especially after Brett Brown talked about being in the business of star hunting after the NBA draft, especially after winning 52 games, finishing third in the East. Brown, however, mentioned star developing, too, and that’s exactly what will happen with Markelle Fultz.
The takes across the NBA landscape have been grueling the past few weeks. Ben Golliver ripped Fultz for not playing in summer league during an Open Floor Podcast, like playing in that setting would mean anything. Bill Simmons made it seem like Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli were the reasons why the 76ers advanced to the second round of the postseason. It’s just a bunch of nonsense. Philadelphia isn’t at the level of Boston, and most likely Toronto, but there’s no question the 76ers are the third best team in the Eastern Conference, and they have a nucleus capable of winning a championship as presently constructed with a little growth from star players.
The chatter around Fultz remains just that. Nobody will believe Fultz can shoot effectively until there’s video proof. But it’s encouraging to hear whispers from the most essential people surrounding Fultz. He’s ready to breakout, and it’s his skillset that Philadelphia so desperately needed months ago as Boston sagged off Simmons for five consecutive games. It’s the reason why Philadelphia made the trade in the first place. Fultz is the ultimate compliment to Ben Simmons.
It’s been a relatively strange off-season for the 76ers, beginning with the Bryan Colangelo Twitter fiasco. The GM hasn’t been addressed yet, and while though it’s a bit concerning, it’s not the end of the world. You don’t give up Fultz for a Kawhi Leonard rental. The 76ers didn’t need a GM to make that decision, plus the Spurs wanted an established player. Trading away TLC, Richaun Holmes and Justin Anderson to add Jonah Bolden and Mike Muscala, because Nemanja Bjelica backed out of his word, came out of left field. Muscala will supposedly fill the role as a stretch five as well as pairing with Joel Embiid in some lineups. He’s a capable three-point shooter, certainly, and he’ll probably be a low-minute rotation player come the postseason. But he’ll give Brown plenty of options.
Thinking about the construction of this team come April 2019 might be a tad silly. After all, a trade could happen, or maybe Philadelphia again adds some buyouts like Ilyasova and Belinelli. For the point of this exercise, though, let’s imagine the 76ers add zero more players to their current team. Come April 2019, a playoff rotation would most likely be Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, JJ Redick, Robert Covington, Joel Embiid, TJ McConnell, Wilson Chandler, Dario Saric and maybe Mike Muscala. Ideally Zhaire Smith makes playoff contributions, too, because he appears like the perfect role player– cutting, defending several positions and knocking down the occasional opening three. Philadelphia, assuming Embiid gets into better shape in addition to the natural progression of the young players, will compete for an East title. It’s easy to say Boston will sweep the 76ers in a hypothetical conference championship, given Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward will be added to a team that already beat the 76ers, but it’s still so premature. The fact is, Philadelphia remains a top three team in the East, and it didn’t require adding a star this summer.
There’s always next summer to add one. Or there’s always Fultz, the recently turned 20-year-old first overall pick.