We’ve been hearing the same names for a while now in terms of potential trade targets for the Philadelphia 76ers, so let’s throw a new one into the mix. On a recent episode of the Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective, we received this interesting nugget from Andscape’s Marc J. Spears:
Keldon Johnson is a name to watch on the market, per @MarcJSpears— NBACentral (@TheDunkCentral) December 14, 2023
“You know who I got my eye on with the Spurs? Keldon Johnson I keep hearing this buzz about, 'Not sure if he fits in well with this group going forward and should he be coming off the bench.'” pic.twitter.com/7T1PNUqux9
I know my ears perked up. The 6-foot-5 Johnson is still only 24 years old and only two years removed from competing with Team USA at the Olympics in Tokyo. The 29th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, Johnson is now in his fifth season with San Antonio, currently averaging 17.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists, against just 1.4 turnovers per game.
There are no major flaws in Keldon’s game, in my opinion. He has shot 36.4 percent from three over his career and he’s a solid defender. As you can see from the assist-to-turnover numbers this year, Johnson is excelling with the ball in his hands more with the Spurs often playing enormous lineups. Plus, he is in the first year of a four-year, $74 million contract that is extremely cap friendly, decreasing in value over time (currently $20 million, then $19 million next season, and $17.5 million in both 2025-26 and 2026-27).
It’s weird that San Antonio would want to move him, but Spears obviously didn’t pull the name out of thin air. Maybe the Spurs simply feel they have too many similar players and they just gave an even larger extension to Devin Vassell so it would be wise to recoup value for Johnson now.
The question we’re then concerned with is: should the Sixers pursue a Johnson trade? You’d likely be looking at a minimum of two first-round picks going to San Antonio, as that seems to be the going rate in the league for an above-average player. There are a couple different salary structure routes you could go. Marcus Morris and Jaden Springer heading to the Spurs would get you there, with Springer seeming like a young, toolsy guy San Antonio might be interested in getting in-house. The Sixers could also send Tobias Harris to the Spurs and bring back Doug McDermott in addition to Johnson. McBuckets, finally a Sixer! I think the Morris-Springer route is more realistic, but maybe Pop would value an assassin scorer who could serve as a veteran mentor for the young pups.
With Johnson in the fold, the Sixers would undoubtedly be a better team this season. The issue would be that it would cut off any other major avenues of improvement. You’d be at least back to where you were prior to the Harden trade in terms of draft capital, so forget about an OG Anunoby deadline deal or anything bigger. Johnson’s $19 million on the books next season would also complicate Operation 2024 Cap Space, making signing Anunoby or someone else in summer free agency more complicated.
Basically, the price for Johnson would preclude the “big move” needed in my mind to get the Sixers over the top. You’d essentially have to believe that this group, plus Johnson, is capable of winning a title, and I’m not quite there. Now, if the acquisition cost was more palatable, say only one first-round pick, then I would say the Sixers should absolutely pull the trigger, but I don’t see a world in which the Spurs move on that cheaply. We now return to our regularly scheduled viewing of the Toronto Raptors spiraling down the standings.