| Making sense of a strange 24 hours in Philadelphia |
After months of speculation, Thursday’s 3:00pm trade deadline loomed as an important one for the Sixers. It offered a chance to balance out the roster and position the team for a strong off-season following a year of already drastic improvement.
Needless to say, things didn’t go quite as expected.
The first domino fell on Wednesday night. News broke that the Sixers had traded Ersan Ilyasova to the Atlanta Hawks. In exchange, the Sixers received F/C Tiago Splitter as well as a second round pick (originally belonging to Miami) and agreed to swap 2nd round picks with Atlanta.
The move was somewhat surprising, but in retrospect it makes sense for the Sixers going forward. Ilyasova, despite his solid play, likely didn’t have a future with Philadelphia. The 29 year old’s contract expires after this season, and the improved play of Dario Saric made Ilyasova’s skill-set somewhat redundant. Not planning to re-sign him, the Sixers decided to get what value they could for Ilyasova.
There are a few ripple affects of this deal. The most obvious is that Saric will take over in the starting lineup. He’s certainly earned that right after his high level of playing leading up to the All Star Break. As for who takes Saric’s spot coming off the bench, Richaun Holmes or Robert Covington could see time the 4-spot, according to Brett Brown.
*Update: The Sixers announced on Friday that Ben Simmons will not play this season.*
The returns are modest for a veteran on an expiring contract. Tiago Splitter himself is another expiring contract that the Sixers were willing to take along side draft picks. They are only second round picks, but it’s no secret that the Sixers love those 2nd’s. Plus, the Sixers will enter the 2017 draft with an abundance of picks should they decide to package them for something greater.
Trading away Ilyasova was somewhat surprising, but just before noon on Thursday, the Sixers outdid themselves. They traded center Nerlens Noel to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Andrew Bogut, Justin Anderson, and a 2017 1st round pick (protected 1-18 for 2017. If it doesn’t convey this year, the Sixers will get Dallas’ 2nd round pick in 2017 and 2018.).
This trade was definitely the surprise of the day. The pieces coming from Dallas make sense from a roster perspective, but the value is not very high at all.
First, let’s break down what the Sixers gave up. Noel is a starting caliber center and due for a big contract this off-season. While it would have made sense for Noel to backup Joel Embiid, Noel has been outspoken about his frustration. And considering that Embiid will be due for a new contract after next seaosn, Noel was likely to be moved sooner or later.
In terms of the return, it’s a mixed bag at best. Bogut is 32 and has been declining for the past four seasons, despite his importance to Golden State from 2012 to 2016. He doesn’t have a role moving forward in Philadelphia. The Sixers reportedly began buyout procedures shortly after acquiring Bogut.
Anderson, 23, is in his second NBA season out of the University of Virginia where he shot nearly 36% from three point range. Dallas selected Anderson 21st overall in the 2015 Draft. This year he’s is averaging 6.5 points and 2.9 rebounds on 40/30/79 shooting splits in just under 14 minutes per game coming off the bench. For Anderson to really make an impact, he needs to improve his shooting. Luckily he is under contract through the 2019-20 season. Anderson gives the Sixers a young wing player with upside, something that they lack. It solidifies the backup small forward spot behind Robert Covington, a spot the Sixers have tried to band-aid with players like Saric, Nik Stauskas, and Timothe Luwawu-Cabbarot, none of which are natural small forwards.
The Sixers could also get a first round pick, but Dallas would have to make a serious run down the stretch for that pick to convey this season.
What little market there was for a center mostly dried up when DeMarcus Cousins was traded to New Orleans on Sunday night. And with Noel’s impending restricted free agency, teams were not likely to trade the farm for him considering they could just send him an offer sheet in a few months. Overall, it’s somewhat of a disappointing return for a player that wasn’t even expected to be traded at the deadline.
These trades also say much about the team’s direction for the rest of the season. In trading Noel and Ilyasova, two of the team’s most productive players, the Sixers are a demonstrably worse team. With Embiid tentatively sidelined until March 3rd, and Simmons out for the year, it appears the team wants to tank the rest of the year and improve their draft position. It behooves the Sixers to move up in the lottery not just to improve their own pick, but to bounce the Lakers out of the top 3 so Los Angeles’ pick conveys to Philadelphia.
Ultimately it was not the trade deadline that fans expected. Many expected Jahlil Okafor to be traded, not Noel. Justin Anderson could turn into a nice player, but what the Sixers brought in today pales in comparison to what they reportedly were offered. Reports this week had the Sixers in talks to acquire players like Avery Bradley, Aaron Brooks, or Doug McDermott. Is it possible that those reports were leaked by Philly to drum up interest for Okafor? Possibly. It’s hard to imagine that any of these reported offers were legit considering that almost every one was better than the return for Noel.
At the same time, Okafor is younger and under contract for longer than Noel. He needs to improve in a lot of areas, but hopefully the team deciding to keep him inspires Big Jah to become a better player.
It will be interesting to hear Bryan Colangelo’s explanation for what transpired over the past week. Colangelo didn’t have the best tenure as GM of the Raptors from 2006-13, and the moves today are not likely to inspire confidence for an already critical fan base. Today was arguably his first real slip-up at the helm in terms of flipping assets. He could still make an important move leading up to the draft, but it’s hard to imagine fans forgetting this one.