| A busy trade deadline saw the Sixers make their intentions clear. they jettisoned some valuable depth (some of which was long overdue) but came out the other side as a stronger contender|
An Important Deadline
The Sixers pushed their chips to the middle of the table on Wednesday morning. They acquired Tobias Harris from the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for Landry Shamet, Mike Muscala, Wilson Chandler, and draft picks.
It’s a bold move for the Sixers. Harris is a very good player; he’s scoring 20 points per game on 49/43/87 shooting splits, all career highs. It’s obviously worth noting that he is an unrestricted free agent this summer, but the team wants to re-sign him. There certainly will be some debate between now and free agency about giving a max contract to a player of Harris’ caliber to be a fourth option.
Also coming to Philadelphia in the trade is Boban Marjanovic, a large human and action movie star, who is an advanced stats darling. He should be, if nothing else, an imposing backup for Joel Embiid.
It’s also worth noting what the Sixers gave up. Landry Shamet was having an excellent rookie season, and the team will surely miss his scoring depth. Wilson Chandler played an important role, but Harris is obviously an upgrade and Mike Scott can fill a similar role off the bench. Muscala had his moments, but was a streaky shooter and below average defender. They also gave up their best trade chip, the unprotected 2021 Miami Heat first round pick. It’s a lot to give up. But for better or worse, the Sixers are all in. The can now boast one of the best starting lineups in the entire league, and if they’re able to supplement it before he playoffs, an appearance in the Finals is not out of the question.
Philadelphia also acquired forward James Ennis from the Rockets on Thursday. He’ll be a more serviceable piece of the rotation than Furkan Korkmaz, who has struggled on defense.
The player movement doesn’t end at the trade deadline. Many players are bought out by their new teams and have until March 1st to sign with a new team for the playoffs. It’s how the Sixers acquired Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova last season. I would definitely expect them to have interest in adding another player via buyout. The Miami Heat traded Wayne Ellington to Phoenix on Wednesday, and the Sixers are reportedly interested. The Sixers may have made their major move, but they will certainly try to fill out their now-barren fringes on the buyout market.
End of an Error
In a move that many saw coming, the Sixers finally cut ties with Markelle Fultz prior to Thursday’s deadline. He was sent to the Orlando Magic for Jonathon Simmons and Oklahoma City’s 2020 first round pick (1-20 protected) and one of Cleveland’s second round picks.
It ends a disastrous tenure for the 2017 first overall pick. Fultz has not played since Nov. 19th while he receives treatment for Thoratic Outlet Syndrome in his shoulder. His should has been a source of trouble for over two years now, and the sudden disappearance of a jump shot tanked what enormous potential he had coming out of college. He can now resume his career in Orlando where expectations are much lower.
For the Sixers, it’s not a bad return. Jonathon Simmons is hardly an efficient scorer, but should be able to defend on the perimeter which is something the Sixers desperately need. The first rounder is obviously late, but the team did just pick Landry Shamet 26th in this past draft. Plus, since Cleveland is one of the worst teams in the league, their 2nd rounder is as good a 2nd rounder that you can ask for. After going all in, getting good value from these picks will be important tools to replenish the roster depth in coming years.
At the same time, they just traded a player who was taken #1 overall. That will always leave a bad taste in one’s mouth. But it was a decision that had to be made sooner than later. A red-shirt rookie year is one thing; Fultz was expected to contribute this year to a contending team. He was given the chance to start, and after a while Brett Brown recognized that it was untenable. After the trades for Jimmy Butler and Harris, Fultz’s spot on the roster became more trouble than it’s worth. His salary is $9 million next year, and with plans to re-sign Butler and Harris, the Sixers need every dollar they can get.
Hopefully Fultz can turn his career around in Orlando. There weren’t any indications that he was a bad person or didn’t work hard in Philadelphia. But there’s no denying the reality that the decision to trade up for him was a massive mistake for the Sixers, and one that could have major consequence during the competitive window of this iteration of the team.
Brewer’s Tenure Ends…For Now
The short live career of Corey Brewer as a Sixer might have ended earlier this week. After two 10 day contracts, the team declined to sign give him a contract for the rest of the season. He could potentially sign one after the trade deadline, allowing the Sixers to use his vacant roster spot. Regardless of what the Sixers do, it’s clear that Brewer wasn’t the sole addition that they needed. Outside of his crazy game versus James Harden and the Rockets, Brewer hasn’t done a whole lot for Philly. In seven games he only shot 40%, 28% from three and 69% from the line. He did score 20 points in a loss to Denver, but the Sixers were without Embiid and Butler. They need more reliable scoring, and the buyout market seems like the most likely avenue to get it. Harris will score plenty as a starter, but the trade depleted their depth like Shamet and Muscala.
A Passed and Failed Test
As for their play on the court, the Sixers had a very impressive win over the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors last week. Philadelphia triumphed 113-104 on the national stage and ended the Warrior’s 11 game winning streak in the process. They were once again anchored by their two best players; Joel Embiid had 26 points, 20 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals. Ben Simmons had 26 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, and a block. Brett Brown called Simmons’ performance the best of his career thus far.
The win was particularly impressive because Philadelphia did so well in the second half, which is when the Warriors excel. Golden State has the league’s third best net rating in the second half of games, second best in the third quarter, and eight best in the fourth (which is only lower because they’re able to rest their starters a lot in the fourth). The Sixers outscored the Warriors 42-26 in the third quarter, and 60-34 in the second half. It was a remarkable performance considering the Sixers generally struggle in the second half of games; their net rating in that half is actually negative overall (-0.3, 21st in the league).
Unfortunately, against a team they’re more likely to face in the playoffs, they couldn’t hang with Toronto in a 119 to 107 loss. The defense was ugly and they couldn’t keep pace with the Raptors without JJ Redick available. The performance might have spurred Elton Brand to make the deal for Harris. Or maybe it was a heckler.
The Two All Stars
The Sixers star duo were both named to the All Star Game last week. Embiid is a starter for the second year in a row, and Simmons’ first career selection comes as a reserve.
The All Star rosters will one again be selected by captains instead of divided by conference. LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo are the captains this year, and Giannis even gave some insight as to what team Embiid will end up on.
Russell Westbrook said just last week that he wasn’t exactly on good terms with Embiid, so this should be a fun subplot on All Star Weekend. Simmons will also compete in the rising stars challenge. There were rumblings last week that Simmons would also be participating in the slam dunk contest, but it turns out he was only joking with reporters.
One Less Threat?
As the All Star Break nears, it’s a good time to observe the standings and think about seeding for the playoffs. And it seems that there’s one less threat in the Eastern Conference. Indian Pacers guard Victor Oladipo is out for the rest of the season with a ruptured quadriceps tendon. The Pacers could very well still make the playoffs, but they are a much easier out than before. They were third in the conference at the time of Oladipo’s injury, and have since fallen to fifth.
For the Sixers, it now becomes easier to climb in the standings and essentially guarantees them a top four seed, which means home court in the first series. Matchup wise, it also could make the difference between playing a team like Boston in the first round as opposed to Brooklyn. Milwaukee and Toronto seem like the clear-cut top two. The Celtics are one game ahead at the moment third place, so keeping pace will be a priority for the Sixers.
The Sixers may be filling out the rest of their roster internally. Zhaire Smith and Justin Patton were both sent to Delaware for to practice with the G-League Blue Coats, indicating that they could possibly play this season. Patton made his G-League debut on Tuesday with the Blue Coats.