What does the future hold for T.J. McConnell? The twenty-six year old finds himself in the final year of his four-year, undrafted rookie contract. T.J. surprised the team in his rookie year which lead to an increased role. McConnell of course played great in the playoffs against Boston and has overall had a solid career of the bench. Sadly, this season has been quite different. So far, the Arizona product’s minutes have diminished in favor of rookie Landry Shamet from Wichita State. Surprisingly, Shamet has been among the few bright spots for the Sixers to start the season.
Through his first 11 games, Shamet is looking like a strong pick at 26th overall. The rookie is shooting 38% from beyond and 77% from the foul line. As for T.J., he has played just five minutes in his last three games. Those minutes came on Sunday in the dying moments of the agonizing loss to the Brooklyn Nets.
When asked about his playing time, McConnell kept it positive. “As a competitor, I know it’s hard, but I have to continue being a good teammate and work hard in practice and get better and stay in shape. I’m not going to pout about it. I’m just going to be ready when my names called” he said to reporters.
So, why is the team turning away from McConnell after he’s been a leader on the team for the past three seasons? The main reason is, quite frankly, the investment the team has made in Markelle Fultz. The Sixers of course traded up to take Fultz at #1, passing on budding star Jayson Tatum. They also see a lot of hope in Landry Shamet as a future rotation player who can be a 3&D type off the bench. With T.J. set to hit free agency and contract extensions looming for Ben Simmons and Dario Saric, salary cap is undoubtedly an issue.
One Way Or Another, T.J.’s Time Is Likely Up
McConnell could realistically see offers similar to or even greater than the contract Matthew Dellavedova signed with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2016. Dellavedova’s contract was a four-year deal worth over $38M with an annual base salary around $9.6M each season. It is likely that many teams looking for depth at PG will be calling McConnell if the Sixers allow him to enter free agency next summer.
One of the most notable teams could be the Phoenix Suns. The Suns have been in a PG whirlwind since the Steve Nash era ended. They had Goran Dragic for a few years until he was shipped off to Miami for picks. Eric Bledsoe became frustrated with the losing and they sent him to Milwaukee last season. Brandon Knight was acquired from Milwaukee in 2015 but never worked out and was traded to Houston last summer. Tyler Ulis looked promising as a rookie last season after Bledsoe was dealt, only to be cut in a failed attempt to sign a point guard in free agency. You get the point, the Suns have not been lucky with keeping point guards long term.
Now, what do the Phoenix Suns and TJ McConnell have in common? Well, last month Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the Sixers had been offered a second round pick by the Suns for McConnell. Of course, the Sixers did not take the offer. The pick would likely be an early second round pick with the Suns currently in a rebuild and unlikely to make any playoff run in the Western Conference. The value for McConnell seems to be in that area.
I would not at all be surprised to see him become trade bait around the deadline. In February, we could see a contending team that has a pick projected in say, the late first round make a push to get a play-maker off the bench. The most notable teams would be the Rockets, Nuggets, or even the Spurs looking for an extra piece off the bench as well as the Magic and Suns looking for depth at point guard.
Long story short, it seems likely that the next Sixer to be dealt could very well be T.J. McConnell.