The NBA trade deadline is one month away and so things should really heat up as teams make final judgments on what they’re lacking and what they need. The Sixers are not where this front office wanted or expected them to be and so they would be wise to strongly consider trades of the big, small, and medium variety. There are some massive questions to address that the coming weeks should help us all answer. No, I’m not talking about trading one of Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid. I think we all know they do not form perfect complements like Michael and Scottie or Stockton and Malone once did. But they’re both dynamic and potent weapons and they deserve more time together. So barring surprise offers for more complimentary All-NBA types, let’s think about the different types of trades that don’t involve the team’s top two players.
Where to begin?
Some of those big conversations were touched upon recently on the Sixers Beat Podcast with Derek Bodner and Rich Hofmann, both of The Athletic:
Bodner: ‘I’m now sort of of the mindset like: do they need sort of like that third star still? Like all that “star hunting” have we come up short? Have we come up not only short but with pieces that don’t fit? .... We’re sort of at this cross road where you ask ‘should you look to address some of the periphery pieces so you can contend with this starting five’ or do you need to question whether or not this starting five can become that championship core? And it’s a very uncomfortable question to be having. It’s one that I wasn’t entirely expecting to be having.”
It was a great podcast and might come as an icy splash of water to fans hoping for a championship in June. The Sixers experiment of fielding an ultra-big lineup full of front-court players hasn’t yet produced enough points to win road games this season; at least not at a clip the team probably expected. As many fans have known for years now, the NBA seemingly discourages loads of post-ups and “bully ball.” Officiating crews appear to discourage that type of stuff; that trend manifests itself the most when Philadelphia is away from Wells Fargo.
The team is 7-12 on the road and in 5th place overall in the East. We don’t know how long they will be without their franchise center while he nurses an injured left ring finger. Currently, they’re 16th in the league in points per 100 possessions, per ESPN. Last year they were much better offensively, ranking 7th out of 30 teams in that category. They rank 6th overall defensively, when last year they ranked 14th. They placed their biggest bet on the theory that “defense wins championships” but it often feels like that hasn’t helped Embiid or the team all that much.
But they could certainly use an injection of offense. Losing Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick had the net impact of costing the Sixers one of the advantages they enjoyed last season: free throws. The 2018-2019 Sixers were second in the league in free throws attempted with 27.3 freebee’s per game. This season they’re well below average in the category and rank 21st with just 22.1 attempts per game. They’ve slowed down too. They played with the 8th fastest pace last season. Now they rank 18th in that category.
But what type of player would help them pick up the pace and get some more efficient shots like free throws?
The Sixers brass will probably at least consider this type of deal. It’s not impossible that a team or two out there would be open to taking Horford’s monster four-year $109m deal. If so, perhaps they could target a player like Chris Paul and offer a heap of draft picks or swaps to tempt Oklahoma. Here was the deal they accepted when they flipped Paul for Russel Westbrook this past summer:
The Oklahoma City Thunder have agreed to trade Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul, first-round picks in 2024 and 2026, pick swaps in 2021 and 2025, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 12, 2019
Maybe the Sixers could offer a massive godfather type offer for CJ McCollum. It seems almost impossible to tempt Portland into a rebuild with a pile of future draft picks (from a team that projects to be winners for at least a handful of years to come).
Medium size deals
The next type of deal could come in the form Bodner alluded to at another point on his podcast: “is...[Josh] Richardson, [Matisse] Thybulle, draft picks, is that something you can parlay into a third star or quasi-star that just fits?”
Could Josh Richardson and rookie Matisse Thybulle and some draft picks net the Sixers a “quasi-star?” If they offered Richardson, Mike Scott and Zhaire Smith they could inch towards the ~$18m range of salary. By shipping out multiple players for a single player who fits, (even if they did not have to include Thybulle) they could also open up a couple of roster spots for the buyout market next month. Players like Gary Harris or Zach LaVine are likely not available but they are good. The Sixers could consider kicking in multiple draft picks in an attempt to sweeten the pot. A guy like Evan Fournier of the Magic is probably not worth the type of package it would take to get him, although his offensive skills might make things more fun for Embiid, who clearly misses Butler and Redick.
Some fans have already delved into the seemingly infinite-combination-universe of smaller deals. As soon as I saw this tweet from LB friend and contributor @mwteller I knew he was about to stay up late just to scout potential trade targets like Alec Burks, Bogdan Bogdanović, Cory Joseph, Dewayne Dedmon, and more.
About to watch Warriors Kings like a true psychopath.— Marty Teller (@mwteller) January 7, 2020
This type of deal is especially enticing because if you’re not convinced that Zhaire Smith is going to help the team in the near future, and you’re not a die-hard member of the Mike Scott Hive, then it might represent a way to upgrade the team’s bench without disrupting the team’s nucleus.
The following type of deal would likely also necessitate draft compensation to make it worth Sacramento’s while:
Then there are players who are potentially available like maybe New York’s Marcus Morris Sr. whom the Sixers have already been linked to, per Marc Berman:
The case against that type of move goes something like this:
“the Sixers have a team of front court players. If you’re going to expend resources, don’t spend them on yet another guy who is a natural stretch four. You have Simmons, Embiid, Al Horford, Tobias Harris, for the love of dribbling go get a guard!” And that’s compelling. But if nothing else materialized whatsoever....
Here’s the case for a player like Morris (it’s not that different from the case for reacquiring Robert Covington):
“He doesn’t fill a need. But he’s shooting a blistering hot 46.9% now. He’s shooting 42.4% on all his catch-and-shoot triples dating back to the beginning of the 2018-2019 season, a 471 shot sample. Since Morris is much better than Mike Scott (the only current rotation player involved in that deal above) he could actually compete with Horford for a starting (or more importantly closing) role; further splitting up Horford and Embiid who don’t complement each other all that well. He’s good defensively and brings toughness they’d lose with Scott.
Maybe a team like Cleveland (with two empty roster spots) could be enticed to help facilitate a big multi-player deal, allowing the Knicks to keep some of their own bench guys and not have to make room for everyone above.
There are players whose names frequently come up. Alec Burks on the Warriors is playing well. He’s taking over 4 free throws per game, and his free throw attempt per minute rate of 0.15 ranks 35th in the league. He’s taking 2.4 pull up triples per game and knocking them down at a 37.6 percent clip.
Davis Bertans’ name comes up all the time. He may not offer much else but he can certainly shoot:
Acquiring Bertans would be an inefficient allocation of resources for the Sixers, IMO. Don't think he addresses their needs to the necessary degree. https://t.co/4KR91dIgqF— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) January 6, 2020
Here is how a deal for him might look if the Sixers kicked in draft comp:
How about a guy like Tomas Satoransky, again using draft comp to entice the Bulls:
Satoransky is knocking down his 3s (38.4 percent), he’s dishing dimes offering some much needed play-making and creation for others, (6.6 dimes per 36 minutes) and his defensive rating per 100 minutes is better than his offensive rating per 100 min. (112 o and 107 def).
There are also players fans talk about like Derrick Rose, Langston Galloway, Reggie Bullock, Joe harris, D.J. Augustin, Bryn Forbes, Patty Mills, Terrence Ross, and Dennis Schröder who may not be in their respective team’s long term plans.
We could play this game forever. Assuming Embiid is healthy, this month is going to be very important for both evaluating the Sixers’ own team and evaluating some of their top trade targets. If he’s potentially out for multiple weeks, that’s yet another can of worms. But the front office needs to answer this: is the starting five they constructed good enough to win a title with a little extra help or do they need to pivot away from a fit that is just too clunky? Rumors should be picking up over the next few weeks.