Sixers fans should be prepared to adjust to a new reality. If you’re under the impression that this franchise has either a) leverage in trade negotiations, or b) legitimate assets to negotiate with, you’re living in a fantasy land. From a roster building standpoint, the Sixers are on their heels here.
If you find yourself plugging in offers to a trade machine, first ask yourself if the Sixers would do it. If your answer is anything near a clear-eyed “yes”, and not at least an agonizing, “maaayybbee,” then it’s not a deal the other team will accept, let alone consider.
I’ve seen trade scenarios floated on social media that are immediately shot down because the Sixers receive bloated contracts in return, “its a bad trade, we can’t be taking on bad contracts,” seems to be a consistent refrain I’m hearing from fans, and without a shred of irony. Boldly proclaiming you don’t need another teams bad contract while you desperately pawn off two bad contracts on the rest of the league requires a jarring lack of awareness regarding the Sixers current situation.
If this next front office plans on getting out from the hell created by the previous regime, then we’ll see nothing short of a ransacking of any reasonable assets left in our possession. We’ll be trading pennies on the dollar in terms of value just to move our blaoted contracts—there’s no easy out for the Sixers.
With that said, to me, this offseason is simple: whatever is necessary to bring in the legitimate third star (closer, leader, bucket-getter) that Tobias failed to be, needs to be done without hesitation; and, since we can’t move our own bad contracts without at least taking back some bad contracts in return, the least we could do is target role players on bad deals whom at least possess skillsets that would be elevated around Joel and Ben—I.e.: catch-and-shoot threats who were originally paid for more.
Where is Tobias Harris’ trade value?
Teams chasing the Finals shouldn’t want anything to do with Tobias, but the teams simply chasing relevancy (CHA, SAC, NYK, etc…) will absolutely be in the mix.
Let me be clear, there’s no version of Tobias that’s worth max money, but there’s a version of a player in there that extends his pull-up game to the three point line, draws more fouls, and isn’t compromised defending 3s as often as he was here—that version of Tobi justifies $20-25 million. I understand why that’s a problem here, and why he’s a problem of a fit next to Joel & Ben, but that doesn’t mean small market clubs won’t gamble on Tobias justifying 75-80% of his max number in the right situation.
It’s important to understand why a $25 million dollar player on a max deal has some value to small-market and poorly-ran teams. Franchises like Charlotte, Sacramento, or the Knicks can’t get max players or near-max players in free agency—for reasons of dysfunction, and the like. This leaves two options in terms of roster building: develop talent through the draft and hope to retain it, or overpay through free agency and hope not to get burned too bad. In that context, buying low on a potential near-max player like Tobias Harris (20ppg under team control) is the sort of move those teams could be willing to make that other organizations would never even have to consider.
These sort of organizations don’t hand out bad deals or trade for iffy contracts like Harrison Barnes because they thought they were worth it, but because a) they need to overpay just to get talent in the building, and b) they need to roll the dice on mid-level talents turning into high-level players with more touches (often to little success). Say what you will about Tobias, but he’s a better gamble than almost every player those two franchises have overpaid for in recent memory.
Trade #1: Lavine, Hield, Bjelica
Why the Kings do it:
I think the instinct of a lot of people will be to argue that Sacramento wouldn’t move Heild and Bjelica for Tobias—and it’s possible this needs to be sweetened with another pick—but the Kings were ready to shop Heild under the previous regime, and that likely won’t change with Luke Walton still on as head coach and ownership set on re-signing Bogdan Bogdanovich as the long term shooting guard (as they should). On top of that, the only teams who will view Hield’s $24 million salary as reasonable are those who desperately need catch-and-shoot threats without regard for defensive liability.
All of that is a long way of saying that Hield doesn’t have the trade value that Sixers fans will assume—Sacramento wants to move his contract this offseason. If that gives them the opportunity to gamble on a player whom they otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to (Tobias Harris), add a second unit shooter in Korkmaz, and the 34th overall pick in this years draft then they should do it.
A lot of people think Al Horford makes more sense to Sacramento because of fit next to Bagley, desired play-style, and their reported interest in him last offseason; but if they’re going to take on a big contract commitment it‘ll be for a “bucket getter” who, while overpriced, is the sort of player they almost never have the opportunity to add—and rarely at this sort of distressed cost.
