In his end of season press conference, Philadelphia 76ers’ coach Brett Brown declared that the Sixers were “star-hunting.” Brown admitted that the team needs another big piece to take them to the next level. So when NBA free agency rolled around, naturally the Sixers pursued the likes of Lebron James and Paul George. After both James and George signed elsewhere, it seemed the Sixers and their front office – with Brown as the interim GM – were never serious contenders in the recruiting process. James seemed dead-set on LA, and George had no free agency meetings with any team. Star-hunting in 2018 failed.
Now, the Sixers enter the 2018-2019 season with likely the same starting lineup as last season. While Ben Simmons, 22 years old, and Joel Embiid, 24, will continue to improve, the team is largely unchanged. Philly still needs a third star, and they only have one year left to acquire one before Ben Simmons and forward Dario Saric’s contracts expire. However, that third star may be staring the Sixers in the face. Markelle Fultz, the number one overall pick in 2017, had a disappointing rookie season with the Sixers. His shooting form became unrecognizable from his days at the University of Washington, and he reportedly dealt with a shoulder injury during the winter. Fultz seemed to turn a corner in April when he posted a triple double against the Milwaukee Bucks, but he struggled in the playoffs against the Heat and lost all his minutes in the rotation. Now, he is working with popular NBA trainer Drew Hanlen in hopes of recovering his jump-shot. In this upcoming season, Fultz is the X-factor for the Sixers. If he can meet the expectations he had leaving college, he’ll fill a huge hole. He has great athleticism and the ability to create his own shot, something the Sixers lack. Second in the league in assists last year, the Sixers relied heavily on shooting off the pass, not the dribble. Currently, no one on the roster can create his own shot in isolation from anywhere on the floor. Should Fultz have a better sophomore campaign, he would add another facet to a team that won 52 games last season.
While the Sixers remain hopeful of an improved Markelle Fultz this year, they still have external options for a shot-creator in the 2019 offseason. The free agency class won’t match the quality of this year’s, but players like Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, and Khris Middleton should be on the market. Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving may enter the offseason without a new deal, but it is unlikely. The aforementioned group of Butler, Leonard, and Middleton is more likely to be linked with the Sixers. Also, who knows what other stars may demand a trade. A year ago, few foresaw an impending Leonard, Spurs split. Could a potentially toxic Wizards locker room make Bradley Beal available? Would the Trail Blazers launch into a rebuild and free up C.J McCollum? Beal fits better due to his defense and off-ball tendencies, but both two-guards would fit well in Philly. Star-hunting is far from over, and Sixers’ fans should not lose hope.