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Taking stock of the Sixers’ draft pick situation

After the James Harden trade, it’s worth taking a look at what remains in the cupboard.

2020 NBA Draft Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The Sixers made a big splash at the NBA trade deadline, executing one of the biggest blockbuster deals of the last few seasons.

Philadelphia’s team president Daryl Morey has shared his feelings in the past about spending draft capital in order to push for a championship.

Basically, Morey has felt if his team has a realistic chance to win a title, (a one-in-twenty-chance is roughly a cut off he’s used) it makes sense to trade away some future picks for on-court help:

Morey came on board prior to the Sixers’ 2020-2021 season. It didn’t take him long before dipping into the coffers in an attempt to build a championship-caliber roster around Joel Embiid.

Let’s take stock of the Sixers draft pick situation following the James Harden trade.

Summary

The short version is this: they traded away their 2023, 2025, and 2027 first-round picks.

Because of the Stepien Rule, teams cannot leave themselves with no first round pick in consecutive draft (although you can select a player on draft day and then trade him).

This rule basically prevents them from trading away their 2024, 2026, 2028 first-round picks.

Think: since they don’t have their 2025, they can’t trade either the ‘24 or ‘26 since that would leave them without picks in consecutive drafts. They can’t trade the ‘28 ‘cause now they don’t have their 2027.

As Morey noted during Harden and Paul Millsap’s intro presser a couple weeks ago, per our Paul Hudrick, “there are things you can do behind the scenes, like Miami just did, to modify certain things to make a first tradable, if you wanted to go that rout....”

With a president like Morey, one can bet if there’s any possible wiggle room, the Sixers will find it, if they wanted to go that rout.

But let’s look at each pick more thoroughly since there are some complicated protections and fine print for us to read through.

The upcoming 2022 first-round pick

In the Harden, trade the Sixers offered the Brooklyn Nets an option on the upcoming Sixers’ 2022 first-round pick.

Per RealGM:

“2022 first-round draft pick to Brooklyn

Philadelphia’s 2022 1st round pick to Brooklyn or Brooklyn has the right to instead receive Philadelphia’s 2023 1st round pick [Brooklyn-Philadelphia, 2/10/2022]”

The Sixers, 16-8 since the swap, seem like they’re heading in the right direction, and from Brooklyn’s perspective, that’s the wrong direction. Philly is now the fourth seed in the East, tied with the Boston Celtics, and 2.5 games behind the Conference leading Miami Heat. Jimmy Butler, destined to always be your nemesis. Although the second seed may be even better, perhaps getting to dodge the Brooklyn Nets in round one.

The algorithm at 538 predicts the Sixers to finish with the 7th best record overall, which would pencil them in for the 23th pick in the upcoming draft.

If Nets’ GM Sean Marks loved a player on the board, projected to fall to the in the mid-20’s by June, perhaps he’d execute his option on that day. But as of this writing it seems more likely the Nets will defer their option to 2023 and the Sixers will make a selection in just a few months.

If Harden left in free agency (something that feels highly unlikely now), if Harden or Embiid were to (heaven forbid) get banged up for a key stretch next season, that 2023 pick might see a spike in value at some point next season; at least the Nets will hope for that type of Philly mayhem.

In sum, the Sixers will get either their 2022 or 2023 pick, which they receive is up to Brooklyn.

But if I were that player selected by the Sixers, I wouldn’t get too comfortable in my new hat. And I definitely wouldn’t rush to buy any property. Young 3-and-D players could be targets since both “win-now” and rebuilding teams all want that archetype. They may have used that logic when they selected Jaden Springer last summer.

Morey has also noted that big men seem to get over drafted, so maybe he’d take a big hoping his phone starts ringing with reasonable offers.

2023 first and second round picks

It seems likely this first-round pick will go to Brooklyn as noted.

The Sixers do have a second-rounder in 2023 though.

According to Real GM, the Sixers possess a 2023 second rounder:

“2023 second round draft pick from Atlanta, Charlotte or Brooklyn (most favorable)”

They acquired this in a draft-day trade then GM Elton Brand made when he selected Bruno Fernando then quickly sent him packing for futures.

Once upon a time the Sixers sold some of their second-round picks and outraged their fans. Then they eventually pivoted (during the post-Colangelo, Collaborative days) to trading late picks for future late picks, occasionally netting a bit of cash considerations without losing the selection entirely.

The team hasn’t done that under Morey. Now they pretty much get value out of all of their picks by making selections on draft day or by making trades.

I wonder if that was a condition laid out in Morey’s initial Sixers contract, like a OK but you can’t make me waste all the second-round picks clause.

