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January 24, 2017

2017 NBA Trade Deadline: Sizing up key Sixers storylines

A month from today on February 23, the 2017 NBA trade deadline will be upon us. Always a fun time on the NBA calendar, there will undoubtedly be plenty of trade rumors and reports flying around the internet between now and then.

Will Carmelo Anthony waive his no-trade clause and get out of New York? Will Atlanta continue to tear it down and trade pending free agent Paul Millsap? How about Jimmy Butler (or another expected big name) getting moved?

Here are a few general storylines to keep in mind over the next month when it comes to the Sixers and potential trades.

The ‘big’ question

With Joel Embiid Processing at an incredibly high level, one of Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor has to go at some point.

"I don't want to give someone away. I don't want to let someone walk, but either one of those things might happen and it’s just by virtue of our circumstances," Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said on Saturday’s broadcast from Atlanta.

“I’ve had a lot of dialogue with a lot of teams, I know what’s out there in the marketplace. There is interest in both of them, but if we’re going to make a deal, I want to make sure we make a deal that satisfies everybody in equation.”

Maybe neither are in Colangelo’s plans, and we’ll likely continue to hear their names in rumors and fake trades until the deadline. Here are a few involving Noel and the Portland Trailblazers:

The Ringer: The Blazers send McCollum to the Sixers for Noel, the Sixers’ unprotected 2017 first, the Kings’ unprotected 2019 first, and multiple second-round picks.

(My answers are “No way in hell” and “Still no, but a good offer from a value standpoint.”)

Noel is both a better fit with Embiid and a straight-up better player than Okafor, but there are other factors. Steve Kyler reported that it will take a max contract to keep Noel, and you have to imagine that is pretty accurate. Why would Nerlens not want to get paid? I would want to get paid.

Noel’s starting salary would be around $25 million if he were maxed out. He’s a good player and $25 million doesn’t mean what it used to, but that is, um, a lot of money. If you believe that contract is tradeable, then it doesn’t matter as much. There is also a decent chance Noel doesn’t command quite that much money in restricted free agency.

Okafor has been in fewer rumors so far, and he’s currently out of the rotation altogether when Embiid and Noel are healthy. From the team’s standpoint, he has played the good soldier during that time.

The $64,000 question to me is if the Sixers can get anything of value for Okafor when almost every statistic suggests his effect on the team is disastrous. Here’s CBS Sports’ Matt Moore:

Okafor is on a rookie contract, and league executives continue to say that they think he can be a good NBA player. He's so gifted offensively, and his size alone is a benefit. But Okafor is being pushed to the edges of the Sixers' rotation, and it's not like they're flush with talent, even with as good as Joel Embiid is. His defense is just too rough and in the modern NBA, not being able to stretch the floor is a liability.

Okafor still has a few more years on his rookie deal, which may make him more the attractive trade chip. Also, you have to wonder if Noel’s impending raise and his response to being benched (which was understandable in some ways, but still not a terribly good look) will scare teams away.

Regardless, Okafor and Noel are the biggest combined story both figuratively and literally.

Shopping a veteran?

Ersan Ilyasova and Embiid have a +9.9 net rating in almost 427 minutes together. When they play, the Sixers resemble a real, live NBA offense. Ilyasova can be pretty darn frustrating when he’s off, but Colangelo was correct in guessing that a stretch four that shoots 39 percent on a boatload of attempts would function well with Embiid.

Still, there are reasons to be skeptical moving forward: Ilyasova is on his fifth team, about to turn 30, an impending free agent, and plays (i.e. defends) both Ben Simmons and Dario Saric’s main position. If his value is high enough, it might make some sense to move him.

Sergio Rodriguez hasn’t been as good Ilyasova, but maybe other teams are looking for another experienced ball-handler in their backcourt for the playoffs. Another expiring contract, Rodriguez has been outplayed by T.J. McConnell and also plays Ben Simmons’ position on offense.

Mo Williams and the salary cap floor

The Sixers and Denver Nuggets are engaging in one of the funniest/most pointless games of salary cap chicken in NBA history. If you’ll recall, the Sixers claimed Williams off waivers last week after Denver cut him… and then immediately cut him. Well, Denver did the same thing on Monday according to a Marc Stein report:

Again, Mo Williams is an expiring contract! He had surgery and decided to retire! All the Sixers (and Nuggets) want is to save cash for Josh Harris and reach the salary floor instead of splitting the remaining $7.8 million they’re required to spend among the remaining players.

(This loophole will be closed in the next CBA. It’s worth pointing out that Sam Hinkie was *roasted* by the local media for making these same transactions. Now, crickets. That isn’t to say Colangelo should be criticized, either, because it’s very likely not his call.)

Williams has been taken off the Sixers’ books so my understanding is that they’re back to $7.8 million under the salary floor as opposed to $5.6 million. They’re also now at the 15-man roster limit because they signed Chasson Randle to a 10-day contract.

Albert Nahmad, one of my favorite salary cap follows, predicted Denver’s response over the weekend. His guess is the Sixers don’t follow up once Williams is again cut loose:

Even if the Sixers re-signed Williams after Randle’s contract is up and used (wasted) a roster spot on him for the savings, they don’t have any other obvious potential cuts. If the Sixers are going to reach the cap floor, they’d likely have to open up another roster spot after Williams via trade.

And hey, as we wrote about here, maybe they do just that. Happy NBA Rumors and Reports season!

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann