Philadelphia 76ers 2024 NBA offseason preview: Prepare for plenty of change

2023-24 season: 47-35

Highlight of the season: Every single pre-injury Joel Embiid performance, particularly his 70-point game against the San Antonio Spurs on Jan. 22.

With a sense of sadness. The Sixers came into this season as the human manifestation of rock and roll. Embiid was scoring over a point per minute, Tyrese Maxey was breaking out, and newly hired head coach Nick Nurse installed a refreshingly nuanced offensive system that allowed players more freedom than they’d ever experienced under former coach Doc Rivers. They won 29 of their first 42 games and were cruising toward a strong finish and an emphatic playoff run.

But since we can’t have nice things, Embiid went down with a knee injury and the season with him. The team nosedived in February and March, winning just 11 games during that stretch and finding themselves in the play-in tournament. Embiid did return late in the season, and the Sixers ran off eight straight wins to finish the year, but it was never really the same Embiid as before. He dragged around his leg like post-prime Tim Duncan, losing a ton of defensive flexibility and impact, which Knicks guard Jalen Brunson was able to exploit in the first round of the playoffs. Embiid also dealt with a mild case of Bell's palsy.

It was a crushing blow to Sixers and NBA fans everywhere, given how fun, enthusiastic and overpowering the team looked initially. Even a midseason acquisition of elite shooter Buddy Hield didn’t change the picture.

Now focus changes to the offseason, where the Sixers have positioned themselves to make a lot of potential changes. Maxey, who will undoubtedly demand a max contract, carries a low cap hold of just $13 million, which allows general manager Daryl Morey to make a max-salary offer to a free agent, or to trade for someone into actual cap space.

This summer will be a season of change for the Sixers, but hopefully it will also mark the beginning of a healthier Embiid. Should the franchise secure a quality star to put next to him and Maxey, the hope is this will help the former MVP center take a backseat during the regular season to be healthy for the playoffs.

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - MAY 02: Donte DiVincenzo #0 of the New York Knicks blocks Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers during the first half of game six of the Eastern Conference First Round Playoffs at the Wells Fargo Center on May 02, 2024 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

A reliable complementary star who can space the floor, defend and playmake some. Essentially, this describes Paul George, whom the Sixers are likely to place a call with. Is it fair to say of any team that its biggest need is Paul George? Perhaps not, but this is where we are.

Who is there to blame? Or worse, is there actually anyone to blame? Rivers is gone, so are Ben Simmons and James Harden. One supposes the reigning MVP can take the lion’s share, but he played gamely on a bad leg and was still effective enough. Tobias Harris is a free agent, and Philly has cap space, but it seems like the two sides will go their separate ways this summer. Could the 76ers be eyeing George? Or another high-octane wing to play alongside Embiid and Maxey? It’s hard to say going another year without making at the least the conference finals is a success. Or that optimism is the prevailing sentiment headed into the summer.

But how much better can Embiid get? And if so, can he stay healthy long enough to be optimal during the spring? The vibes are never immaculate here, but there’s no easy answer aside from the almost $60 million in cap space Morey will have to play with over the summer. — Vincent Goodwill

Nos. 16 and 41

Given that the Sixers will try to optimize cap space, having a player on a rookie contract for the foreseeable future isn’t a bad card to stash. In a perfect world, the Sixers draft someone they can stash a year — meaning no cap hit on the player until he actually arrives in Philadelphia — who will come help them when they’re in need of depth.

The 76ers could look to add some size or a backup for Joel Embiid or another dynamic guard. In the first round, Philadelphia could look to add one of the best guards in the Big East in Providence's Devin Carter, or the best defending guard in the ACC, Ryan Dunn of Virginia. In the second round, forward Osasere Ighodaro of Marquette or forward Harrison Ingram of North Carolina could add some size and defensive versatility. — Krysten Peek

Maxey’s original draft slot (21st in 2020) provides tremendous leeway in keeping his aforementioned cap hold small, settling in at around $13 million. With just Embiid and Paul Reed under contract for next season, the Sixers could wipe their slate clean and build a whole new roster if they so choose.

More realistically, given the not-so-hot free agency market, they'll try to identify a star, such as George, and follow up such a signing by re-signing Maxey, as they’re able to go above the cap to retain their own player. This will arguably be the biggest summer of Morey’s career.

Key free agents

Tyrese Maxey (RFA)

Tobias Harris (UFA)

Buddy Hield (UFA)

De’Anthony Melton (UFA)

Kyle Lowry (UFA)

Fielding a team that allows Embiid to stay healthy for longer, while minimizing his responsibilities. Scoring in the mid-30s while also being the defensive anchor is simply asking for too much.

Finally, Harris is out of there. After one of the worst max deals in recent memory, the Sixers have considerable financial flexibility this offseason. Retaining Maxey is of the utmost priority, and it'll be interesting to see how Morey and GM Elton Brand elect to build around their two stars — knowing that recent iterations have flamed out, especially with Embiid off the floor. — Dan Titus