Ever since the James Harden trade, the Sixers’ interest in OG Anunoby was one of the worst-kept secrets in the NBA. If the Toronto Raptors didn’t deal him by the Feb. 8 trade deadline, the Sixers lurked as a realistic threat to sign him in free agency thanks to their ability to carve out more than $55 million in cap space this summer.
The Sixers have to turn their attention elsewhere for now, though, as the Raptors finally began to break apart their underwhelming core on Saturday. They sent Anunoby, Precious Achiuwa and Malachi Flynn to the New York Knicks for RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley and a 2024 second-round pick (via Detroit).
Considering that Knicks president Leon Rose used to work at CAA, the agency that represents Anunoby, both sides likely have a mutual understanding of how Anunoby’s free agency will play out this offseason. It’s hard to imagine that the Knicks acquired him with the intention of re-routing him by the trade deadline, especially since they can’t aggregate his contract with any others.
With Anunoby off the market for now—if not for the next few years—the Sixers need to pivot to other options. If Zach LaVine and Pascal Siakam are the top two remaining players who are available at this year’s deadline, the Sixers might be better off sticking with the two-stars-and-depth approach rather than obsessing over finding a third star by Feb. 8.
Outside of Shams Charania of The Athletic, virtually every other newsbreaker and reporter with sources around the team have batted down the notion of the Sixers trading for LaVine. Perhaps that changes if the Bulls’ asking price falls low enough—maybe their recent surge convinces them that they’re fine without LaVine?—but it otherwise seems relatively safe to rule him out as a primary trade target.
Siakam does figure to be the next one out of Toronto after Anunoby. League personnel are “certainly prepared for a Siakam trade to follow suit,” according to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports. “Before this weekend’s deal, Siakam was the Toronto veteran whom rival executives were pegging as the most likely Raptor to be dealt, particularly after the team nearly sent Siakam to the Atlanta Hawks this summer,” he added.
Fischer mentioned the Hawks, Indiana Pacers and Sacramento Kings as teams that “have been routinely mentioned by NBA figures as potential suitors for Siakam.” Notably absent from that list? The Sixers.
Maybe Siakam and Nick Nurse still have beef from their time together in Toronto. Maybe the Sixers are lukewarm on his on-court fit with Joel Embiid thanks to his low-volume, low-efficiency three-point shooting. (He’s a career 32.2 percent long-range shooter on 3.2 attempts per game. That’s hardly the output you’d want from an ideal frontcourt complement to Embiid.)
Contract and asking price are also factors. Siakam is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and figures to ask for a long-term max or near-max contract. If the Sixers aren’t willing to go that high, there’s no point in trading for him as a half-season rental and gambling that he can’t find that type of a deal on the open market next summer. And if the Raptors set an unreasonable asking price for a possible half-season rental, the Sixers should be even less inclined to pay up.
There’s still a month and change to go until the deadline, so another star could hit the market between now and then. James Harden and Kevin Durant rumors didn’t begin to bubble up until around this time two years ago, and Harden’s reported interest in a Houston reunion began last year on Christmas Day. (The first of many signs of trouble.)
At the moment, the Hawks, Brooklyn Nets and Utah Jazz lurk as the biggest possible trade deadline wild cards. If any of those teams shift into seller mode—beyond the obvious lottery teams and the Bulls and Raptors—it could alter the entire trade landscape. Dejounte Murray, Mikal Bridges and Lauri Markkanen are all likely of varying interest to the Sixers, although the asking price on all three might be higher than they’re willing to pay.
If so, they’ll have to instead focus another tier or two down—on solid role players who complement the Embiid-Maxey duo.
Team president Daryl Morey has repeatedly said that it’ll be tough for the Sixers to make a trade because they need to find someone who can crack the top eight or nine of their rotation. While their bench has been playing well as of late, it wouldn’t be a huge stretch to find an upgrade over the likes of Marcus Morris or Robert Covington.
Prior to Saturday’s loss to the Chicago Bulls, head coach Nick Nurse shook his head no when asked whether the Sixers needed to make a move in the wake of the Anunoby trade, per Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. He pointed to the team’s ability to withstand injuries and still stay afloat thanks to its depth.
However, he sounded open to any moves that might come.
“I think you always have to be in the mindset to upgrade at all times,” Nurse said, per Pompey. “Whether I was coaching the Iowa Energy, or coaching the Sixers, there’s always places. Can you improve 10 through 12? Can you improve eight through 10? Can you improve three through five? You are always trying to do that or you are getting assets so you can do something else.”
Dorian Finney-Smith, Bojan or Bogdan Bogdanovic or Royce O’Neale might not be as flashy as LaVine, Siakam or Alex Caruso, but they could all help the Sixers in their quest to finally get past the Eastern Conference semifinals and win their first championship in 40-plus years. With one of the top potential targets in Anunoby already off the market, the Sixers might need to recalibrate their thinking and focus on finding more of a complementary piece rather than a third star.