The NBA trade deadline is a little over two weeks away, and despite the Sixers first-place standing in the Eastern Conference, you can expect Daryl Morey to be busy at work improving a team that some already believe is a contender. While I, on the other hand, think it’s clear the current roster lacks the makeup of a typical Finals team, I do expect Morey to make the necessary moves over the next two weeks to take them there.
Rules of engagement: “salary matching”
Because the Sixers are above the salary cap they aren’t afforded the same flexibility that cap-abiding teams are. In a potential trade, the team cannot acquire more than 125% of the total salaries they send away—in other words, if Morey wants to acquire someone he needs to send back 80% of that player’s salary in order to “match”.
With some exception… the Trade Exception:
A trade exception is afforded to teams who trade away a higher amount of salary than what they acquired in return, and this credit (available for up to one year after the trade) allows them to acquire a player with a salary up to that difference without having to follow the aforementioned “salary matching” rules.
The Sixers acquired their biggest current exception from the Al Horford trade, in which they sent away $8.2 million more in outgoing salary than they received. They also have an exception worth $2.6 million from the Richardson trade, and $1.8 million from the Ennis trade (exceptions cannot be combined). *It’s been widely speculated that the team will use this to acquire PJ Tucker, whose $7.9 million salary fits perfectly.
Then there’s the Mid-level Exception (MLE)
The MLE doesn’t apply to trades, but is instead relevant to the buyout market. Since the Sixers are a taxpaying team they have the lesser-valued $5.7 million exception (non-taxpayers get $9.2 million), but if Morey identifies someone in the buyout market who can help the rotation then this tool gives him a leg up on bidders who can‘t offer more than the league minimum. *Though the team already used $900K of their MLE to sign rookie Isaiah Joe, a potentially useful $4.8 million remains.
What expendable players/contracts can they pool together to match salaries in a trade?
- Mike Scott: $5 million
- Terrence Ferguson: $3.9 million
- Tony Bradley: $3.5 million
- Vincent Poirier: $2.6 million
- Furkan Korkmaz: $1.7 million
The top three players total $12.5 million, putting them in range of any players with a salary up to $15.6 million. Throw in Korkmaz and they can acquire someone with a value up to $17.8 million. If they want to get weird and move another center in Poirier they can acquire up to $21.1 million.
Beyond that the team would need to begin including players currently in their prospective playoff rotation (Danny Green’s $15 million, Seth Curry’s $7.8 million), or a long term asset (Thybulle or Maxey). This is what complicates a Kyle Lowry trade; moving a rotation piece in Green or Curry for Lowry—on top of the assets/picks to acquire him—would only solve one hole while potentially creating another.
What non-core assets do the Sixers have that teams around the league will value?
- Tyrese Maxey
- Matisse Thybulle
- 2021-25 (PHI) First Round
- 2021 (NYK) Second Round
- 2023 (best of ATL/CHA/BK) Second Rd
- 2021 (PHI) Second Round
- 2023-25 (PHI) Second Round
Maxey and Thybulle are the most attractive trade chips on the team. In the case of Maxey, unless Morey can add someone who clearly moves the needle to them contending, he would be foolish to deal a 20-year old skillset this valuable on a rookie deal through 2024—this is a no-brainer for a team in the Sixers financial situation. Thybulle, on the other hand, is much more likely to be moved at the deadline (though his value will fluctuate wildly from team to team).
Their own future first rounders have the same value as any contender’s would, though I can’t imagine their seconds have much value at all. That being said, the Knicks’ second and the 2023 ‘most favorable of CHA/BK/ATL’ second should have a sprinkle of value to rebuilding teams (they could likely add PJ Tucker for one of those).
What specifically are the Sixers needs?
A few days ago I argued that the Sixers don’t merely have a depth problem, but a larger top-end talent problem. While you’ll hear the media and fan base emphasize a need to bolster the bench—backup PG, stretch big, another 3-and-D wing—this idea (while not wrong, per se) falls well short of the standard for a typical Finals contender. Anyone serious about the Sixers contending needs to understand the roster is (at least) one impactful, starter-level piece away from being on that level. The so-called “depth problem” is solved when you’re then able to push Seth Curry to his rightful spot on the bench, and shrink Shake Milton’s minutes to a more palatable 16-24 a night.
