With training camp only two weeks away, the Philadelphia 76ers rounded out their roster Monday by agreeing to a one-year contract with free-agent swingman Kelly Oubre Jr., per multiple reports. Derek Bodner of PHLY reported Oubre is signing a $2.0 million minimum-salary deal.
The Sixers have yet to dip into their $5.0 million taxpayer mid-level exception, which they could have spent on Oubre. Instead, they’re taking a zero-risk, high-upside swing on a 27-year-old who averaged a career-high 20.3 points per game last season with the Charlotte Hornets.
Oubre came off the bench for 63 of his 76 appearances during his first season with the Hornets in 2021-22. He averaged 15.0 points on 44.0 percent shooting, 4.0 rebounds, 2.5 three-pointers, 1.1 assists and 1.0 steals in only 26.3 minutes per game that year. Last year, he started 40 of his 48 games and shot only 43.1 percent on a career-high 17.1 field-goal attempts per night.
Oubre finished last season ranked in the 30th percentile among all wings in points per shot attempt, according to Cleaning the Glass. He had a career-high 26.5% usage rate for the injury-ravaged Hornets, but his 5.7% assist percentage ranked in the 6th percentile leaguewide. As a result, he was in the 1st percentile in assist-to-usage ratio, meaning he was one of the NBA’s biggest black holes on offense.
Only 54 players averaged 20-plus points per game last season while appearing in at least 45 games, and Oubre ranked 48th among that group in value over replacement player and 52nd in win shares. That likely explains why he was still on the free-agent market in mid-September, and why he had to settle for a one-year, minimum-salary deal.
But on the Sixers, he’ll have a chance to earn himself a far more lucrative payday next summer.
After losing both Georges Niang and Jalen McDaniels in free agency, the Sixers were painfully thin at the wing. Tobias Harris and P.J. Tucker figure to start at the two forward spots, but Danuel House Jr., Furkan Korkmaz and the newly signed Danny Green (whose contract is fully non-guaranteed until opening night) are the only options behind them.
New head coach Nick Nurse could experiment with three-guard lineups featuring some combination of Tyrese Maxey, Patrick Beverley, De’Anthony Melton and Jaden Springer—not to mention James Harden, whose trade request remains unfulfilled for now. But when the Sixers need more size, they’ll now have the 6’7″ Oubre to trot out on the wing.
Melton is a two-way glue guy who can either come off the bench if the Sixers don’t trade Harden or start alongside Maxey if they do move Harden, but he isn’t a microwave scorer. Oubre is now by far the Sixers’ best bench scorer, giving them an element that they’ve lacked in recent years.
If Oubre pans out as hoped, the Sixers might be able to retain him next summer. They’re currently in line to create upward of $50 million in salary-cap space, part of which they could use to re-sign him. Oubre is likely a goner if they abandon their cap-space plan and enter the 2024 offseason over the salary cap, though. They’ll only have non-Bird rights on him, which means they can’t offer him a starting salary worth more than 120% of what he’s earning this season.
In the meantime, the Sixers will have a decision to make before the start of the regular season. After signing Oubre, they now have 16 players under contract, not counting their three guys on two-way deals (Ricky Council IV, Terquavion Smith and Azuolas Tubelis) and Exhibit 10 signings David Duke JR. and Javonte Smart. That means they’re one over the regular-season roster limit.
The Sixers figure to waive one of Green, Filip Petrusev and Montrezl Harrell before opening night. Green’s contract is fully non-guaranteed until then, while only half of Petrusev’s $1.1 million salary is guaranteed until Jan. 10. Harrell’s $2.0 million salary is fully guaranteed, so there’s no financial benefit to waiving him, but he tore his ACL and medial meniscus during the offseason and is unlikely to play this year.
After signing Oubre, the Sixers are currently $11.4 million over the $165.3 million luxury-tax line and $4.3 million over the $172.3 million first apron. They have roughly $6.1 million of breathing room under the $182.8 million second apron, which they’ll likely aim to maintain until they resolve Harden’s future one way or another.
Had the Sixers dipped into their taxpayer mid-level exception to sign Oubre, they wouldn’t be allowed to cross the second apron at any point between now and June 30. They’re understandably reluctant to hard-cap themselves with Harden’s future so up in the air, as that would limit how much salary they could take back in a potential trade.
Luckily for them, Oubre’s free-agent market was surprisingly tepid. That enabled them to swoop in and sign him to a no-risk, high-reward veteran-minimum deal.
Although Oubre was undoubtedly hoping for more money this offseason, he and the Sixers could be in a win-win marriage of convenience this season. They needed more playable wing depth, and he can prove his worth as a key role player on a championship hopeful.