By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
The NBA returns tonight! It was only four short months ago that Kawhi Leonard was dueling LeBron James to a draw and the rest of the Spurs crushed the Heat for their fifth title of the Duncan-Popovich era. Then, amidst LeBron’s Decision 2.0, the Kevin Love trade talk, the FIBA World Cup, and everything else associated with the free agency offseason, we never really stopped thinking about and discussing pro basketball. Now though, teams will finally be back on the floor playing games that count in the standings, which means yesterday was the deadline to trim rosters down to the regular season limit of 15 players. Let’s recap the flurry of activity for the Sixers around roster deadline day, because, as usual, Sam Hinkie kept himself busy.
First, a trade went down as the Sixers dealt Moultrie to the Knicks for Travis Outlaw, New York’s 2019 second-round pick, plus the right to swap the Clippers 2nd-round pick Philly owns with the Knicks’ 2nd-rounder in 2018. The Knicks then waived Moultrie in favor of Travis Wear, so the deal was purely a mechanism for them to save $4.7M worth of luxury tax money. For the Sixers, the transaction was yet another instance of essentially buying a second-round pick. The team now owns 17 draft picks over the next 5 drafts (which even includes a pick currently owed to Boston from the original Arnett Moultrie deal). The average team would have 10 picks over those 5 drafts; 17 is an unheard of number of selections.
Clearly, despite looking like he was in better shape this preseason, management had completely soured on Moultrie’s lack of conditioning, drug violations, and propensity for long two-pointers over the past couple years. Getting anything for a player they played to release was a good move. Moultrie’s departure means that of the roster Sam Hinkie inherited less than 18 months ago, the injured Jason Richardson is the last remaining player. That amount of roster churning is completely unprecedented; the Sixers are essentially an expansion franchise (and their record will likely reflect that idea once again). With reports that Richardson’s latest injury may be a career-ending one, the team is basically all Sam Hinkie’s at this point; let’s see what he can do with it.
Still, the biggest bombshell of the day was yet to come as the Sixers still needed to release three players to get down to the 15-man limit. As expected, Travis Outlaw was released; at 30 years old, he was way over the team’s self-imposed age limit. More surpisingly, the team parted ways with the recently acquired Marquis Teague. A former first-round pick at 21 years of age and only making a little over $1M, Teague seemed like the perfect player for the Sixers to give an opportunity to, especially considering coach Brett Brown was once roommates with Teague’s father. I suppose Teague’s poor body of work since arriving at the professional level was enough for the Sixers to know they wished to part ways.
However, the final cut was the most shocking of all, as the team announced the release of shooting guard Elliot Williams. Not to say Williams was going to go on to become a star, but he showed flashes at times during his 67 games with the team last season. Then, he showed marked improvement during the preseason, shooting 50% from the field and 44.4% from behind the arc, while averaging 11 points in just 22 minutes per game. Given he was set to make less than $1M this season, and the club had him on an affordable deal, Williams seemed like a lock to stick around and see how much of that improvement was genuine. For a team starved for outside shooting, his departure may hurt more than another fringe NBA player’s might.
This means the team has its opening roster set with the primary ball handlers being Tony Wroten, Alexey Shved, and Michael Carter-Williams. The wings are Hollis Thompson, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, K.J. McDaniels, Chris Johnson, JaKarr Sampson, Jerami Grant, and Jason Richardson. Finally, the big men include Nerlens Noel, Henry Sims, Brandon Davies, Malcolm Thomas, and Joel Embiid. Embiid, Richardson, and Grant will start the season on the inactive list. The absence of Michael Carter-Williams on that inactive list supports the reports that he’ll be back in early-to-mid November.
I have two major concerns with this roster from a watchability standpoint. First, until Michael Carter-Williams gets back, Wroten and Shved are the only guys on the roster who can really run the offense. Neither of those players would have ball security high on their list of positive attributes; expect plenty of sloppy passes and turnovers in that regard. Also, Brandon Davies is the back-up center. Weep for the children.
Regardless, we know this isn’t going to be the Sixers roster throughout the season. Hinkie will find street free agents he wants to bring in and players will be shuttled back and forth from Delaware enough to warrant Uber having a direct contract with the team. At this point, all we know is that NBA basketball is back. For that, we can be happy.