As Sam Hinkie taught us, the most important part of assembling a team that can win a championship in the NBA is having superstars. No matter how basketball continues to change over time, one thing will always remain the same: you can not win without stars.
Now, the Sixers have the top of their roster ready for title contention — Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and now, Jimmy Butler make for one of the best trios in recent history. Aside from the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors, no team can credibly claim that they have three of the 25 best players in the NBA, except for the Sixers.
So, the hardest part of creating a championship team is over with for the Sixers. But now comes another difficult task — surround your three superstars with the appropriate supporting cast in order to elevate them, en route to a title.
Trading for Butler, as well as moving Markelle Fultz to the bench, indicates the Sixers are prioritizing the short-term instead of focusing on long-term development. With that understanding comes the assumption that in the coming months leading up to February’s trade deadline, the Sixers will be exploring every avenue possible to improve a bench that, quite frankly, is not one with which you can hope to win a title.
But as we learned last year, trades are not the only way to bolster your roster in the middle of the season. After many months of a putrid bench last year, the Sixers made no trades before the deadline, which angered and confused many of us. But weeks later, they picked up Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli after the two former Hawks got bought out, and the spacing provided by those two players helped the Sixers take off and transform into a new, much better team.
So here, we won’t just be evaluating trade targets, but also players who could be bought out by their current teams and become free agents.
Note: Last time I wrote one of these articles, it was the beginning of July, and I suggested that the Sixers try taking on Wilson Chandler’s expiring contract from the Denver Nuggets. Later that day, they did just that. So if the Sixers make a trade soon, you can thank me.
Kyle Korver, Cleveland Cavaliers
Let’s start out with the most obvious name — Korver has been linked to the Sixers ever since the beginning of the summer. Marc Stein of the New York Times reported earlier this week that the Sixers remain very interested in forming a reunion with Korver, who established himself as one of the league’s best shooters during his time in Philadelphia. However, recent events have made this tricky. First, Furkan Korkmaz has given the Sixers some very inspiring performances recently, and if he can keep on doing so, they might not need Korver. But also, now that Jerryd Bayless is in Minnesota, a Korver trade will likely have to wait a few months — in order to form a realistic trade, newly acquired Sixer Justin Patton would need to be in the trade, along with one more cheap salary (Korkmaz, Jonah Bolden, Landry Shamet, or T.J. McConnell). But, Patton can not be traded in combination with another player until January 11th, the two-month anniversary of the trade that brought him to Philadelphia. Assuming Korkmaz shows a few more flashes of promise, but still cools off, a trade sending he and Patton’s expiring contracts to a young Cleveland team to rent Korver could be a realistic move.
George Hill, Cleveland Cavaliers; Patrick Beverley, Los Angeles Clippers
Role: Perimeter defender, spot-up shooter, secondary ball-handler
The Sixers would need luck to be on their side here — because of his massive $18M expiring salary (only owed $1M next season), Hill is going to be nearly impossible for Cleveland to deal. But, if Hill and the Cavs can agree that it is best for both sides for the Cavs to buy out his contract, allowing them to give minutes to younger players and allowing him to play on a contender, the Sixers should call Hill’s agent immediately. He has a skill set that makes him a wonderful fit alongside the Embiid-Butler-Simmons trio.
Hill’s stint in Cleveland has not been anything special, but take a look at how he performed in 43 games for the Sacramento Kings last year, according to Synergy Sports...
- 97th percentile on Hand-offs
- 99th percentile in Spot-up Shooting
- 87th percentile as defender against pick-and-roll ball-handler
Is it fair to say that Hill’s abilities have dropped off a bit since the first half of last year? Perhaps. But, there is no denying his seamless fit with the Sixers. His strengths are the Sixers’ weaknesses.
Beverley isn’t the same player as Hill, but they do check many of the same boxes — offensively, both are point guards who can play away from the ball and nail spot-up threes (in his last full season, Beverley was in the 80th percentile in spot-up shooting). Hill is certainly a good defensive player, but Beverley, despite having a small frame, is known for being a world class defender. He is, however, a less effective player with the ball in his hands, but that’s a weakness the Sixers can be okay dealing with now that they have both Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler.
