By Bryan Toporek
On Saturday, the Philadelphia 76ers made their biggest free-agent splash since 2008, coming to terms with former Los Angeles Clippers sharpshooter JJ Redick on a one-year, $23 million deal, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Team president Bryan Colangelo wasn’t done there, as he quickly agreed to a one-year, $11 million deal with former Boston Celtics big man Amir Johnson as well, per Woj.
Even before former general manager Sam Hinkie intentionally eschewed free agency to instead preserve cap space for absorbing salary dumps, the Sixers weren’t a major free-agent destination. They often handed their own restricted free agents hefty deals—most notably a six-year, $80 million pact that made Andre Iguodala public enemy No. 1 in much of Philadelphia—but they otherwise focused on fringe signings such as Tony Battie (one year for the veteran’s minimum) or Kwame Brown (two years, $6 million). The last time the Sixers took a big free-agent swing for the fences, they brought in Elton Brand on a five-year, $79.8 million contract that quickly went south due to injuries.
With Redick, however, the Sixers accomplished their goal of maintaining future flexibility while bolstering their chances of making a playoff push in 2017-18.
Heading into free agency, ESPN.com’s Zach Lowe reported the Sixers had “told agents they will seek one-year deals this summer to preserve future space—and possibly use some of their room to extend Robert Covington.” Lowe predicted that would be a “hard sell for high-profile guys,” adding, “JJ Redick didn’t wait this long to sign a one-year deal at age 33.” Wojnarowski confirmed Lowe’s report during the early hours of free agency, saying the Sixers offered Redick a one-year deal north of $20 million but the veteran sharpshooter preferred a longer-term contract.
Redick reportedly had a two-year offer from the Brooklyn Nets and a “longer-term deal” with the Minnesota Timberwolves, according to Wojnarowski and Liberty Ballers’ Kyle Neubeck, but he turned down both in favor of a fat one-year payday from Philadelphia. Wojnarowski reported Redick “has long been intrigued by signing with the Sixers, impressed with the franchise’s young talent and enthusiastic about playing for coach Brett Brown.” The Sixers may have received a recruiting assist from up-and-coming star center Joel Embiid, too.
— Joel Embiid (@JoelEmbiid) July 1, 2017
This one-year pact could be a win-win for both Redick and the Sixers. Redick, who has earned roughly $56.1 million throughout his 11-year NBA career, gets the biggest paycheck of his life and should have carte blanche to fire away from deep in Philadelphia. The Sixers ranked fifth in pace last season, averaging 100.96 possessions per 48 minutes, while the Clippers were 17th (98.22). Philly also jacked up 29.8 three-pointers per game last season compared to L.A.’s 27.4, even though no regular rotation player shot better than 36.8 percent from long range.
Though Redick will no longer have “Point God” Chris Paul feeding him the ball for open looks, the young playmaking duo of Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons should help create plenty of opportunities for him to bomb away from deep. Embiid’s commanding presence down low already necessitates double-teams, too, so Redick could be the beneficiary of slow defensive rotations and miscues. If he puts up big numbers as the veteran presence in Philadelphia’s otherwise unseasoned lineup, a hefty long-term payday could be right around the corner next July. (For instance, Kyle Korver, who is three years Redick’s senior, just agreed to a three-year, $22 million pact with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, according to Shams Charania of The Vertical.)
Philadelphia, meanwhile, killed two birds with one stone by signing Redick. Adding veteran leadership to an otherwise inexperienced locker room was a must for Colangelo this summer, and Redick—who has yet to miss the playoffs in his 11 NBA seasons—will deliver that in spades. The Sixers also needed more three-point shooting around Fultz, Simmons and Embiid, which Redick (a career 41.5 percent shooter from deep) likewise provides. The Duke product isn’t a strong individual defender, having ranked 85th among 100 shooting guards in ESPN.com’s real defensive plus-minus metric last season, but the presence of Embiid and Robert Covington should spare him from hemorrhaging too many points.
