More Sports:

February 21, 2017

2017 NBA Trade Deadline: How the latest reports and rumors impact the Sixers

With the 2017 NBA Trade Deadline just two days away, the Sixers’ focus seems to be squarely on Jahlil Okafor. That is one less center than we all thought only a month ago, as Nerlens Noel’s name has not come up in trade rumors at all. It’s hard to tell if this is a sign that Bryan Colangelo and the Sixers front office will keep Noel in restricted free agency this summer, but it would now officially be a surprise if he’s dealt before Thursday’s deadline.

Makes sense, too. Noel is playing well after missing significant time early this season:

      • His scoring efficiency (.634 TS%) has skyrocketed to a career-high while he’s also scoring more on a per-minute basis (16.4 points per 36 minutes). That’s a good combo.

     • Noel’s block rate and defensive rebounding numbers have slipped a bit, but his 3.6% steal rate would be tied with Chris Paul for the NBA lead (per Basketball Reference) if Noel played enough games to qualify. Again, he’s a center.

     • After a rough start in this regard, the Sixers are now officially better with Noel (-5.6 net rating) than when he’s off the floor (-6.0 net rating). Those numbers might not seem like a lot, but it shows how well that Noel has played recently. There was a time when his on-off splits were creeping up on Okafor’s, but now they aren’t even close.

Multiple outlets (ESPN, USA Today, are reporting that the Sixers pulled Okafor from a few games because they were close to a striking a deal with the Portland Trailblazers. That trade never made it to the finish line — Portland dealt for Jusuf Nurkic, instead — but it’s worth pointing out that so far, Okafor has been the one whose name is consistently in trade rumors. Not Noel.

Let’s move on to how the latest rumors around the NBA can affect the Sixers:

Sixers draft picks

Oh, Vlade:

Following the DeMarcus Cousins trade, the Sacramento Kings waived Matt Barnes to create roster space. Many reports are indicating that Divac and the Kings will look to trade vets before Thursday’s deadline. Here is what The Vertical’s Chris Mannix wrote in his column:

The Kings excised Cousins, and there are strong indications they are not done dealing, either. Sacramento is determined to restock the franchise with assets, and will be targeting rookie-deal players and draft picks in the coming days, sources told The Vertical. Free agents-to-be Ben McLemore and Darren Collison are available, sources said, as is Arron Afflalo, a solid bench scorer with a manageable contract.

Meanwhile, Sixth Man of the Year candidate Lou Williams continues to be the Los Angeles Laker who consistently appears in trade rumors. Ian Begley linked Williams to Utah, while Zach Lowe reported that Washington is kicking the tires on the former Sixer.

What this means for the Sixers: With the Cousins trade, the Kings essentially announced another full-scale rebuild. They will likely tank down the stretch (an effort that could be helped by parting with some of their veterans), which is good news for the Sixers. Whether Philadelphia blows past Sacramento in the standings or Sacramento simply comes back to the pack, the Sixers will almost assuredly have additional lottery balls now that Boogie is in New Orleans.

(Speaking of Cousins, fast-forward to the 17:00 mark of this podcast for a story about Cousins mistreating, "berating," and "threatening to fight" Nik Stauskas in Sacramento.)

As for the Lakers, they have been tanking for a long time now. The race between Phoenix and Los Angeles for the second-best lottery odds is going to be critical for the Sixers in terms of the NBA Draft. If the Lakers land No. 3, all it would take is for one team to jump over them and then the pick conveys to the Sixers. Look for the Lakers to trade Williams, one of their best players, by Thursday.

Butler to Boston

If the Chicago Bulls trade Jimmy Butler this week (all signs point to Paul George staying in Indiana), it will almost assuredly be to the Boston Celtics (who own those coveted unprotected Brooklyn draft picks). But according to a report from the Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson, Butler believes he’s staying put in the Windy City past this week:

Plenty can happen before Thursday's 2 p.m. trade deadline, but according to multiple sources, the Bulls and Celtics haven't held substantive talks about Butler since June, and Butler's camp is under the impression that the Bulls won't move the three-time All-Star this week.

What this means for the Sixers: Well, it means that their old rivals in Boston will likely be in direct competition with them at the draft lottery this season.

That doesn’t mean the Butler-to-Boston rumors will die down before the deadline, though. All it took was for this Isaiah Thomas tweet to set the internet on fire on Monday night. Well, this and the Celtics following Carmelo Anthony on Instagram:

This was a good piece in the New York Daily News on what Brad Stevens accomplished at the NBA All-Star Game, in a way introducing himself to the league’s elite players. Boston feels like the most important team at the NBA Trade Deadline, a couple of years ahead of the Sixers’ timeline. And considering that the Kings unprotected first-round pick won’t have anything to do with DeMarcus Cousins, Colangelo and the Sixers could be in a very similar position in 2019.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann