Jonah Bolden did not play like someone who was drafted in the second round. Despite not shooting too well in the first two games, his energy and commitment to defence was evident, as was his nascent ability to play as a modern NBA stretch five.
That being said, making his way into the coming season's Sixers squad is a tall order.
What the 76ers think
According to The Daily Telegraph, Philadelphia head coach, Brett Brown had confirmed Bolden's eventual return to Serbia and Crvena Zvezda (Red Star), after the Summer League games were done.
“We are excited to have Jonah a part of our organisation during the Summer League, and we are also excited to watch him go to an environment where we feel like he can continue to play and develop the most,” coach Brown had said. “I think another season in Europe will be priceless."
“He can get court time and actually play at a high level, and we think that might be better served one year removed from our organisation.
“Anytime you can play against men, especially in a very respectable and difficult competition - that can only add to your development.”
It should be noted that this comment was made before Bolden began Summer League.
Is Serbia a better option?
Earlier this year, Fran Fraschilla had the Adriatic League ranked as one of the world's best leagues outside the NBA.
Under head coach Dejan Radonjić, KK Crvena zvezda (Red Star) three-peated as champions over the last three seasons in the Adriatic League, Serbian League, and won the Radivoj Korać Cup thrice in the last five years.
Unlike KK FMP, where Bolden played at last season, the forward will also be facing stiffer competition, when he makes his debut in the EuroLeague. Expect Bolden to further refine his skills playing against elite competition, while being coached by a premier team.
On the surface, it sounds like a good situation. We have to consider certain caveats, however.
Despite the introduction of a shortened shot clock following an offensive rebound, European basketball is often slower on execution. This might not necessarily prepare Bolden for the NBA's elite athleticism and frenetic pace. There's also a generally stronger emphasis on team execution, over the isolation/pick and roll plays that we often see in the NBA.
There's also no guarantee on playing ample minutes with Crvena zvezda. According to their 2017/18 provisional roster, Bolden is projected as one of six forwards on the team, of which four (Nemanja Dangubic, Borisa Simanic, Ognjen Dobric, Milko Bjelica) played with the team last season.
Depending on which forward spot he's played at (likely power forward), Bolden could be fighting for playing reps, on a competitive, established team no less.
Why not get Bolden over this year?
Given what Bolden's displayed so far, it makes sense to get him over soonest, and have him develop alongside the rest of the young Sixers core.
Bolden looks like he could develop into a two-way centre who defends well, blocks shots and owns a proficient three-point stroke; players like that don't exactly grow on trees. Having him as a third-string big man to Embiid after Johnson --or even playing right behind Saric-- sounds feasible on paper.
There are several reasons that stand against this idea.
Big men depth
The 76ers currently have several big men on the team, including Joel Embiid, Richaun Holmes, Jahlil Okafor and Amir Johnson. That's four, and we're not even counting forwards like Dario Saric or Ben Simmons. Unless Philly reduces their centre depth by dealing Okafor, then bump Holmes to the forward spot, there's simply no room for Bolden.
It's possible that Philadelphia might be able to move Okafor, but there isn't a huge market for someone with his injury history and inconsistent court performance. Would Philadelphia accept a lowball offer, just to make room for Bolden? The safer plan would be to simply stay put.
Extend the rookie contract timing
There's no pressure to bring Bolden in right now, from the team's perspective. They already hold Bolden's draft rights. Stashing him in Europe, means they get an extra twelve months to season him somewhere else, without being directly involved.
It all comes back to the cap
Why force the clock, when it comes to Bolden? Rookie deals offer the best value, and there is no need to waste a year of that excellent contract if they don't have to. The team saves a year of his rookie deal, and avoids these scenarios: Bolden soaking up another Sixer player's minutes, not getting enough reps to develop, and dealing with his extension earlier than needed.
Let him prove himself overseas, and bring him in on his rookie contract a season later. The Sixers know the potential in Bolden, and they want significant improvement, after he's developed a year in the Euroleague. Meanwhile, the current roster gets ample minutes to grow too, with veterans like Amir Johnson and Jerryd Bayless to help. It's player management and cap management all rolled in one.
Back in June, Jonathan Tjarks' piece on The Ringer described Bolden as planning to play in the NBA next season, which goes against the draft-and-stash plan Philadelphia has got.
"He still intends to come over to the NBA next season after paying a buyout to Zvezda, which could be an issue for teams looking for a draft-and-stash player (the Blazers, Jazz, and Nets, who all have multiple first-rounders) at the end of the first round."
It's likely Bolden's plans have been altered since, and it comes down to this: Jonah Bolden might be readier to join the Sixers, compared to the Sixers' willingness to relinquish a roster spot right now.
The two-way contract idea
There is a way to work around the Europe situation however, should Bolden be on board with the idea.
The NBA began allowing two-way contracts with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) in 2016. The teams could stash two players in their respective D-League (now G-League) teams, have them count as the 16th and 17th roster spots, and be able to call them up to the NBA as needed, especially as injury insurance.
This obviously requires financial sacrifice on Bolden's part, but it would keep him on the Delaware 87ers --Philadelphia's G-League team-- and be within shouting distance. It might be a sound strategy, given Philly's history with unlucky player injuries.
Philly.com's Keith Pompey pointed out that two-way players have a timeline of 45 days. They would need to be signed to the NBA team's 15-man roster after that, which would mean having to move someone.
Is Bolden definitely heading to Serbia after Summer League ends? All signs point to that being the outcome. Is there any chance things change? It's possible, but odds are low right now.