2024 picks

According to Fanspo, the Sixers still own their own first- and second-rounder in 2024. So yay. But they can’t trade it.

2025 pick

They don’t possess their 2025 first.

That went to the Oklahoma City Thunder, when the team wanted to dump Al Horford in exchange for Danny Green. The Sixers will retain that pick if it lands 1-6 in ‘25, if it somehow did, they’ll retain it again if it falls 1-4 in ‘26, and if so, then again 1-4 in ‘27.

But most likely, the Thunder (or whoever they trade it to) will get that pick on the first crack in summer of 2025.

That hurts. Not reading Liberty Ballers really bit this team a couple years ago and forced their hand here.

As for the the 2025 second-round pick, that was traded to Oklahoma City for George Hill last season.

2026 picks

Like the 2024, the Sixers own their 2026 pick also, but they can’t currently trade it.

A 2026 second-rounder was also traded to OKC for Hill. (How can we buy Thunder future stock while it’s still so cheap?)

2027 picks

Here’s what Real GM says about the Sixers’ 2027 first, now in Brooklyn’s possession, along with either the Sixers ‘22 or ‘23 first.

“2027 first round draft pick from Philadelphia

At least two years after Philadelphia conveys a 1st round pick to Oklahoma City if this pick is conveyed to Oklahoma City by 2026, Philadelphia’s 1st round pick to Brooklyn protected for selections 1-8 in 2027 and 1-8 in 2028; if Philadelphia has not conveyed a 1st round pick to Brooklyn by 2028, then Philadelphia will instead convey its 2028 2nd round pick to Brooklyn [Brooklyn-Philadelphia, 2/10/2022]”

The protections on this pick are pretty great for the Sixers. If somehow they decided (or were forced) to rebuild, or “sneak tank” that season, they’d just need to make sure they were really bad and they could still keep this pick. If somehow they really stunk two years in a row, it would convert to a measly two second-rounders for Brooklyn. The ole fake-first trick!

Being as bad as possible in order to keep from losing protected lottery picks was something that the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers [1] both did in recent memory. It helped lead to titles for both franchises. These types of protections have incentivized teams to get into some diabolical process scenarios over the years, with huge payoffs.

2028 picks

The Sixers possess their first and second in ‘28. So there’s an “even years” theme here. As noted, because they traded away their 2027, they can’t trade this one.

2029

The Sixers have their picks in 2029. And that means the Sixers can trade this pick. If the Nets defer their option, the Sixers could look to package their own 2022 selection and their distant 2029 first, a similar “one now and one later” bundle to the one they offered Marks and co.

Depending on how the upcoming playoffs shake out, depending on whether Harden decides to explore unrestricted free agency this summer, sign long-term, or opt in and decide later, depending on some unforeseen events, injuries, etc., all that might determine how aggressive the Sixers want to be with their remaining picks.

One would think that if they lose a heartbreaker in the Conference Finals or lose in the Finals, or even win the championship, all of those scenarios would dial up their trade aggression. Why hoard the 2029 first when you’re maybe one bounce away, or looking to repeat?

If somehow they lost in the first or second round, maybe they’d opt to be more conservative, who knows. As fans we may have to hope management gives Morey and Brand a green light to make some decisions that could leave fans stranded in 2030. But it will be well worth it if they’re champions at any point in the Joel Embiid era.

Footnotes for draft uber-nerds

[1] For the Warriors, they needed to lose a certain amount of games in order to retain their 2012 pick, they used to select Harrison Barnes. It would have went to Utah if they hadn’t shamelessly tanked. Barnes is rarely seen as a vital key to the Warriors’ dynasty, however, if they never got him, they may never have found their “death lineup,” never won a title in 2015, and possibly never beat Kevin Durant’s Thunder in a grueling WCF series back in 2016. Barnes isn’t a superstar but it’s possible he was just good enough to help shape the league as we know it. Lesson: always use pick protection.

[2] Sam Hinkie’s Sixers bet against the Lakers, remember that? Once upon a time Mitch Kupchack traded for Steve Nash. The protections on the pick he used, combined with some famous free agent whiffing, injuries to Kobe Bryant, etc. all incentivized L.A. to do a bit of their own processing. But it paid off. They were the team with the least total wins over a five-year span and drafted pretty much what they needed to one day trade for Anthony Davis. It’s hard to imagine LeBron James wanting to join them without the type of asset-haul they once possessed. If their picks had no protections, they wouldn’t have healthy scratched all of those veterans like Lou Williams en rout Lonzo, Ingram, Randle, Russell, etc.