When push comes to shove, two-way players with dynamic offensive skillsets are the figurative “last men standing” on the floor in the NBA playoffs, and if a roster is low on those sort of skillsets—like the Sixers—then history tells us they’ll hit a wall against a certain level of competition. While Morey will no doubt shop on the margins for players who can round out his roster, his main focus ought to be/and likely is on finding a legitimate fourth-piece to add to a core oh-so close to being a true contender.
Who are some players the Sixers could realistically target in a trade?
Big tickets (unlikely):
Kyle Lowry ($30 million) & Victor Oladipo ($21 million)
Lowry’s cap hit means the Sixers would need to move a rotation piece (Green or Curry) just to match salaries, and unless Toronto is willing to move him for cheaper than anyone expects I don’t see how Morey can come out on top here. I know this is a popular trade in the media, but unless the Raptors decide to do-right by Lowry and grant him his wish to play in Philly, or again, drastically lower their asking price then this isn’t as likely as some will make it out to be.
Oladipo is even less likely than Lowry, given his expressed desire to play in Miami, and more importantly his desire to sign a max contract this offseason (something Morey won’t and shouldn’t be willing to offer).
Evan Fournier ($17 million) & Terrence Ross ($13.5 million)
Orlando should be a major player at the deadline with four key pieces capable of helping a contender. While Nic Vucevic and Aaron Gordon don’t fit what the Sixers are looking for, Fournier and Ross absolutely do.
Fournier is a dynamic offensive threat who can shoot off-ball, off the bounce, get to/finish around the rim, and create for others—exactly what the doctor ordered. At 6’7” his size is impressive for his skill-level, and while he’s not an overly impactful defender, he’s versatile enough to handle 1-3 (from primary ball handlers/slashers up to taller wings). At $17 million his salary can be matched without giving up a rotation piece, and while his expiring contract may cause pause for some, it’s also what makes him affordable for no more than a late-first rounder.
Ross is similarly dynamic on offense—though he’s definitely more of a microwave scorer in the mold of a sixth man, that doesn’t mean he can’t excel in a starting lineup next to Joel, Ben, and Tobias. Between Fournier’s creation ability and defensive versatility he’s the more valuable player of the two, but Ross’ team-friendly contract (3 years/$40 million) offers enough value on the cap side that his cost should also be in the ballpark of a late-first rounder.
Eric Gordon ($16.8 million) & PJ Tucker ($7.9 million)
We already discussed Oladipo, but the two more-likely options the Rockets have to offer are Tucker and Gordon (both of whom are familiar to trade rumors).
Tucker obviously doesn’t have the “dynamic” offensive skillset I mentioned above, but he’s the sort of difference-maker on defense that allows him to get away with a vanilla offensive package (though his catch-and-shoot prowess is tried-and-true). As alluded to earlier, he can be added with the team’s $8.2 million trade exception, and likely a second round pick or two. At 35, Tucker’s best days are behind him, but an uber-versatile defender who can guard up and down a lineup (providing value as a small-ball five) and can still knock down standstill threes at a modest rate has value to every contender.
Gordon, on the other hand, is a tricky slope. At $16.8 million he can be had without giving up a rotation piece, but his contract (4/$76) isn’t appealing for an injury-prone 32-year old. On top of that, while he accounts for the Sixers perimeter shooting/shot creation needs, he’s barely passable defensively, and the Rockets will likely want a young player in return (Maxey, Thybulle) that Morey should think twice about moving for this solid, yet imperfect option.
George Hill ($9.5 million)
Hill is the main option here, and his name is familiar to Sixers trade rumors dating back for a few years now. He’s not as explosive or talented as Fournier, and he’s not the shot-maker that Ross is, but he’s equally diverse in what he brings to an offense. There’s enough creation ability off the dribble to satisfy what the Sixers are looking for, and he’s a reliable, if not above-average spot-up three-point shooter.
Hill is obviously a playoff and Finals veteran, and while he wouldn’t be the sexiest add at the deadline, he’s a dynamic offensive player with enough two-way ability to stay on the floor in big moments. Like most players on this list he can likely be had for a late-first and some breadcrumbs, and if Morey can snag a stretch-five in Mike Muscala ($2.2 mil.) as a throw-in all the better.
The final five names listed (Gordon, Tucker, Fournier, Ross, Hill) are the five most likely Sixers trade targets. Not only are they all confidently available—which can’t be said about most of the names you hear in trade rumors—but they each satisfy the roster’s needs in more than area than one, and each moves the needle closer to the Sixers being a contender.
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