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Reassessing Elton Brand’s GM Tenure: Part 2

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Part 2 looks at Brand’s last nine months

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Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

With the Knicks reportedly interested in the services of Sixers GM Elton Brand, we’re examining his past transactions as the head man in the front office. Yesterday’s Part 1 covered September 2018 through the 2019 NBA draft. Today’s Part 2 will pick up from there.

July 2, 2019: Signed Norvel Pelle to a two-way contract.

Pelle performed well in G League play, and in limited minutes at the NBA level, such as his four-block game against the Knicks in his Sixers debut. For his efforts, Norvel eventually earned his way into a standard NBA contract in February. Pelle is regarded as a great teammate, the Frosty Freeze Out hype man, and a world-class air guitarist. Basically, he is the perfect end-of-bench player.

Grade: B+

July 6, 2019: Conducted a sign-and-trade as part of a four-team deal sending Jimmy Butler to Miami and Mathias Lessort to the Clippers, receiving Josh Richardson from Miami.

I’m not going to delve into the mind of Jimmy Butler and try to ascertain which rumors of locker room dynamics, or words that trickled down from the front office actually led him to dismiss returning to Philadelphia as a possibility (and I’m not going to take words from Butler’s own mouth as scripture — even if they came on JJ Redick’s podcast). Regardless, whatever the reason or reasons, Butler was not coming back. So getting a player of Richardson’s caliber, someone perhaps a small tick below being an All-Star and on a terrific team-friendly deal, was a huge boon for Brand.

Sure, Brand lucked out enormously that Butler wanted to go to Miami and not some team with cap space, such as either of the Los Angeles teams. But he still operated as though he was coming from a place of leverage in getting Richardson, probably the Heat’s second-best piece behind Bam Adebayo. Miami could have balked at a J-Rich deal, and said it’s a package around Kelly Olynyk or Justise Winslow and some middling picks or nothing, for example. But Elton played his cards right, and turned chicken s**t into chicken salad. You can assign some degree of blame to him for Butler not remaining a Sixer if you like, I can neither confirm nor dispute it. However, how this all shook out was MUCH, MUCH better than the worst-case scenario.

Grade: B

July 10, 2019: Signed Al Horford as a free agent.
Signed Tobias Harris as a free agent.
Signed Mike Scott as a free agent.

The four-year deal thrown at Al Horford has been an abject disaster. He, Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid can not all coexist on the floor at the same time. Whether due to injury or age, there have been stretches this season where Al has looked positively washed. Maybe his ailments heal up and he looks more like the Horford of old in the future, but there are decent odds that the latter half of his contract will be a huge albatross. A subsequent move by Brand getting off Horford’s contract whenever the next offseason rolls around without it being treated as a negative asset would garner an A+ grade.

The Sixers received a slight below-max discount by signing Harris to a five-year, $180 million deal, but that hasn’t stopped a certain contingent from constantly complaining about how he is overpaid. Does Tobias’s play warrant an annual salary upwards of $30 million? No. But a “fair market value” would probably be somewhere be somewhere around $28 million. I can’t imagine why people get so worked up about a guy being overpaid by about $5 million. That’s the price of keeping someone from hitting the open market in this league. If the Sixers didn’t throw the money at him, another team was going to sign him to a four-year max. If Butler wasn’t going to stick around, what was the alternative plan rather than giving Harris the deal? Tobi is slightly overpaid, but he’s still only 27 and his game should age just fine. Relax on this one.

While Philadelphia grew to love Scott even more off the court, his on-court play took a dive this season. His 3-point shooting dropped to 35.8 percent, his worst mark in four years, and his defense regressed. There were times when it looked like Scott might fall out of the rotation entirely. It’s not like his $5 million per year deal is breaking the bank, but the Sixers could probably have used that slot for a player more helpful to the cause next season.

Grades: (Horford) F, (Harris) B-, (Scott) D

July 11, 2019: Signed Kyle O’Quinn as a free agent.
Signed James Ennis as a free agent.
Signed Raul Neto as a free agent.

