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Reassessing Elton Brand’s GM Tenure: Part 1

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Let’s evaluate the Old School Chevy’s short time as the head man in the front office

Philadelphia 76ers Unveil Charles Barkley Sculpture Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

In the wake of the New York Knicks’ reported interest in targeting Elton Brand as a candidate for their GM position, the bulk of Sixers fans online responded with some version of “I’m ready to drive him to 30th Street Station at a moment’s notice”. Of course, much like Yelp reviews, it’s often the unhappy minority that comes across as the most vociferous in terms of sports discussions. Maybe there’s a silent majority that thinks E.B. has been doing a fine job. Either way, let’s take this opportunity to evaluate each of Brand’s moves since he took the reins in September 2018. (That’s right, it’s been only about a year and a half since Brand became the GM.)

Part 1 today will cover everything through the 2019 draft.

September 21, 2018-October 12, 2018: Signed Emeka Okafor, Matt Farrell, DJ Hogg, Cory Jefferson, and Darin Johnson

These were a bunch of training camp deals, so no harm, no foul. However, Okafor being brought into the Sixers family helped set the stage for one of the great moments in Delaware 87ers history: a former second overall pick in the NBA draft wearing a Spongebob uniform to play basketball.

Erie Bayhawks v Delaware 87ers Photo by Michael J. LeBrecht II/NBAE via Getty Images

Grade: Pass

November 12, 2018: Traded Jerryd Bayless, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, and a 2022 second-round pick to Minnesota for Jimmy Butler and Justin Patton

I’m going to try and avoid all the “what-if” scenarios about what happened with these guys in subsequent transactions. The Sixers were all-in to try and win the championship during the 2018-19 season. They came within a crazy four-bounce shot of forcing overtime in Game 7 of a playoff series against the eventual champion. So they were right there with any team in the league (aside from a healthy Warriors squad). Jimmy Butler was the put-the-team-on-his-back ball-handler the offense desperately needed, especially in the playoffs when everything ground down to a halt.

I love Dario, but it doesn’t seem like signing him to a second long-term deal was ever really in the cards and his play cratered this season and last. Essentially, you’re looking at missing out on a few very affordable years of Robert Covington for that one season of Butler. Since you can make the argument that we would have had a parade down Broad Street last summer if Joel Embiid doesn’t contract a stomach virus during the Toronto series, it’s hard to argue with Elton for making this move.

Grade: B+

January 8, 2019-January 15, 2019: Signed Haywood Highsmith to a two-way contract; signed Corey Brewer to a 10-day contract.

Houston Rockets v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

I’ll stack the Corey Brewer game against the Rockets against any other great moment in Process history.

Grade: A+

February 6, 2019: Traded Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, Landry Shamet, a 2020 first-round draft pick, a 2021 first-round draft pick, and a 2023 second-round draft pick to the Clippers for Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, and Mike Scott.

Traded cash to the Toronto Raptors for Emir Preldzic, Malachi Richardson, and a 2022 second-round draft pick.

Huge move! The Sixers purchased a second-round pick from Toronto!

But seriously, what a big swing here by Elton. Shamet has already proven to be a rotation player on a rookie-scale deal, and the Sixers also gave up a pair of first-round picks (their own this summer and Miami’s in 2021). Scott was a reliable bench guy last season, hit a game-winner in the Brooklyn series, and inspired his own Hive. Boban is as lovable a character as you’ll ever come across, but he was unplayable by the second round of the playoffs. Really, though, this deal comes down to your opinion of Tobias Harris.

Under the same win-now criteria I laid out in the Butler trade section, having Tobi as the team’s fourth-best player was certainly a luxury. He helped space the floor, provided secondary ball-handling, and even stepped up in certain defensive assignments, like when he guarded Marc Gasol in the Raptors series. If you’re making the “Sixers were a more favorable bounce away from winning the title” argument, you have to also acknowledge they’re not in that position with Shamet and Chandler/Muscala in the rotation in place of Harris and Scott. Still, a pair of firsts and a JJ Redick-acolyte on the roster for the next decade was a lot to give up for a half season of Harris and the upper hand at him in free agency.

