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May 23, 2022

Checking in on some early Sixers offseason rumors

Never short on drama even when they're eliminated from the playoffs, the Sixers have managed to pop up in quite a few rumors over the last week-and-a-half, with plenty of chatter spilling out of the NBA's yearly draft combine in Chicago. The question, as always, is who and what you can trust from a week where everybody has an agenda to push.

I'm here to help. Here's what I've heard regarding the Sixers over the last week or so. 

Matisse Thybulle's future

The end of the season was, to put it lightly, a huge disaster for Thybulle. Rarely do you see players go from darling of the fanbase to public enemy as quickly as he did, but his choice to not get vaccinated and his horrific second-round performance against Miami won him almost no support. And those two things were not disconnected — Thybulle was open with reporters about the impact that missing the games in Toronto had on him and his confidence, even if he could have saved himself from that fate with one simple choice. Nevertheless...

Three years into his Sixers career, Thybulle doesn't look much different from the player he was coming out of Washington. He's a block/steal machine who can disrupt a game on defense, and there were steps forward taken in his off-ball offense, particularly as a cutter and weapon in the dunker spot once James Harden arrived. His inability to consistently make shots, though, allowed teams to pack the paint and compromise Philadelphia's half court offense with Thybulle on the floor.

(Thybulle boosters pointed to a strong close to the regular season from deep as a sign of progress or evidence that James Harden could help him get closer to respectability. Personally, I'm not much more inclined to believe in that limited sample than any others from his career. The numbers are what they are — he's a below-average shooter with few tools to get around that problem against good teams. It's going to take at least a full season of consistent results from him for teams to rethink how they guard the Sixers with Thybulle on the floor.)

All of this has added up to Thybulle being in a handful of trade rumors to start the offseason, most prominently in connection to the Chicago Bulls. Marc Eversley, a former Sixers exec who is one of the pillars in Chicago's front office, was instrumental in Philadelphia's acquisition of Thybulle on draft night 2019, so there's been a notable level of buzz regarding their interest in him.

One bit of record-correcting — Thybulle is certainly not untouchable and the Sixers would entertain moving him, but the idea that they would dump him strictly for salary reasons (as has been reported elsewhere) doesn't carry any weight. Thybulle is extension-eligible this offseason but is poised to make under $4.5 million this year, a number that would hardly make a dent in the tax bill if they shipped him out. More importantly, the Sixers are keenly aware that Danny Green's injury leaves them short a wing defender in the rotation. Moving Thybulle just to move him and get off of his deal was unlikely before that injury, but it's even less likely now, the Sixers in need of every useful defensive player they can get their hands on.

If Thybulle is moved, expect it to be in a legitimate attempt to improve the team. 

Danny Green and the path ahead

Speaking of Green, his future is cloudy as could be at the moment. Internally, the Sixers rate him highly for everything he brings to the table, from the floor-spacing to off-ball defense to the veteran lessons he can pass on to their younger players. Losing him in two straight playoff runs was a big deal, and the injuries this time around are a lot more devastating.

It's too early to say exactly what's going to happen with Green, with a range of possibilities being floated from all parties at the moment. Any trade using Green's salary in combination with other assets to bring back a contributor likely won't develop until closer to draft night, for reasons we'll get to in a minute. If draft night comes and goes without Green being packaged in a deal, it seems relatively likely the Sixers would release Green prior to July 1st, his entire non-guaranteed salary coming off of the books. If that happens, don't rule Green coming back anyway, potentially on a smaller deal.

Trade options and the 2022 Draft

As part of the Harden-Ben Simmons trade deal, the Sixers sent out two different first-round picks to the Nets, an unprotected 2022 pick and a protected 2027 pick that turns into two seconds if not conveyed by 2029. But there was an important catch for the 2022 pick — Brooklyn has the right to defer that pick until 2023, and has until June 1st to make a decision. After the Sixers won a three-way tiebreaker over the Bucks and Celtics to get pick No. 23 this year, that seemed like a relatively decent outcome the Nets would roll with.

Just over a week out from the deadline, I've been told it's relatively likely the Nets will opt to defer that pick to next season, a big enough chance that the Sixers are actively preparing to be armed with that chip this summer. Should they have it, it clears up what will be one of their most important bartering chips to upgrade the roster around Joel Embiid and Harden, whether it's to select another young, cost-efficient player (at 23 or potentially higher up the board) or package that pick in a bigger deal for a ready-made vet. 

If you trust mock drafts from this time of year, and I'd advise you to take them with a grain of salt at literally all times, there are some forwards who could be available in that range that would fit the profile of long, switchable defenders who would also benefit from simplified offensive roles with Embiid and Harden starring.  Ohio State's E.J. Lidell and Baylor's Kendall Brown are two players who have been mocked around that range that fit the billing. 

Should Brooklyn choose to keep the 2022 pick, it does complicate Philadelphia's ability to make a draft night trade, as their 2023 pick (which they would own outright) would not be available to be moved until the 2022 draft is completed. The Sixers owe a protected 2025 first to the Thunder as a result of the Al Horford-Danny Green swap during Daryl Morey's first offseason in charge of the team, tying down their 2024 and 2026 firsts. But Brooklyn opting to defer is the likeliest outcome at this juncture.

How important is Tyrese Maxey?

Already this offseason, we've heard some "star hunting" type rumors regarding the Sixers, and I'm not here to tell you that they're out of the star business in general. IMorey thinks their path to contention rests on acquiring another big-name guy, he will figure out whatever needs to be done in order to get that guy in the building.

Is he going to use Tyrese Maxey to make that happen? The signs point to no.

"Maxey is as close to untouchable as you could be," a source told PhillyVoice over the weekend.

As always, remind yourself in these situations that this is an easy thing to say and much easier to simply go back on if "the right opportunity" comes up. But the combination of Maxey's present-day production, accelerated development, work ethic and character  (not to mention his bargain contract) have him rated ultra high for the Sixers internally, certainly higher than even they guessed when they selected him in the draft two years ago. He is not going to be the sweetener in a deal if they move him, but the guy driving the outgoing value of a deal. Don't expect him to move unless a very big fish is coming back.

Doc Rivers again

As I've tried to impress on the readers already, there's reason to believe the Sixers have been calculated in their forcefulness over keeping Doc Rivers. Even as I write this, rumors continue to persist about the possibility of the Lakers trying to scoop up Philly's current head coach, and the Sixers are not going to say anything that dampens their leverage if that happens.

On the other hand, they've said over and over, publicly and privately, that they are going into the offseason with Rivers as a key decision-maker, into next season with Rivers as the coach, full stop. Unless you want to outright accuse the Sixers of lying, and I can't get there, they have been remarkably consistent across all levels regarding Rivers' future. If they're doing that strictly for tactical reasons, I would simply tip my cap to them for the well-executed, well-organized message. 

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