O’Quinn never emerged as the reliable spot-minutes bench big the Sixers were hoping for upon his signing, eventually asking the team to release him in February, although the Sixers did not acquiesce. Ennis took less money to stay in Philadelphia with the anticipation that the Sixers would “walk to the Finals in the East.” By February, he was gone (more on that below). Neto had his amazing 19-point first half against Warriors, playing so well that Ben Simmons urged Brett Brown to leave Raul in the game. Largely, though, Neto yo-yo’d between DNP’s and largely forgettable backup minutes. I sure do love the wolf howl on the PA system when Raul scores, though.

Grade: C

July 16, 2019: Signed Ben Simmons to a multi-year extension.

Simmons signing a max extension was an inevitability, so his five-year, $170 million deal came as no surprise. The further compensation as part of the designation rookie extension language in the contract does not look like it will come into play, as Simmons’ back injury probably eliminated any possibility of an All-NBA designation, but Brand compromised with Simmons’ camp by tiering the addition compensation as a percent of salary cap based upon first, second, or third team. As The Athletic’s Derek Bodner wrote last summer, because of how these extensions work in context with the league’s salary cap, Simmons will continue to be vastly underpaid throughout this extension.

Grade: A

July 26, 2019: Signed Furkan Korkmaz as a free agent.

When Philadelphia didn’t pick up Korkmaz’s option in October 2018, it was assumed the 2018-19 season would be his last in a Sixers uniform. Then, Furkan didn’t encounter a raucous reception to his entrance into free agency and he surprisingly returned to the City of Brotherly Love on a league-minimum deal.

This past season, Korkmaz grew into Brett Brown’s “bomber”. He became a vital part of the rotation, knocked down the game-winner in Portland, and scored 30-plus points in back-to-back games against Memphis and Chicago in early February. Would you want to have gone through life without Furkan having made it rain? I thought not.

Grade: A+

July 30, 2019: Signed Trey Burke as a free agent.

Vats of digital ink were spilled concerning the Raul Neto vs. Trey Burke backup point guard debate, but it never really materialized. Brett Brown would sometimes vacillate between one or the other, but more often, it was Josh Richardson at the controls of the offense when Ben Simmons sat, and later, some combination of Shake Milton and Alec Burks. Philadelphia eventually released Trey in January. The primary reason we might even remember the Trey Burke Sixers era is Allen Iverson having once worn a Burke jersey to the game.

Grade: C-

October 19, 2019: Signed Julian Washburn, Xavier Munford, Shizz Alston Jr., Terry Harris, and Jared Brownridge.

I’m sure Tobias Harris enjoyed having his brother brought into the fold, but these training camp deals didn’t reveal any diamonds in the rough. Still, such moves are a dime a dozen; occasions where teams stumble across a keeper in such a fashion are a true rarity.

Grade: Incomplete

February 6, 2020: Traded James Ennis to Orlando for a 2020 second-round draft pick.
Traded a 2020 second-round draft pick, a 2021 second-round draft pick, and a 2022 second-round draft pick to Golden State for Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson.

Ennis had fallen out of Brett Brown’s rotation and shipping him out for the Lakers’ nearly-last pick in the draft was about doing a solid for a guy who took a pay cut to stick around Philadelphia.

All three second-round picks sent to the Warriors belong to current playoff teams, so likely, the Sixers won’t rue giving any of them up, although you never know. Robinson went nearly a month upon his arrival to Philadelphia without making a 3, but had come around some lately, scoring 25 points against the Lakers and an efficient 15 against his old mates in Golden State. Burks was as advertised, providing much-needed shot creation off the dribble and an ability to get to the free throw line. His 19-point effort in the overtime victory over Brooklyn was probably his apex performance as a Sixer, but he was also consistent, scoring in double digits in four straight games to start the month of March.

Grade: B+

We’ve reached the end of the current road in terms of Elton Brand’s transactions as Sixers GM. I hope to have more purely basketball-related moves to discuss in the not-too-distant future. Stay safe, everyone.