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July 02, 2019

Sixers renounce rights to former first-round pick Anzejs Pasceniks

Under then-GM Bryan Colangelo, the Sixers opted to trade up for the Latvian big man instead of drafting someone who could contribute immediately

The Sixers made a move to bring in a backup big man on Monday night, agreeing to terms with veteran center Kyle O'Quinn, but in the background, there was arguably a more notable move taking place. Latvian big man Anzejs Pasceniks, whose NBA rights the Sixers have held for the last two years, was renounced by the Sixers on Monday, a team source confirmed to PhillyVoice after Sam Amick of The Athletic first broke the news.

According to a source who spoke with PhillyVoice, the decision to renounce the rights to Pasceniks was, ironically, about his own desire to come over and play for Philadelphia. The big man signaled to Philadelphia that he was interested in making a move to the league this season, which would have forced the Sixers to tender a slotted, guaranteed contract. With the Sixers running out of both roster spots and salary cap space, they saw fit to cut ties.

"We thought it was best with respect to him and his agent to let him pursue other opportunities," PhillyVoice was told.

There will be some of you who say to yourselves, "Who the hell is Anzejs Pasceniks?" and that would be a fairly understandable reaction, if not for the fact that the Sixers used a first-round pick on him in 2017. What's worse, the Sixers traded up for the honor of selecting Pasceniks at No. 25 in that class, going out of their way to prioritize him.

It was a decision many criticized (or at least raised an eyebrow at) on draft night. Though the Sixers would eventually recoup the future first-round pick they moved to acquire him when they eventually traded Markelle Fultz to the Orlando Magic at this year's trade deadline, that decision has only looked worse with time.

Two players who went to the Lakers immediately following that pick, Kyle Kuzma and former Villanova standout Josh Hart, were immediately cited by most experts and even local fans as players who would have been able to step in and help Philadelphia right away. Either one would have fit a need for the present-day Sixers.

One source familiar with the decision-making at the time told PhillyVoice that GM Bryan Colangelo selected him because the Sixers believed they didn't have room for another rookie at the time, ruling out a player like Kuzma, and bumping up a player who they could stash overseas. Colangelo believed the Sixers had enough players who split time between the four and three positions on the roster, sources said, and though the team was invested in Dario Saric, another scoring option off of the bench still probably would have been useful for Philly at the time.

This is editorializing rather than reporting, but that explanation never made sense if the player they wanted to select instead was Pasceniks, a big man who they believed could shoot but would ultimately have been a backup center in an absolute best case scenario. Players like Hart and Kuzma had (and have) positional utility regardless of what Philadelphia already had on hand, and they were also not entering the league at the position of the Sixers' franchise player, giving them a much more reasonable path to playing time, short or long term.

Like many moves during the brief Colangelo era, time has not been kind to the decision. In fact, following this move on Monday night and the Sixers' involvement in the Jimmy Butler sign-and-trade, there are only two players on the roster with ties to the previous GM: Ben Simmons and Jonah Bolden. The latter's opportunities figure to dwindle after the moves Elton Brand has made in the opening days of free agency. 

While the same could be said about the players leftover from the Sam Hinkie era, many of those players, from Jerami Grant to Robert Covington to Dario Saric, were traded for value in the years since his departure. The Colangelo years were an asset black hole in that regard — talent selection was not up to par, and in many cases, they would go on to cut ties with the players chosen for nothing.

Time will tell where the Elton Brand front office stands in this regard, as he is flanked by the very lieutenants who supported Colangelo during his tenure. The results have been all over the board — they've gotten great value out of late firsts (Landry Shamet), got exploited because of a promise at this year's draft, made good value trades on both ends of the Jimmy Butler experience, probably overpaid in the trade for Tobias Harris, and cycled through big men all of last season without finding a real backup for Embiid. Brand has been bold as an executive, we will see if he's actually good.

In any case, pour one out for the end of the Pasceniks era in Philadelphia. It's not often you see a team part ways with a player because they want to play basketball for their team, but here we are.

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