The Philadelphia 76ers made a definitive statement this past season and showed that they were completely committed to rebuilding. With a loaded draft class coming up, as well as many big free-agent names, the Sixers decided to go all-out by tanking heavily.
The team traded away still effective players such as Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner and has continuously flirted with the idea of trading away the excellent Thaddeus Young. The Sixers made all of these moves while getting next to nothing in return. With a barren roster featuring the likes of Henry Sims and Hollis Thompson getting significant minutes, the Sixers stumbled to a 19-63 record.
Now, with two lottery picks in hand and a world of cap space, Philly can go in a number of directions. The first step of their rebuilding plan will be to get some excellent young building blocks through the draft later this month. But a step that should not be overlooked is acquiring veteran players to help ease the transition from a talented and young team to a postseason ready squad.
There are a number of great veteran players on the market who the Sixers can pick up on the cheap to fill out the roster, but there is no reason for the Sixers to be frugal with their money. There are numerous reports that say the Sixers are not interested in spending in free-agency. And with so many draft picks who can blame them? But Luol Deng is one player who makes perfect sense for Philadelphia to sign.
Deng was a mainstay on the Chicago Bulls until a shocking cap-space driven trade in early January sent him packing to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Deng served a role on the Cavs that he would also fill on the Sixers. In 40 games with the Cavs, Deng averaged 14.3 points, 5.1 boards and 2.5 assists while also playing his brand of superb defense. More important than his statistics is the veteran leadership that he tried to provide to a young, dysfunctional ball club.
The silver lining for Deng in signing with the Sixers is multifaceted. First off, the Sixers are not a dysfunctional organization like the Cavs. They have a clear vision and they have executed it well so far. General manager Sam Hinkie is known as a great basketball mind from his time with the Houston Rockets, and head coach Brett Brown has a championship pedigree from his time with the San Antonio Spurs (he was with the team for four of their five titles).
Deng never is a player to complain about money, but he simply wanted to be paid market value for his still useful services. The Bulls would not go near the $10 million a year figure, and while the Cavs may, Deng will not want to stay in that situation. With a projected $30 million in cap space the Sixers could sign Deng and still have money left to spend.
Deng would slide comfortably into Philly’s starting lineup at the small forward position. He would also allow Philly to place Andrew Wiggins (assuming they draft him) at shooting guard or bring him along slowly off the bench. Deng would be able to tutor Wiggins in the ways of the NBA. Wiggins’ biggest weakness is also his lack of polish on offense, and Deng is one of the most fundamentally sound players in the league on the offensive side of the ball.
In the end the signing makes too much sense for Philadelphia to not explore the possibility. Deng would help tutor the young players while giving coach Brown a versatile defender who can give him even more intriguing lineup combinations. Deng wants to make somewhere in the $10-15 million a year range, and while that seems like quite a bit for him, Philadelphia can afford it. While he would probably prefer to play for a contender, Deng seems to be leaning towards a stable situation as his top priority.
Deng could sign a three or four-year deal with Sixers that would likely have him seeing postseason action sooner than he would expect. With smart management, a great coach and a roster loaded with young talent, the Sixers would be a perfect fit for Deng.