We’ve already seen a pair of blockbuster NBA trades go down, but it’s been awfully quiet on the trade front with your Sixers.
We’ve seen credible reporters link them to names like the Bulls’ Zach LaVine and the Hawks’ Dejounte Murray. We know that Daryl Morey has said he’d like to add depth at guard and another big. We also know that the Sixers are pretty damn good as currently constructed with Joel Embiid having yet another MVP-caliber season and Tyrese Maxey looking like an All-Star lock.
So, as the Feb. 8 trade deadline draws closer, what will the Sixers do?
How the Sixers see themselves
The Sixers’ patience and quietness on the trade front are purposeful. In case you hadn’t noticed, they’re playing great basketball.
Overall, the Sixers are 29-14 — five games behind the top-seeded Celtics, just one-and-a-half games behind Doc Rivers(!) and the No. 2 seed Bucks — in their first season under new head coach Nick Nurse. They’re playing a different and refreshing style of basketball under the former Raptors coach.
Even more impressively, the Sixers are 26-7 when Embiid is in the lineup. That’s an .787 winning percentage. They have wins against Boston, Oklahoma City, Minnesota and Denver. According to Basketball Reference’s adjusted ratings, the Sixers have the sixth-best offense and seventh-best defense with the third-best net rating. They’re actually two games better than they were at this point last season with James Harden in the fold.
Simply put: When Embiid is healthy, the Sixers can hang with anyone.
Nurse is a big X-factor here as well. Beyond their preexisting relationship, Morey brought Nurse in for his ingenuity and recent success getting a team that was on the cusp over the top. Morey likely wants to give Nurse a chance to get the most of (a healthy) Embiid, Maxey and, yes, even Tobias Harris come playoff time.
Players like Nicolas Batum, Patrick Beverley, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Marcus Morris Sr. have been useful additions. Returning players like De’Anthony Melton, Paul Reed and Danuel House Jr. have been solid complements to varying degrees.
We’re past the midway point of the season, and the Sixers’ formula has worked thus far.
Addressing what’s out there
If you’re looking for the Sixers to add a “third star” ahead of the deadline, you might be disappointed.
Yes, they’ve been linked to players like LaVine and Murray, but the Sixers are not currently in on those players, according to a league source. While a lot can change in a couple weeks, it does not seem likely that the Sixers will add either of the bigger names on the market. Barring an unforeseen player becoming available, chances are the Sixers will look to fortify their depth.
Some fans might be disappointed by that approach, but Morey has to be careful to balance not wasting another supernova season for Embiid while not throwing off the chemistry and success of the current roster. As we’ve noted several times, the Sixers will also be the rare contender that has cap space this summer.
As our Bryan Toporek recently noted, that cap space could be useful for more than simply signing players in free agency. The market appears to be a drying up with Kawhi Leonard signing an extension with the Clippers, and with Paul George likely to follow suit to stay in L.A. OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam appear most likely to re-sign with the teams they were traded to.
But that cap space could also help the Sixers land a potential third star in a trade. Playoff flameouts, disgruntled players, coach firings, teams shifting to rebuilds — so much can happen between now and July.
There’s been no indication that the Nets would look to trade Mikal Bridges (reports suggest the team views him as a franchise cornerstone), but Brooklyn is spiraling. As of this writing, they’re 11th in the East and have the retooled Raptors nipping at their heels. Bridges will be 28 next season, and the Nets don’t have the type of star player in his prime to pair with him to be competitive. If he does become available this offseason, he’d be a much better fit financially than someone like LaVine, and a much better on-court fit than someone like Murray.
That’s simply one hypothetical scenario. Who knows what will happen. Maybe the Sixers finally get past the second round and Morey takes a different approach to team-building, using that cap space to fill out the roster around Embiid and Maxey.
Both avenues are dicey. If you don’t make that blockbuster deal and keep the roster mostly as is, you risk wasting a juggernaut season of a soon-to-be 30-year-old Embiid. If you make a big splash and it doesn’t work, you risk potentially being stuck with a player that doesn’t fit and little recourse to right the ship (again).
What they’re looking for
It’s been alluded to throughout this piece, but the Sixers are looking for pieces to add to an already deep rotation.
Morey has already publicly expressed his desire to add another guard and big to the roster. The Sixers, like just about every contender, will also look for a 3-and-D player to add to the mix, per a league source. Essentially, it seems like the Sixers would like to fortify their roster at guard, wing and center. Think of swapping out Furkan Korkmaz, KJ Martin and Mo Bamba for veteran players that could factor into the rotation at some point.
Bruce Brown, who was recently traded to Toronto as part of the Pascal Siakam trade, is a name whom many on Sixers Twitter have gravitated toward. While Brown was a huge part of helping the Nuggets secure their first NBA title last season, there are two big issues for the Sixers: price and fit.
Toronto is said to be looking for a haul for Brown — not at all surprising when you consider Masai Ujiri’s track record. Ujiri is also under zero pressure to move the versatile wing, as Brown has a team option for 2024-25. Is Brown worth surrendering a “haul” for? Likely not for the Sixers, per a league source.
The other concern would be how Brown fits with the Sixers. His ability to handle and play-make would certainly address needs, while his defense would definitely fit in with the two-way player mold Morey has previously described. The worry would be Brown’s jumper. As we all know, floor spacing around Embiid is imperative. Brown had one outlier season where he shot 40.4% from three (on only 1.3 attempts per game), but otherwise has never had a season above 35.8%. This season, he’s hitting just 32.4%.
While there has been nothing directly linking the Sixers to him, Bogdan Bogdanovic of the Hawks feels like a player who ticks multiple boxes. He would provide supplemental ball-handling while adding high-volume three-point shooting. He’s far from an All-Defensive Team player, but he has held up fine in the playoffs. He’s also a big-game player, having started his professional career overseas at the age of 16 and hitting several big shots during the Hawks’ run to the Eastern Conference Finals back in 2021 (sorry).
While Bridges might not be on the table, there’s a strong chance Brooklyn will move veterans Dorian Finney-Smith and Royce O’Neale. Both are strong 3-and-D players, with DFS providing elite size on the wing and O’Neale adding a little handling and passing to the mix. Both players were instrumental in the postseason for the Mavericks and Jazz, respectively.
Another name that intrigues this reporter is the Spurs’ Keldon Johnson. There hasn’t been much buzz surrounding the Kentucky product, but there was a report that he could be available. He’s young enough (24) where you can dream on his potential a bit, but you can also see traits that would make him an appealing player now. It’s hard to know his ceiling, but if you believe he can be the Sixers’ starting guard next to Maxey, his contract is an incredible value.
What the Sixers could be looking for in a big is a little trickier to figure out. A veteran player would make sense considering the youth and inconsistency of Paul Reed and Bamba behind Embiid. Would a more traditional big make sense? Or perhaps a pick-and-pop big? Former Sixers Andre Drummond and Mike Muscala each fit those different archetypes, but we’ll see if either is available.
Simply put, the Sixers want to get better, but they don’t want to do so at the cost of the team’s great chemistry and vibes. Keeping that offseason flexibility if a star trade doesn’t present itself at the deadline would be ideal, too.