What follows is a good way to begin an interview with any candidate for the Sixers' general manager position.
1. Find a conference room that has a white board hanging on the wall. If you cannot find a room with a white board, then find a white board and put it in a room. If you cannot transport it by yourself, ask your friends to help. If you have no friends, try one of those hand-held numbers that Amy Adams used to talk to the aliens in Arrival. Sam Hinkie may have left one behind from his conversations with Jerry Colangelo (just don't wear the orange hazmat suit).
2. Once you have procured the whiteboard, usher the candidate into the room and invite him to sit down.
3. Uncap a dry erase marker and write down the following names in a list: 1. Kevin Durant. 2. Kawhi Leonard. 3. Klay Thompson. 4. Kyrie Irving.
4. Keep the dry erase marker (still uncapped) in your hand.
5. Look the candidate in the eye as he reads the names.
6. While maintaining eye contact with the candidate, take the dry erase marker (still in your hand) and slowly draw a line through each one of the names in your list, like Steve Buscemi in Happy Gilmore, without the lipstick.
7. Invite the candidate to stand up. Hand him the dry erase marker (and the whiteboard, if you have opted for the hand-held model).
8. Sit down in the candidate's seat.
9. Hold out your hands in the direction of the candidate (palms up), give him your gravest look, and say to him, "Now, what are our options?"
There is a strong likelihood that the question in that final step is the one that will determine the upper bound of the Sixers' potential over these next five-to-10 years. And, thus, there is a strong likelihood that the success of whoever they hire to oversee the construction and development of their roster will hinge upon his ability to answer it. There are lot of traits that a chief personnel executive must have, from an eye for talent to an understanding of player value to the ability to communicate with folks above and below him on the chain of command. But given the Sixers' current situation, one can argue that the most important quality that any new hire must possess is a creative, analytical mind capable of developing a short-to-mid-term blue print for a team that currently does not have an obvious way forward.
After an offseason in which the Sixers struck out on their goal of adding an elite player to one of the NBA's most promising young rosters, the organization suddenly finds itself on the clock, with a window to add external talent that will be significantly smaller by the close of next year's free-agent signing period.
At this point, the only certainties are two:
1. Embiid and Simmons will combine for $35.4 million of a projected $109 million in cap space in 2019-20.
2. That number will jump to approximately $56.5 million in 2020-21, the first year of what we have to assume will be a max contract extension for Simmons.
The key variable is the Simmons extension. Because the Sixers own his Bird Rights, they can go over the salary cap when signing him to an extension. That means that, in order to maximize their available payroll, they will need to be as close to the cap as possible before signing Simmons to an extension. Simmons is eligible to sign an extension next October, which means the ideal scenario is for the Sixers to be as close to the cap as possible by the end of next summer's free-agent signing period.
There are lots of different ways to look at the actual dollar amounts involved. For our purposes, the simple point is this: the Sixers have a lot of money to spend before the start of the 2019-20 season, and the No. 1 job of the new general manager will be deciding on the optimal way to spend that money.
The Sixers' experience this offseason reinforced a complicating reality. Having money to spend is one thing. Finding a qualified player who is willing to take that money is another.
There is a scenario in which the Sixers could sign two of Durant/Leonard/Thompson/Irving to $70 million in Year 1 salary while shedding the rest of the contracts on their books via trade, leaving them with $105.4 million against a $109 million cap and the opportunity to fill in most of the rest of their roster with the minimum-salary acquisitions allowed to teams once they reach the salary cap.
The more likely scenario is that next year's free-agent market leaves the Sixers in a position similar to where they found themselves this year, coping with the realization that Philadelphia is not a destination city. While it is not impossible that someone like Thompson or Leonard will choose to sign here, the Sixers cannot proceed as if that is the most likely outcome. Instead, they need to hire the executive who is most capable of identifying and executing a plan that does have a make-or-break bidding war as its foundation. That could require the addition of an elite or soon-to-be-elite player via trade. It could require the identification of players in the less-than-elite free-agent tiers who might still be championship-caliber components of a lineup that features Embiid and Simmons (Khris Middleton? Tobias Harris?). It will definitely require an accurate evaluation of the current roster, most notably with regard to the futures of Markelle Fultz and Dario Saric, the latter of whom is eligible for an extension at the same time as Simmons.