Ten NBA offseason questions that could shape the Sixers' summer

Gina Mizell, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Basketball

PHILADELPHIA — Daryl Morey recently likened the NBA offseason to throwing a bunch of balls in the air — and potentially watching them land somewhere other than the Sixers’ roster.

“Then everyone will be mad, and that’s fine,” the team’s president of basketball operations said at his end-of-season news conference.

Morey and the Sixers hope that scenario does not unfold, of course. They enter this critical summer with cap space, with replenished tradable draft capital, and with an All-Star tandem of Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey. Yet the players the Sixers could reasonably land also depends on how the landscape evolves around them.

Which players turn disgruntled? Which teams fully pivot to a rebuild? Who might be willing to be the dance partner in a blockbuster trade?

Here are 10 leaguewide decisions that could shape the Sixers’ offseason.

1. Does Paul George sign a contract extension?

The Los Angeles Clippers are also coming off a disappointing first-round exit, after trading for former Sixer James Harden to pair with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Leonard, who was sidelined with another postseason knee injury, recently signed an extension with the Clippers. George, who is also eligible, has not.

Until that happens (or doesn’t), speculation about the nine-time All-Star’s future will percolate.

George orchestrated the 2019 trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Clippers because he is from the Los Angeles area, and wanted to team up with Leonard. Clippers chief executive Lawrence Frank said during his end-of-season news conference that he is hopeful George (and Harden) will remain in Los Angeles.

But four years later, has this core run its course?

If George is open to a fresh start, his blend of size, shooting, and defense is an ideal on-paper fit at wing alongside Embiid and Maxey. If George returns to the Clippers, however, the Sixers’ assumed No. 1 target will disappear from the board.

2. Would the Heat consider trading Jimmy Butler?

Consider the Heat one of the offseason’s more interesting teams, especially after Pat Riley spoke candidly about Butler during his end-of-season news conference. The executive said Butler should “keep [his] mouth shut” and stop talking about other teams while injured. Riley also did not commit to a contract extension for Butler, “unless you have somebody who’s going to be there and available every single night.”

Despite Riley also saying the organization does not plan to trade Butler, does that crack open the door for a reunion between Butler and his former team?

The Sixers’ 2018-19 iteration with Butler, who turns 35 in September, was arguably the best of the Embiid era. Butler’s maniacal work ethic would jibe with Maxey. And becoming the third option alongside the two established stars should help keep Butler healthy during the regular season, before ramping up to “Playoff Jimmy.”

Butler also has a connection to former Heat teammate Kyle Lowry, a free-agent-to-be who could return to his hometown Sixers. They were talking in the hallway near the Wells Fargo Center’s visitors’ locker room after the Sixers’ play-in victory over the Heat.

3. Is Donovan Mitchell on his way out of Cleveland?

The Cavaliers wilted out of the playoffs, losing to the top-seeded Boston Celtics in five games. While Mitchell, Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen are all quality players individually, it’s evident the starting lineup with those two big men and two ball-dominant guards is more clunky than viable long-term.

Most of the speculation surrounds Mitchell, the bucket-getting All-Star whose long-term future in Cleveland was in question even before he chose not to sign an extension and the Cavaliers exited the playoffs. But Garland and Allen could possibly be on the market instead.

4. Will the Suns blow up their Big 3?

Phoenix’s trio of Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, and Bradley Beal never got significant runs together in 2023-24. Still, their season was a massive disappointment, getting swept by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the playoffs’ first round and then firing coach Frank Vogel after only one season.

Perhaps offensive guru and new Suns coach Mike Budenholzer can help these stars jell. But what if Phoenix (again) opts to go in a different direction?

Beal still has a no-trade clause, and is a player the Sixers could have pursued years ago if they desired his services. Booker surely has the most robust leaguewide interest of the three, but he is still in his prime and the beloved face of the franchise.


That leaves Durant, who leaked Phoenix as a preferred trade destination two summers ago before landing there at the 2023 deadline. He is still a lethal scorer at the position the Sixers covet, but he has dealt with his own health issues and turns 36 in September.

5. Will the Nets go into a full rebuild?

The Nets quickly devolved from super team to lottery team, and now have a first-time NBA head coach in Jordi Fernandez.

Is it time for a full-blown teardown, which could put former Villanova star Mikal Bridges on the market? Or is that wishful thinking for Sixers supporters who will always view Bridges as the one who literally got away after they drafted him and immediately traded him to the Suns?

Though Bridges has flashed All-Star potential in a bigger offensive role in Brooklyn, he is also probably still best utilized as a lockdown perimeter defender and more complementary scoring option. That skill set would be ideal next to the Sixers’ stars.

6. Is the Brandon Ingram era over in New Orleans?

The Pelicans briefly looked like a threat in the Western Conference until Ingram sustained a late-season knee injury. And he never got back to full strength, most evidenced by his benching for the stretch run of New Orleans’ play-in loss to the Los Angeles Lakers even after fellow star Zion Williamson left the game with a hamstring injury.

Ingram is now entering the final year of his contract. And if the Pelicans, who have never paid the luxury tax, opt to move on with other paydays coming up, Ingram could be another wing option alongside Embiid and Maxey. His $36 million salary for 2024-25 is also less than George’s and Butler’s, which would give the Sixers a bit more flexibility in pursuing other free agents this summer.

7. Do the Jazz have any reason to move on from Lauri Markkanen?

Markkanen also was floated by outsiders as a possible trade-deadline target from the rebuilding Utah Jazz, who have flashed progress during the past two seasons before purposefully turning to tanking. And the sharpshooter who won the NBA’s 2023 Most Improved Player Award would likely get lots of open looks while playing off Embiid.

Still, it appears far more likely that Markkanen remains a centerpiece of Utah’s rebuild, rather than a player to send away.

8. What do the Hawks do with the No. 1 draft pick?

The Hawks were a surprise draft lottery winner, adding another layer for a team already poised for a fascinating offseason. '

Does Atlanta hang onto that top pick in what is considered a weak draft, or attempt to move it? And how could that affect plans to shop Trae Young and/or Dejounte Murray, another backcourt pairing that simply has not worked during their two seasons together?

9. How do the Magic factor into this?

Yes, the Magic.

One of the NBA’s surprise teams this season also has a ton of cap room and enticing young players, which could quickly elevate Orlando from feel-good story to championship contender.

Most relevant to the Sixers: This is another potential George destination.

10. Who drafts Bronny James?

Under most circumstances, James would be viewed as a borderline draft prospect even after a solid combine performance. And though James said in Chicago that he wants to build a reputation separate from his famous father, it would not be surprising if a team selected him much higher — just for the possibility that it would lure LeBron to join him.

LeBron has a player option in his contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, with a June 29 deadline to exercise. That is two days after the NBA draft ends, meaning he can wait to see where Bronny winds up.


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