June 20, 2023
At the present moment, the Sixers are looking at the 2023 NBA Draft as outsiders, staring down perhaps their first NBA draft in franchise history where they won't make a pick. And while things are expected to heat up in the days to come with the reality of the new CBA setting in, their biggest move on Thursday could end up being a cash move.
A source familiar with Philadelphia's strategy told PhillyVoice on Tuesday that the team is exploring multiple options to acquire a second-round pick. The most likely scenario is that the Sixers simply buy a second-round pick — a source said that Sixers ownership has given the green light to Daryl Morey to be aggressive in his attempts to get into the 2023 draft. There is some belief that they could acquire a pick in the mid-to-late 40s and potentially add a future rotation player on a team-friendly contract.
The Sixers have conducted some unpublicized workouts with prospects who could be in that range or fall into undrafted free agent territory in recent weeks, though it is not immediately clear who (if anyone) they are after specifically. Daryl Morey has generally made an effort to try to add more two-way players to the team over the last couple of seasons, particularly once the Sixers set up Joel Embiid and James Harden as co-stars.
Speaking of Harden, let's get to some other noteworthy Sixers angles for the week and beyond.
Harden returning to the Sixers on a team-friendly deal remains the focus of Philadelphia's offseason, and it looks increasingly likely that they might be able to make that happen. The Houston Rockets are Harden's biggest suitor outside of Philadelphia, but the indication is that they are not willing to go over the top with years or dollars to sign him specifically. Sources told PhillyVoice that Rockets owner Tillman Fertitta wants to establish a more solid culture alongside the arrival of head coach Ime Udoka, and Houston has shown interest in free agents Fred Van Vleet, Brook Lopez, and Dillon Brooks among others.
Philadelphia has a free-agent quartet outside of Harden to manage this offseason: Paul Reed, Jalen McDaniels, Georges Niang, and Shake Milton. Milton is the least likely of those players to return next season, sources say, as the veteran guard looks for a potential opportunity for more minutes (this could change if Harden were to walk in free agency). McDaniels and Niang are in a wait-and-see bucket, with both players generating interest from other teams while still possessing some playoff-adjacent flaws that could keep their final contract numbers in check. Reed seems relatively likely to stay unless a team emerges willing to give him a true starter's role, and has been spotted in the Sixers practice facility working out in recent weeks.
(A smaller piece of free agency planning — Sixers big man Montrezl Harrell has a decision to make by Wednesday, 6/21 on his player option for next season, valued at slightly under $2.8 million. As of this writing, Harrell and his agent sound likely to take that decision as close as they can to the deadline, as they try to suss out whether there's an opportunity for a larger minutes guarantee on a minimum deal with another team.)
Tobias Harris' future has been a big point of speculation, as his $39 million expiring contract represents an interesting trade chip should the Sixers decide they want to make a splashy move now or before the season ends. One source familiar with the Sixers' thinking urged caution when asked if a deal for Harris could materialize this week, suggesting there was no real traction on a deal at present and that the team wouldn't rush into a deal just to trade Harris for the sake of it. While shifting trade rules will alter their options after July 1st, the Sixers believe they'll have multiple windows (the draft, the pre-camp period, and the pre-deadline period) to explore potential trades, and won't commit to dealing Harris unless it improves Philadelphia's flexibility or top-end ceiling.
The Sixers also don't sound like a team expected to be in the mix for some of the market's biggest names this summer. The Chicago Bulls are fielding calls on most of their roster and have had exploratory talks on Zach LaVine, but their asking price for the 28-year-old is believed to be closer to a traditional star trade rather than the Bradley Beal cap-dump move from Washington over the weekend — Chicago would want a package centered around a younger player with upside and multiple picks for LaVine, sources say.
Keep your expectations in check this week. As the phones heat up over the next two days, the Sixers could find themselves with a major opportunity on their hands, and their trade for De'Anthony Melton on draft night 2022 came somewhat out of the blue. But the likeliest outcome in the short-term is minor maneuvering, and then a dramatic pause before James Harden makes his big-money decision to open July.
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