Kings fans may scream and holler at this idea, but I promise you their new front office (seeking to end a 14-year playoff drought one season away from tying the league record) will be much more sensible.
Why the Bulls do it:
Bulls fans are fairly level-headed about the value of Zach LaVine and the reality that he’s likely to be moved at some point. His poor defense and average ability to get others involved really knee-caps his value, but his 25 points per game aren’t as “empty” as they seem, and he’s a legitimate bucket-getter with a pull-up game that would pair perfect with Embiid and Simmons—the sort of offensive package we foolishly thought we had with in Tobias.
I recently saw a potential Lavine package described like this:
We send them 21 overall, check; a semi-valuable asset with close salary in Richardson, check; a solid young piece with upside no higher than a top 4-7 rotation player in Milton, check.
Chicago can either chose to include J-Rich (26) in their rebuild, or flip him for supplemental assets (2nds, young fliers). He could be packaged with another decent role player at the deadline to add a late first, or a young developmental piece. Milton is a legitimate young piece to add to a core of Colby White and Wendell Carter. Throw in 21 overall this year and what figures to be a high second from the Knicks next year and this feels like too good of a package for Chicago to pass up.
Why the Sixers do it:
Bucket-getter? Check. Catch-and-shoot threat? Check, and check. Tobias Harris’ contract dumped? Check. I’m not sure what else we would be looking for.
Lavine’s shot creation and ability to get a bucket is exactly what this offense needs, and he’ll pair perfectly in transition with Ben Simmons. He’s everything offensively that Tobias Harris couldn’t quite be, and while I’m not doing backflips over a trade for Lavine, I would definitely be comfortable moving forward with him as the third star next to Joel and Ben. Even better, he has two years left on his current deal, giving the next front office ample time to decide on his long-term fit.
Hield, while not all sunshine and roses, is excellent at the one thing the Sixers need: shooting. A cool 41.3% on an average of 5 catch-and-shoot threes per game last season is exactly what the doctor ordered. I’m willing to turn a blind eye to his defense and lack of creation if he spaces the floor for the two franchise players who will certainly cover his ass defensively. Obviously Lavine and Hield are a defensive liability together, but as I just mentioned, a lineup with Thybulle, Simmons, and Embiid (with Horford still at backup 5) should have no trouble cleaning that up. We just need these two to space and shoot.
And of course, Bjelica is the perfect stretch-four to pair with Simmons and Embiid—which should go without saying considering he originally signed here in 2018 before backing out to go overseas (only to sign with SAC later that summer). His 41% shooting on 3.8 catch-and-shoot threes per game is really just gravy on-top of the offensive infusion from Lavine and Hield.
Trade #2: Bradley Beal & Davis Bertans
Why the Wizards do it:
The Wizards are trying to re-sign Bertans and give it one last run at the East in 2021, but if it starts to look like Bertans is shopping elsewhere in free agency they won’t take long to pivot to a rebuild. The main reason they would decline a package of this size is because it lacks a “blue chip” asset like a high pick or a high-level young player—something that Beal should absolutely fetch—but the sum of the parts is a pretty strong way to lead off a rebuild.
Four picks in the 20-40 range, two solid young rotation pieces in Thybulle and Milton, a mid-level (still young) asset in Richardson, and Tobias Harris, who while a contract dump, would be able to take advantage of a high-volume situation to potentially boost his trade value down the road (or play his way into long-term consideration in Washington).
Again, no blue-chip centerpiece in this package is concerning, but this is the absolute best the Sixers can do considering their situation.
Why the Sixers do it:
If anything the Sixers are giving up too little in this deal. Draft picks should no longer be valued in the same way they have been in the past for obvious reasons—I don’t need to hear you bitch about a late first-rounder—and we’d be offloading a terrible contract, all while adding Beal & Bertans. Anyone questioning this deal needs an intervention.
Bradley Beal is often considered the perfect (realistic) star to pair with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, and he’s under team control through 2023. His 30.5 points a night and 36% on 8+ threes per game is undeniably an upgrade for this team—there’s no need to even make the Beal argument.
Bertans, on the other hand, is just as valuable in this deal. At 6’10” and limitless deadeye range he’s the perfect stretch big/wing to pair with our stars. His 7.4 catch-and-shoot threes per game leads the league by far, and his 43.7% clip is a glitch. If you don’t understand why the Sixers should absolutely whore themselves out to add someone like Bertans you really don’t understand what players fit their need, cause Bertans (and Beal) sit atop that dream list.
Trade #3: Chris Paul
Why Charlotte would do this:
Rewind one year ago and tell a Hornets fan they’d be getting both Tobias Harris and Al Horford—they’d be thrilled. Today, go find a Hornets fan and tell him they’ll be shedding the Batum and Rozier contracts—they’ll be thrilled. Don’t overthink this one. Throw in Korkmaz and this years 34th overall pick and the Sixers can make this deal if they want.
Do we lose this portion of the deal? Kind of, but the important thing to understand is we aren’t trying to win this half of the deal with Charlotte—we just need to shed that money to be able to add Chris Paul. OKC won’t/shouldn’t be willing to take back any big contracts in exchange for Paul—they need to re-sign Gallinari and position themselves for the free agent class in 2021.
Why OKC would do it:
As for whether or not OKC would accept this package, I understand the inclination to say they’d need more, but ridding the CP3 number is an asset in and of itself—though admittedly much less than it would’ve been a year ago. Throw in a mid-level prospect in Milton, the 21st overall pick, and a mid-level player/trade asset in Richardson and OKC would be wise to leap at this package.
I realize this is the same package as the one for Lavine, but Paul’s age and contract deflate his value to what I would argue is very similar to Lavine’s, if not less valuable.
Why the Sixers do it:
A year ago trading for CP3 might have reeked of desperation, and while that‘s still the case, it’s for a much different reason. Where Paul was once viewed as an overpriced and rapidly depreciating asset, you wouldn’t be blamed for now describing the Sixers that way. Where the Sixers were once on the verge of contending, Paul’s All-Star campaign in 2020 is proof that he still has serious gas left in the tank help a contender.
It’s possible that these two worlds (Paul and The Process) are poised to merge at the perfect time in their existence—both parties could be a perfect match at this juncture. Or, it’s equally likely that the aging, hard-headed Paul is the final asteroid waiting to wipe-out what’s left of what has turned into a pretty miserable existence on the planet that is Sixers fandom. Either way, I’m ready to gamble on the future Hall of Famer being the closer, leader, and third-star that we need to get over the top.
As far as the Charlotte half of the deal goes, we need to remember that the biggest asset we receive there is long-term cap relief from the Harris/Horford contracts. While Rozier and Batum are both on bad deals, you can’t shed bad contracts without taking some bad numbers in return, and more importantly, these contracts need to be included to make the money work under the CBA—if we want to get rid of our bad salaries there is literally no other option but to take on other bad salaries in return (hence the emphasis on “expiring” deals). Batum only has a year left on his contract, and Rozier has two.
Also, if I have to allocate $36 million to players that aren’t worth $36 million (which is the case with the Sixers) I’d much rather be overpaying two decent-fitting role players than one single “star” who’s not really a star, nor a fit as a role player (Harris). I don’t feel like that’s too controversial of a position.
Why are Rozier and Batum a “good/decent fit”?
Rozier is miscast as a lead guard, and he would never play starter minutes on a contender, but he’s perfectly serviceable playing 20 minutes off the bench backing up the point (Paul) and occasionally sharing the floor with him. According to second spectrum data, of the 113 players who shot at least 3 catch-and-shoot threes per game this past season, Rozier’s 45.8% ranked 5th in the NBA on 3.7 attempts—behind Seth Curry, Redick, McCollum, and Duncan Robinson. He’s not worth $18 mil a year, but he’s definitely a good fit around Embiid and Simmons.
I feel less compelled to make an argument for Batum because he’s only included as an expiring contract to make the deal work, but that won’t stop me from pointing out the obvious. While Batum is creaky and overpaid, he’s a 3&D wing that the Sixers could have used at multiple points this past season. He missed most of 2020 to injury, but his 2019 campaign saw him shoot 39.4% on 3 catch-and-shoot attempts per game.
Batum’s days of playing big minutes or being a real plus on defense are over, but it’s really hard to deny that if he’s healthy he can fill 15 minutes off the bench for the Sixers as he plays out the last year of his ghastly $27 million salary. Some fans will get hung up here, but I’m not sure what you expect in return from a Hornets team taking $220 million of Horford/Harris money off our books—I think we can stomach a year of $27 million.