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June 19, 2023

A 2023 NBA Draft primer for Sixers fans

Here's what Sixers fans need to know as the NBA Draft approaches.

The Sixers are just three days away from a draft they don't currently own a pick in, robbing us of some of the usual prospect and workout discussion that dominates this piece on the NBA calendar. As a result, we've been left to discuss the same James Harden rumors over and over again and pick through the scraps of trade possibilities that will likely never happen. If you were paying attention here, for example, you would have known Bradley Beal was never coming to Philly.

As a break from the nonsense, here is a guide for Sixers fans heading into draft week, so that you know where the team stands, where the league stands, and why Thursday could get pretty wild.

Why don’t they have a pick

A quick refresher on the moves that left Philadelphia without a pick in this draft (as of now, anyway).

  1. Philadelphia's 2023 first-round pick belongs to the Utah Jazz. The Sixers traded the pick to Brooklyn as part of the James Harden trade, and the Nets then flipped that pick for Royce O'Neale. Philadelphia's 2023 and 2024 second-round picks were lost due to tampering charges last summer, stemming from the team's acquisitions of P.J. Tucker and Danuel House Jr.

In addition, the Sixers made an under-the-radar inclusion in the Matisse Thybulle-Jalen McDaniels swap. Prior to the deal, the Sixers owned the rights to the best 2023 second-round pick from the group of Charlotte, Atlanta, and Brooklyn, which if they had held onto would have given them the 34th pick in this year’s draft. But the Sixers sent those rights back to the Hornets and will get picks in 2024 (Knicks) and 2029 (Blazers) out of that deal.

That’s an unfortunate outcome for the Sixers based on everything we know about this draft.

What’s so special about this draft?

It starts with the franchise talent at the top of the board — Victor Wembanyama is being hailed by some evaluators as the best prospect in decades, and while the hype train has gotten slightly out of control at times, the French big man has earned the praise coming his way. The moment he steps on an NBA floor, he will be the tallest/longest guy against any opponent, and he is an advanced basketball player at both ends of the floor despite only being 19 years old. After building around a generational big man 25 years ago, the San Antonio Spurs look like they’ll have the good fortune to do so again.

The high end of this year’s lottery figures to turn up some more stars, with names like Scoot Henderson, Cam Whitmore, Brandon Miller, and the Thompson twins (Amen and Ausar) some of the highlights at or near the top of the board. While the deepest drafts only usually turn up a few genuine stars at best, there are probably 5-8 players with huge upside cases, which led to some absolutely egregious tanking from fringe playoff teams down the stretch.

While Philadelphia was never going to be in the mix for those aforementioned names, a star-heavy draft with big names at the top of the board tends to benefit everyone, with players getting pushed down the board who might fight into the lottery or the back half of the first round in a weaker class. It makes this year a good opportunity for contenders and veteran-heavy teams to try to snag a contributor on a cheap contract right before the new collective bargaining agreement upends the league’s current process of team-building.

Is the new CBA going to impact the draft?

Yes. This year’s draft is technically still operating under the rules of the last collective bargaining agreement. For the time being, that’s an important factor for trades above all else.

One of the many penalties that luxury tax teams will face starting on July 1st is a restriction on salary aggregation. Let’s look at a practical example of how that would work. If the Sixers were only trading out Tobias Harris on his cap hit for next season (roughly $39.3 million), here’s how it compares under the new and old CBA, assuming the Sixers are a tax team.

Old CBA: Teams over the apron could receive up to 125% of the outgoing salary in trades plus $100,000. In the Harris example, that means they could take back a little less than $49.2 million if they sent him elsewhere.

New CBA: Teams over the apron can take back only 110% of outgoing salary in trades as of July 1st, and they do not get the additional $100k padding. If the Sixers are a tax team, they could bring back roughly $43.2 million in salary for Harris after July 1.

That’s a decrease of nearly $6 million for salary-matching purposes. While that doesn’t sound like a lot, it has the potential to disrupt transactions as we know them.

For example, the Dallas Mavericks were a tax team in 2023 and made a bold midseason trade for Kyrie Irving ($39,060,807 cap hit) and Markieff Morris ($1,836,090) by combining the salaries of Dorian Finney-Smith ($13,930,820) and Spencer Dinwiddie ($20,357,143). Had they tried to trade Finney-Smith and Dinwiddie at those cap figures under the new CBA, the in-the-tax Mavericks would only have been able to acquire roughly $37.7 million in salary, making a trade for Irving impossible without revisions to the package.

Pressure comes from multiple angles here. On the one hand, over-the-cap teams need to get moving if they’re hoping to turn multiple role players into a big piece to vault into contention. Teams with players on expiring contracts, a la the Sixers and Harris, also have a bit of urgency to strike before they lose a bit of flexibility. It’s unclear as of now just how punishing the new apron rules will be for contending teams, but the buzz around the league is that there could be major movement this summer as teams sort out their priorities.

If Harris is going to get moved this summer, and there are plenty around the league that’s a foregone conclusion, don’t be surprised if it happens on Thursday night.

What are the Sixers trying to accomplish at the draft?

In a few words:

With Daryl Morey at the helm, the Sixers have been active on draft night over the last three years. Morey’s first draft featured separate trade deals dismantling the failed 2019-20 edition of the team, shipping Al Horford and Josh Richardson to OKC and Dallas respectively. They were relatively quiet in 2021, and then struck out of nowhere to flip pick No. 23 for De’Anthony Melton on draft night last year. They have not been shy about trying to shift the role players around their star(s) if they see a good opportunity to do so.

For the moment, acquiring a second-round pick is the most achievable goal the Sixers have on draft night. The archetype they’d be after shouldn’t be hard to figure out if you look at most of Morey’s acquisitions and the type of players Nick Nurse tends to like — the Sixers want to stock up on as many two-way guys as they can and continue to toughen up defensively without sacrificing shooting.

What’s the latest in the rumor mill?

Let’s make a couple of stops around the league:

  1. There is a lot of smoke surrounding Zion Williamson heading into draft night. On a podcast in recent days, Bill Simmons relayed to listeners that one source of his claimed the former No. 1 overall pick would be moved by Thursday. On Monday morning, Shams Charania indicated that the Charlotte Hornets — owners of this year’s No. 2 pick — would be more inclined to trade it for his Pelicans teammate, Brandon Ingram. In other words, keep an eye on the Pelicans.
  2. Over the weekend, the Action Network’s Matt Moore ended an article with the following: “Tobias Harris for the Sixers and Tyus Jones for the Grizzlies are two players I am confident will be on new teams by the end of the summer.” The Jones piece of the news is somewhat surprising for yours truly, given Jones’ production and Ja Morant’s suspension, but add some more gas to that Tobias Harris fire.
A lot more will shake out between now and Thursday evening, so get a nice cold beverage and settle in.

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