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June 02, 2016

Despite Stauskas’ struggles, 2015 Kings trade could still be Sixers’ magic bullet

At the end of the 2014-15 season, one in which his team managed only 18 wins, Sixers managing owner Josh Harris said something I liked, a mission statement of sorts. 

“We’re going to continue to try to add elite NBA players,” Harris said. “And like we’ve said all along, the way you win [big] in the NBA is to have at least two, but hopefully four top-20 NBA players. And they’re hard to get.”

Skip ahead a year and Harris has continued to talk. A decent bit of what he’s said lately frankly hasn’t passed the sniff test, as the Sixers are now led by a new decision maker with a far different background than their last one.

The goal is still the same, though: Get top-20 players. Get difference-makers. And they’re still quite difficult to get, which is why it’s preferable to have as many cracks at it as possible. The Sixers’ primary method of trying to acquire star-level talent has been through losing and then losing some more, playing the draft lottery hard. 

Moving forward, it’s important to recognize there is another avenue that could land them a top-20ish contributor: last July’s trade with the Sacramento Kings that sent Nik Stauskas and Carl Landry to Philly. And considering what then-GM Sam Hinkie gave up in that deal, we might look back at it as a masterstroke, a heist without the hoops Danny Ocean and his crew have to jump through.

It’s uncertain if the Sixers have acquired even one future top-20 talent up to this point of The Process. Joel Embiid has the ability, but will his body cooperate? Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram are terrific talents, but they have to step on the floor and prove it. Personally, I would be surprised if either Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor progresses that far up the NBA food chain.

So maybe two, maybe zero. The Sixers aren’t necessarily all-in on two players, though, because “the Nik Stauskas Trade” can also be the magic bullet.

The trade

Kings received: The rights to Arturas Gudaitis (47th pick in 2016 NBA Draft) and Luka Mitrovic (60th pick of the NBA Draft)

Sixers received: Nik Stauskas, Carl Landry, Jason Thompson, The option swap 2016 or 2017 first-round picks with Kings as long as the Kings pick falls 1-10, 2018 Kings first-round pick (conditional if Kings convey first round pick to Bulls in 2016, protected top-10 in 2018, unprotected in 2019), 2019 Kings unprotected first-round pick

The Kings wanted salary cap space bad, and they essentially took out a second mortgage to get some. The Kings didn’t fork over their first rounder to the Bulls this year, which means the Sixers will get their pick unprotected in 2019. Un-pro-tec-ted. Let’s take a look at the individual parts of the return:

Nik Stauskas

At the time, I wrote this:

Simply due to his age and recent draft status, Stauskas is the most intriguing player of the three. That said, here is a word of caution to anyone who believes that the Sixers are automatically getting the guy from Michigan: Stauskas had a very disappointing rookie year, which is obviously a major reason why the Kings felt comfortable including him in the deal.

Stauskas had a disappointing second year, too. He shot 32 percent from three-point range, which simply isn’t going to cut it for a player with his defensive limitations. By some metrics, Stauskas was one of the worst players in the league. The only key part of the Sixers’ return to immediately play, some saw Stauskas’ struggles as an indictment of the overall trade, when in reality, any positive contribution from him was and is more of a bonus.

Pick swaps and unprotected pick

As it turned out, the Sixers didn’t need any extra lottery luck in 2016, but having the Kings option in 2017 doesn’t hurt. As a reminder, the 2017 draft class is supposed to be very promising at the top. Let’s go with the Josh Jackson mixtape today:

The Kings are slowly but surely trending upward, although it doesn’t feel that way. Here are their win totals since 2008: 17, 25, 24, 22, 28, 28, 29, and 33. As they progressed to 33 wins this year, that period of time has been marked by dysfunction. Put it this way: If you could choose this arrangement with any team in the NBA, is there anybody you would select before the Kings? 

Dave Joerger will try to get through to DeMarcus Cousins in a way that only Michael Malone was able to, before he was fired for no good reason. Vlade Divac will have about $10 million in cap space to play with this summer, possibly $23 million if Rajon Rondo isn’t back. 

If something doesn’t change in Sacramento and Cousins walks in the summer of 2018, there is absolutely a scenario in play where the Sixers get to make a 2019 lottery pick while they’re already in the playoffs.

All the guaranteed money that is left on the Sixers’ books from the trade is the combined $9.5 million that Landry and Stauskas are owed this year, relative chump change. A year later, not much has appeared to change with “the Nik Stauskas trade.” The Sixers gave up nothing to get nothing at all or something very good. There are no bad outcomes here, only good ones.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann