It feels like the Sixers banished Markelle Fultz from Philadelphia a lifetime ago. They traded the former first overall pick in a deal to land Jonathon Simmons and a protected Oklahoma City Thunder first-round pick back in February 2019.
At the time the trade was made, there was a somewhat realistic chance of the pick conveying. The Thunder had franchise star Russell Westbrook, Paul George was coming off of a career year, and they had a great supporting cast, including Steven Adams, (process legend) Jerami Grant, and a few developing young players.
The immediate future following that deal was not friendly to the Thunder, however. Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers sent them packing in only five games during the 2019 playoffs. That exit eventually led to Paul George demanding a trade, which ushered in a complete teardown of the contending roster.
After a series of trades, most viewed the Thunder as a lottery-bound team, but Chris Paul and a developing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had other plans. The Thunder currently have the same record as the Houston Rockets and sit as the fifth seed in the West. With only eight more games being played for the 2019-20 regular season, the Thunder are guaranteed a playoff spot.
The Philadelphia 76ers currently own the 2020 OKC pick if it lands outside of the top 20. If this pick lands within the top 20, it will convey into two future second-round picks. As things stand, the pick would be 22nd, with a 1.5-game cushion between Oklahoma City and the 20th spot (currently a tie between Indiana and the Sixers themselves).
We’ve seen this pick travel around the league a good amount. (Our own Dave Early posted a piece covering the history behind this pick.) Generally, when it has been involved in a deal, it has been viewed as somewhat of a throw-in. However, this pick can be the ultimate key and make-or-break piece for the Sixers during the upcoming offseason.
How can a singular draft pick outside of the lottery have such an effect on a NBA team with championship aspirations? Let me explain:
The OKC pick conveying would give the Sixers a lot more flexibility in terms of what they can actually do in the offseason. The options are really endless, but here’s a few examples of some things they can do:
- The Sixers can keep the pick and draft someone in the early 20’s. While the 2020 NBA Draft isn’t exactly a deep draft, there will surely be hidden gems found throughout. Getting a prospect on a cheap four-year deal is extremely beneficial to a team limited in salary.
- Keeping things in the draft theme, the Sixers can package the OKC pick in a trade to move up in the draft. The Sixers currently own two early second rounders in this draft (the 34th and 36th overall picks), which they could package in a deal to move up into the teens.
- Moving Al Horford is something that should probably happen sooner rather than later, as his play will likely only regress over time. It’s extremely unlikely the Sixers will move Horford in a one-for-one type of deal, and having an extra first-round pick to sweeten the pot could be the moving point in getting off of Horford’s contract. Taking on Horford’s deal would become a lot more attractive if the Sixers were to throw in a first-round pick and/or a young prospect.
- The Sixers can move the pick for a future first rounder. As I’ve stated before, the 2020 NBA Draft is widely looked upon as a weak draft. Shipping off the pick for a future first rounder to use on a stronger draft or future trade would help long-term flexibility.
The majority of the Sixers’ core is locked into deals that will go beyond next season. Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, Al Horford, and Joel Embiid all have contracts worth more than $25 million a year moving forward. The team will need every asset possible to retool and revamp the roster to give the franchise cornerstones the necessary talent around them. It would not hurt to gain an extra first-round pick.
The good news is that after the 2020 draft, the Sixers will have all of their own first-round draft picks for the foreseeable future. While they’ll likely be mid-to-late first rounders, they’ll be valuable assets which the team can use to improve their active roster.
The Sixers will have a multitude of options available if the OKC pick remains on its path to conveying. What first looked likely to be a throw-in in a trade now looks to be a potential key to put the Sixers back on the right path toward championship contention. Open up a tab on Tankathon, ladies and gents.