Grade: C+

February 7, 2019: Traded Markelle Fultz to Orlando for Jonathon Simmons, a 2019 second-round draft pick, and a 2020 first-round draft pick.

Traded rights to swap 2021 second-round draft picks to Houston for James Ennis.

Picking up Ennis, who was a more-than-serviceable deep bench guy last season, for basically nothing more than helping Houston save luxury tax money was a great move by Elton. But I’m sure people are more interested in discussing the Fultz trade.

Let’s recognize the sunk cost aspect of this situation. You can’t say, “That’s all Elton got for a former first overall pick?!?” Brand has to deal with Markelle’s value at that point in time, which was low. I’m also of the opinion that keeping Fultz in Philadelphia was not in the best interest of either party. I think going to Orlando, out of the spotlight somewhat and not the place where he had dealt with whatever he had dealt with, allowed Fultz to turn his career around to the degree it did this season. I don’t believe getting spot minutes as a bench guy on a Sixers team pushing to win a title would have been all that beneficial for him.

Now, did Brand luck out that Oklahoma City was much better than expected and it looks like the Sixers will receive that top-20-protected first-round pick? Of course. But it’s hard to imagine too many teams were dying to sign up for the Markelle Fultz experience last February, so you have to recognize Elton for getting anything of value for Fultz, while also freeing up additional cap space for the summer of 2019 (your opinion of what he did with the cap space is a separate discussion).

Grade: B

April 4, 2019: Signed Greg Monroe to a contract for the rest of the season.

The Sixers were PLUS-90(!!!!!) with Joel Embiid on the floor against the Raptors and lost the series.

Grade: FAIL

June 20, 2019: Traded the 24th and 33rd overall picks to Boston for the 20th overall pick; selected Matisse Thybulle.

Traded the 34th overall pick to Atlanta for the 57th overall pick, a 2020 second-round pick, and a 2023 second-round pick; traded the 57th overall pick to Detroit for $2 million and a 2024 second-round pick.

Traded the 42nd overall pick and Jonathon Simmons to Washington for $2 million.

Selected Marial Shayok with the 54th overall pick.

Matisse Thybulle’s elite defensive numbers definitely translated to the NBA during his rookie season. He averaged outrageous per-36 numbers of 2.6 steals and 1.3 blocks prior to the season’s suspension. Thybulle had his rookie moments and fouled a little too much at times, but any concerns that he would struggle with man-to-man defense after playing a lot of zone at Washington were put to rest. Offensively, his shooting was certainly up-and-down, but his 35.2% mark from 3 has to be encouraging moving forward. On top of it all, everyone raves about his work ethic and personality. I couldn’t be happier to have Matisse as a Sixer.

Still, Elton Brand completely telegraphed the team’s interest in Thybulle leading up to the draft, resulting in a situation where he had to give up the 33rd overall pick to move up four spots to secure him. That’s embarrassing, and strong evidence for why Sam Hinkie insisted on running such a tight-lipped organization during his tenure. You have to discount Elton’s performance in light of that fact.

Brand kicked the can down the road with the 34th overall pick, which made some sense with not having a lot of open roster spots heading into this past season. The 2023 second-round pick is the most favorable of Atlanta’s, Charlotte’s, or Brooklyn’s, so it could be pretty good. Villanova product Eric Paschall would have been a nice get, though, after seeing him fall to 41st overall in the draft. Granted, it’s tough to cherry-pick what-if’s in the second round of drafts.

Jonathon Simmons had a guaranteed $1 million on his deal for the 2019-20 season, so there was some cap-related benefit to getting him off the books heading into free agency. However, this transaction rightfully has to be viewed as a cash grab initiated by ownership. There are much more creative ways to utilize a 42nd overall pick than selling it, even if you don’t have room for another player on the roster. I hope to avoid seeing similar moves by the Sixers’ front office in the future.

Shayok doesn’t seem like he’ll ever be an NBA rotation player, but you don’t expect that from the 54th overall pick. Maybe he’ll eventually surprise us, but his selection was perfectly fine regardless.

Grade: B-

That’s it for now. Part 2 coming tomorrow.