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Going into this offseason, we all had to do some emotional bargaining about how much of this 76ers team's original DNA would need to hold onto this summer for it to still feel like the Sixers next year. If we added LeBron James, if we traded for Kawhi Leonard, if we pulled off some other big move that heavily rewired this team's circuitry in the hopes of building a brighter present, would it change so much about the team that we'd come to love that it would no longer feel the same when they reached their full potential? It was a decision we all had to make for ourselves -- that is, until the Sixers and the rest of the NBA basically made it for us, with a flurry of non-Sixers-related activity to begin free agency, closing off most major avenues towards the Sixers rapidly rebuilding their roster in the hopes of a major surge forward. And now, the answer to the summer seems obvious: No New Friends.
When J.J. Redick missed that open triple late in Game Five against the Celtics -- which might not've clinched the game for Philly, given their terrible execution down the stretch all series, but would've put 'em up five with 1:10 left -- most of us assumed that would be his last act (and perhaps lasting legacy) as a Sixer. As the Sixers hatched grand plans for free agency and seemed uninterested in committing long-term money to an aging player, while holding enough young wing shooters in reserve to at least talk yourself into one of them being developed as the Sixers' two-guard of the future, it seemed likely that was a wrap for the world's highest-paid podcaster in the City of Brother Love.
Well, two days into free agency, with the biggest free agents off the board (and not on the Sixers' roster), and all of a sudden a re-signed J.J. Redick doesn't seem so surprising. For a team built around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, Redick's shot-making and spacing are paramount, and without a star player available to give you those things-plus-whatever else the Sixers need, retaining their reliable two-guard veteran makes sense as the team's new top priority in free agency. He's a locker-room guy, he grows a mean five o'clock shadow, and his hair-slicking was invaluable to the team's post-game NBCSports camera-bombing. It's good to have him back. Hopefully he makes the shot in the playoffs this year when the time comes.
But more consequential than Redick's guaranteed return to the Sixers might be what it signals about where the team is at. For one thing, the cost and length of the deal shows how much J.J. still wants to be here: At just one year and $12-13 million, not only did he take about half what he got from us last year, but he didn't even squeeze us for an extra year or two for the discount. Who knows how much more he could've gotten on the open market -- money is tight around the league, and Redick is already 34 -- but he was reportedly offered multi-year deals by the Nets and Rockets just a summer ago, and likely could've hunted one down this summer as well if security was the priority. Him opting to stay in Philly on a short deal after a relatively short turnaround shows the culture here is legit.
And perhaps most importantly of all, it shows that at least for the most part, the team believes that running back last year's squad is good enough for now. Redick's deal doesn't eat into all the team's remaining cap space, but it cuts it in about half, leaving them with about just enough to sign another back-up wing and big to replace outgoing FAs. A Kawhi Leonard trade looks increasingly unlikely, there's not much chatter about the Sixers (or anyone else) prying loose a star on another team, and barely 48 hours after the offseason has officially begun, it already feels like most of the biggest dominoes have already fallen. There's not much else to do at this point but get the gang back together.
Which I, for one, am very excited about. I've already offered my support for the Do Nothing plan of action for this team, and while some part of it might be a defense mechanism in response to the disappointment of striking out with the best players available this summer, it's still mostly because the prospect of getting to watch these dudes do it again is pretty damn thrilling. The Sixers got so good so quickly near season's end, and then saw their run end so abruptly, that it feels like... maybe not quite unfinished business, but at the very least interrupted business. Bringing in a big-name star to bolster Season Two would be cool and all, but after Season One ended just as the show had really found its groove, don't you kinda wanna see how the story plays out with this cast of characters?
Especially because there's so much about these guys that we still just don't know. We don't know what Joel Embiid can do after a fully healthy offseason. We don't know how much better Dario Saric can still get after making a massive leap in production from Year One to Year Two. Of course, we don't know how useful Markelle Fultz can be with an operational jumper -- though if the unreal continual swagging out of Drew Hanlen is to be believed, we'll get to see soon enough. And we don't even know anything about Zhaire Smith, who just seems more tantalizing the longer we get to talk ourselves into him being more Russell Westbrook than K.J. McDaniels.
Besides, it's gonna be so much fun to watch these guys enjoy their We Have Arrived season. You forget sometimes that the team is already one year ahead of schedule -- last year we would've been fine staying mostly healthy and competing for the playoffs; 52 wins, home court and the second round was supposed to be more like this year's goal. Now, they're legitimate East contenders, they have two of the game's brightest young stars (one of which is already a preeminent shit-talker) and they're set to be around and competitive for a long time. They are gonna spend the season stunting on Charlotte and Detroit, and letting them know about it while they're doing it, and it is going to be so very much fun to experience.
And as long as the Sixers are halfway to full No New Friends mode with the roster -- shoutout to Sean O'Connor of Liberty Ballers for (unintentionally?) first labeling the moment -- may as well lean in and go the whole way, I say. We need a defensive-minded backup center? Let's get Amir Johnson back on the case. A stretch four to replace Ersan Ilyasova? Former Process great Luc Mbah a Moute is still on the market. Another shooter off the bench to get some Belinelli minutes? Well, Wayne Ellington is at least #FromHere, maybe we can fit him into some kind of NNF cap exception -- and if not, a certain reliable 40% shooting swingman from the thickest Process days is still looking to make his way back to the NBA from Greece. After all, if they weren't with us when The Process was bad, how can they be trusted now that things are good? (Zhaire is grandfathered in, of course, since he arrived via a Process-style trade of a Process-era pick.)
Truthfully, this is a good season to be maintaining the status quo anyway. In case you needed a reminder that it's one team and then 29 others in the NBA right now, last night the two-time-reigning-champ Golden State Warriors signed DeMarcus Cousins -- six-time All-Star, career 20-10 guy and then some -- for one year and just over $5 million, an absurdly cheap deal for one of the NBA's most prodigious talents. Boogie might not even end up moving the needle that much for Golden State -- coming off Achilles surgery, his return date is TBD, and even when he gets back, Sixers fans can testify to how big-money FAs recovering from a torn Achilles aren't always the same the next year -- but he serves as a reminder that things are just easier for the Warriors right now, and that their dominance will likely continue to perpetuate itself for years still to come.
And in case you need further evidence that Do Nothing is the move for now, well, maybe you saw what it looked like the last few days when a certain other contending-but-not-really-contending team instead went Do Everything. The Los Angeles Lakers briefly became the talk of the NBA for landing future Oscar hopeful LeBron James on a max deal -- then chose to immediately complete the puzzle around him with a motley crew of edge-piece veterans (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo??) on one-year deals. They won't really help LA win now, and they definitely won't help them win later, and now regardless of whether or not they can pull off a trade for Kawhi Leonard, the Lakers have about as good a chance of winning the title next year as Philly does. Why waste money, playing time and developmental opportunity on these dudes that simply don't matter?
Next year won't be about winning the title for the Sixers. It'll be about having fun with our dudes, beating the Knicks by 35 while Dario gives various offensive hand gestures to Mario Hezonja, putting the rest of the league on notice, and essentially getting the guys ready for when it truly is time to contend. At that point, maybe we can consider making another move or two to really put us over the top and get us matched with the perpetually Voltroning Waririors (and possibly Celtics). Till then, no new friends, no new friends, no no no.