A trade involving one of the Sixers' bigs has felt inevitable from the day they selected Jahlil Okafor last June. Owning the No. 1 pick in this year's draft has only amplified the conversation surrounding Philadelphia's pieces in the frontcourt.
The latest to chime in on the possibility is ESPN's resident Big Board reviser Chad Ford. Ford made an appearance on 97.3 ESPN in South Jersey, and contributed his thoughts on how this situation may unfold:
I think that there's a very high likelihood, that whether it's to move up in the draft or use them to grab a free agent in a sign and trade or just to a trade, that you will not see the Nerlens Noel-Jahlil Okafor pairing at the start of next season. I think that they'll gauge the interest of both players. I think that there might be a slight preference for Noel, to keep him around with the Sixers, and I think you might be right, there might be a slight, better value for Okafor out on the market, but I think everyone agrees that that combination of those two players doesn't necessarily work.
The Sixers needs to pick up assets, especially if they're gonna go ahead and do a Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram with the first pick in the draft. Then they're gonna need those assets to start to fill out their backcourt, because the 24th pick and [the 26th pick], you're not finding starters. I'm not even sure that you're necessarily finding rotation players at that back end of the draft that are gonna make big impact, so they're gonna have to do that via free agency or via trade, and I think either Okafor or Noel — I don't think they'll trade both — but one of those two is probably their best trade chip.
We've been beating this discussion to death lately, but there are a couple interesting remarks in there. Okafor only holding a "slight" edge in trade value over Noel would be a bit of an upset given their respective contract situations, particularly with a rising salary cap looming on the horizon. Ford's assertion that the Sixers have a "slight" preference to keep Noel is also worth noting, even if it only matches other reports we've discussed this week.
Perhaps that's reading too much into phrasing choice during a radio appearance, and Ford doesn't outright claim to be reporting these details, either. A lot of his writing work blurs the line between what he believes to be true and what executives, agents and so forth are telling him about prospect rankings. It wouldn't be shocking for this assertion to be a similar blend of league insight and opinion.
Still, this is the topic that won't go away, dwarfing the debate we thought there might be regarding who to take with the No. 1 pick. We're rapidly approaching the point where there's too much noise to dismiss trade talk as fan musings. Who or what they're moved for remains a mystery, but it looks like one (or both) of Noel and Okafor will feature in another NBA city next season.
[h/t CSN Philly / Andrew Kulp for transcription]