With Embiid, Simmons, Dario Saric, Richaun Holmes and Jahlil Okafor all jostling for minutes up front, Johnson isn’t likely to play much of an on-court role for the Sixers this year barring an injury or trade. His playing time has been trending downward in recent seasons anyway—from a career-high 28.8 with the Toronto Raptors in 2013-14 to 20.1 this past year—so he should serve mostly as insurance in case the oft-injured Embiid does go down again. Like Redick, Johnson will be a locker room leader who can help impart veteran lessons to the Sixers’ inexperienced young core as they push toward their first playoff berth in six seasons.
So, after trading up for Fultz and signing Redick and Johnson, is Philadelphia playoff-bound in 2017-18?
SportsLine projects the Sixers to finish sixth in the Eastern Conference with 42 wins next season, per CBS Sports’ Jack Maloney, and it gives them an 80 percent chance of making the playoffs. Prior to the Redick addition, SportsLine projected them to finish eighth in the conference with 39.7 wins, and it gave them a 58.7 percent chance of a postseason berth. As CBS Sports’ Matt Moore noted on Twitter following the draft, Las Vegas bettors were already high on Philadelphia prior to the Redick addition, as Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino favored the Sixers to make the playoffs at minus-125. Adding an ideal on- and off-court fit like Redick (and Johnson, to a lesser extent) should only further tilt the scales in Philly’s direction.
However, those ready to anoint Philadelphia as a surefire playoff squad need only look back at the 2016-17 Minnesota Timberwolves to remember the danger in placing too much faith in a young team. The Timberpups crumbled under the weight of expectations, suffering a bevy of late-game meltdowns en route to an underwhelming 31-51 campaign. Though Karl-Anthony Towns put up otherworldly numbers and Andrew Wiggins averaged a career-high 23.6 points per game, Minnesota lacked the necessary complementary production once Zach LaVine went down with a torn ACL at the beginning of February.
For the Sixers to pencil themselves into the postseason, Embiid will have to avoid any further injuries after playing just 31 of a possible 246 games over his first three seasons. Simmons, who suffered a dreaded Jones fracture during training camp last year, must likewise stay healthy and avoid the typical rookie hiccups that afflict playmakers in the NBA. He and Fultz will need to quickly settle upon a ball-handling hierarchy, which is easier said than done. The Sixers are teeming with young, promising talent on paper, but the same was true for Minnesota a year ago.
The Sixers do have one major advantage over that Timberwolves squad from a year ago, however: Multiple Eastern Conference teams have transitioned from depressingly mediocre to actively rebuilding.
The Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers should each be far worse after trading away Jimmy Butler and Paul George, respectively. The Atlanta Hawks may not be far behind them with All-Star big man Paul Millsap reportedly heading to the Denver Nuggets, per Charania. After trading Brook Lopez for D’Angelo Russell, the Brooklyn Nets have little hope of winning 30 games, much less making a legitimate postseason push. The Orlando Magic may be frisky, but they lack the type of star talent capable of taking over in late-game situations. The New York Knicks remain the New York Knicks.
Assuming those six miss out on the postseason festivities, the Sixers need only finish with a better record than one of the Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat or Detroit Pistons and they’re in. The Hornets should be able to stave them off, but if Miami loses James Johnson and/or Dion Waiters in free agency and can’t lure Gordon Hayward, their late-season magic may sputter in 2017-18. If the Pistons lose restricted free agent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope—or decide to rebuild on the fly by trading either Reggie Jackson or Andre Drummond—the Sixers could almost back into a playoff spot by default.
The Sixers’ signing of Redick is the dawning of a new era in Philadelphia, one where concerns about the team’s “losing culture” during Hinkie’s tenure proved hilariously overblown. With Embiid, Simmons, Fultz, Saric and other promising young players locked into rookie contracts for the time being and the Eastern Conference growing progressively weaker by the day, Philly’s situation sells itself to free agents.
Though “If you build it, they will come” came from a baseball movie, the Sixers may soon prove the validity of that adage.