Justin Holiday, Chicago Bulls
Role: Perimeter defender, spot-up shooter
Holiday, who like his brother Jrue is a former Sixer (his tenure with the team was much shorter), could be quite valuable for this team on a relatively small contract (one year, $4.3M). He truly does not have a single excellent skill, but he seems to consistently be good enough as both a shooter and a defender. He has shot 35.8 percent from beyond the arc since 2015-16, and is a player who can defend against both guard positions. As someone who could likely be gotten for a cheap price in a trade, Holiday is very much worth a look for the Sixers.
Robin Lopez, Chicago Bulls; Dewayne Dedmon, Atlanta Hawks
Role: Rim protector, rebounder
While I am a fan of Amir Johnson, and believe he was underrated by Sixers fans last year, it is no secret that he has struggled mightily so far this season. And if this continues, the Sixers will need to explore potential backup center options other than going small and putting Mike Muscala there. Assuming either of these two players become available, which seems increasingly likely because of the youth movements going on in Chicago and Atlanta, the Sixers should pursue their services. They could provide stability in the backup center role as someone who you know will provide good rim protection and solid rebounding when Joel Embiid is out of the game.
Lopez will likely be a buyout market player because of his heavy salary for this season, while Dedmon’s cheaper contract makes him an easier player to acquire through a trade, especially considering that the Hawks likely will not need an incredibly inspiring return to move him.
Trevor Ariza, Phoenix Suns
Role: Wing defender, spot-up shooter
Ariza, who signed a big one-year deal with the Suns this summer, is a favorite among Sixers fans who are hopeful for some reinforcements on the wing, and justifiably so. Despite an uncharacteristic slow start to this season, if Ariza hits the buyout market, he will likely be near the top of the Sixers’ wish list thanks to his impressive track record. He has been a decent jump-shooter and a very good defender for a long time, and can provide some very valuable minutes for a Sixers team that is severely lacking switchable wings like him.
Anthony Tolliver, Minnesota Timberwolves
Role: Floor spacer
Tolliver, who the Wolves signed to replace Sixers legend Nemanja Bjelica, would improve the Sixers’ offense dramatically. He is as good of a shooter as you can find in a big man, having made 41.7 percent of his three-point attempts in the last three years, while maintaining a healthy volume of over four tries per game. Last season, he had a career year for the Detroit Pistons — he made an almost absurdly good 43.7 percent of his threes, shooting 4.6 of them per game, and finishing in the 97th percentile in spot-up shooting. While he certainly is not a stellar defender, Tolliver was surprisingly effective on that end last year, too.
So, why would the Wolves have interest in trading him? Well, they already had an abundance of bigs before the Jimmy Butler trade brought them our good friend Dario Saric. And it seems that he is falling out of the rotation — after averaging just over 20 minutes per game in the first 11 games of the season, he played an average of just 14 minutes over the following three games. And then the Butler trade occurred, and in the two games that Minnesota has played since, Tolliver has not seen any action. The Sixers need to take advantage of this rather confusing decision by Minnesota, and make a run at grabbing Tolliver. He has the potential to make the Sixers’ offense absolutely lethal.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Los Angeles Clippers
Role: Versatile defender, spot-up shooter
Mbah a Moute, an unsung hero of The Process, would fit in seamlessly if he were brought back to Philly. He may not be the player he once was, but he still is somebody who you can count on for high-quality defensive minutes against multiple positions, and is at least a decent shooter. It’s hard to say at this point that he would fit better as the backup four than someone like Tolliver, but he is still another player who should be attainable and deserves a hard look from the Sixers.
There were some common themes here — the Sixers seem to no longer have a single glaring hole that desperately needs to be filled, but instead a handful of weaknesses, some minor and some much more noteworthy, that they can try to shore up with some acquisitions in the coming months. To me, these are their five biggest holes:
- Wing depth, particularly defensively
- Consistent rim protection and rebounding off the bench
- Another reliable three-point shooter
- At least one more player comfortable with the ball in his hands
- One more rotation big
Finding players to help fix these weaknesses on the trade or buyout market would be excellent. But the Sixers should also do their due diligence when it comes to making sure they don’t have players like that already on the team. For example, Furkan Korkmaz has given the team good minutes recently — before the Sixers go after someone like Korver, they should make sure that Korkmaz isn’t capable of being the extra shooter that they’re coveting.
It remains to be seen whether the Sixers bring in a few of the players from this list, acquire someone else who we haven’t thought of yet, or stand pat in hopes that they can get the necessary production from the pieces they’re currently working with on the roster. But if going all-in on a Jimmy Butler trade suggests anything, it’s that Elton Brand is insistent on contending for a Finals appearance this season. Buckle up.