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February 02, 2019

Will Wilson Chandler's injury impact Sixers' approach to NBA trade deadline?

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The Sixers have been absolutely rolling as of late, having scored their best win of the season over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night. But it did not come without a cost, and a Sixers official confirmed to PhillyVoice on Saturday morning that Wilson Chandler would be out for the next 2-3 weeks.

Philadelphia is calling Chandler's injury a "right quad strain," which he aggravated in the third quarter of the win over Golden State. That injury will likely rule him out through the All-Star break, which for once is well-timed for this injury, as the Sixers have some natural downtime built into the schedule to get Chandler back up to speed.

It's still bad news for Philadelphia, who has the back end of this brutal stretch of schedule to worry about before they reach the break. After their road trip ends in Sacramento on Saturday night, the Sixers will head home to play Toronto, Denver, the Lakers, and Boston before closing out the pre-All-Star period with a cakewalk against the Knicks. Chandler's versatility will be especially missed against the deeper teams among that group (Toronto, Denver, and Boston), which will force the Sixers into some tough decisions.

Who immediately steps into that starting spot? On merit, it might be Jonah Bolden, who has given Philadelphia a real lift as an energy guy and rim protector off the bench. But it will likely end up being Mike Muscala, who Brett Brown likes to have out there to space the floor. That was his first instinct when Chandler went down Thursday, with Muscala coming up with a couple huge plays in crunch time against the Warriors.

This would also partially be driven by a desire from Brown to keep Bolden in the backup five spot he has occupied lately, where he can continue to develop into a viable option to spell Joel Embiid.

(And by the way, I wonder how much consideration Brown will give to playing Landry Shamet in Chandler's absence. It would probably screw up the bench rotations, but the prospect of having Shamet and Redick on the floor around their big three in crunch time is intriguing on offense, at the very least.)

Chandler has been a bit overextended in his role so far, but with Philadelphia short on wings, he has been an integral part of a great five-man lineup. Philadelphia's starting group of Simmons-Redick-Butler-Chandler-Embiid is outscoring opponents by 13 points per 100 possessions, one of the best marks in the league for a five-man lineup. Chandler isn't doing any heavy lifting there, but his ability to hit shots and defend a little helps keep their integrity in place at both ends.

But this is now the second soft tissue injury Chandler has suffered this season. The veteran forward missed the team's first nine games of the season after hurting his left hamstring in the preseason, and now has this issue in another muscle in his other leg. For a player in his 12th season who has already missed entire seasons due to soft tissue injuries, this is a worrying sign. Can the Sixers really depend on him to hold up for a playoff push?

Even if the Sixers believe they can depend on him, they are aware of the need to beef up the rotation. 

PhillyVoice spoke to team sources who stressed that the desire to upgrade around the 3/4 spot already existed and that Chandler's injury has done nothing to change their view of where they need to add a piece or two before the season ends. Philadelphia's trade-deadline plan has been kept fairly quiet beyond a few musings from Brett Brown, but all signs seem to point to them wanting to bolster this group sooner than later.

What the 3/4 player looks like (and how much they're willing to pay to upgrade) remains somewhat of an open question. The team's prior interest in Nemanja Bjelica suggests they could be in the market for more of a pure stretch four, a la Nikola Mirotic, who the New Orleans Pelicans have been fielding trade calls about. But Mirotic would be on the costlier side, and the Sixers probably need more defensive steel than Mirotic offers.

The Sixers remain open to any number of options should they become more realistic, including higher-end players on teams in flux, but with most of a week between now and the deadline, their plan appears to be to take a reasoned, methodical approach and see what that produces by next Thursday, with many sellers holding high lines on their "available" players.

The good news in all of this is that the Sixers' recent play bought them some breathing room in the event they struggle with Chandler out. Had they sputtered through the early part of this tough stretch, the Sixers could be staring down an extended funk. We'll see how they react without Chandler available, but they should come out with their heads above water in any case.

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