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June 17, 2019

NBA Trade Rumors: Former Sixers forward Ersan Ilyasova available in cap-clearing move

Draft night represents a changing of the guard in many respects, but it's also a prime opportunity to offload the most unsavory veterans on your cap sheet before free agency opens in July. It appears the Milwaukee Bucks are angling to do just that on Thursday night, and former Sixers forward Ersan Ilyasova is one of the players who appears to be up for grabs.

That's the word from Marc Stein of the New York Times, three days out from one of the league's biggest events.

It's a move that would make sense for Milwaukee as they attempt to clear space to retain several prominent free agents this summer, namely Malcolm Brogdon and Khris Middleton. There is a segment of the Sixers' fanbase who will look at this as a prime opportunity to strike. Not only can the Sixers bring back a guy who fits into what they like to do, but they can also get additional compensation to do so. Seems like a sweet deal.

That conveniently ignores two very important factors — what Ilyasova looked like during the end of his tenure here (and what he looked like in the playoffs this season), and the financial reality the Sixers are staring down this summer.

It is probably worth noting that Ilyasova's average-ish shooting has gone missing in the playoffs almost every time he has appeared in the postseason. There is a difference between being a good regular season shooter and a good playoff shooter, and Ilyasova has routinely failed to prove he is the latter. Without other skills to offset that, like a functional handle, it is easy to render him useless.

His fans will cite Ilyasova's positional versatility as a plus, but he doesn't really excel playing as a four or a five, and in both cases you would probably want the Sixers to have a better option at the position. They need someone with more rim-protection equity as a backup five, and they need a tougher, more athletic forward to play minutes at the four as they continue to build out a switchable defense that can compete in the playoffs. Versatility is only meaningful if you are making a positive impact at multiple positions.

Do the Sixers need shooting? Absolutely. But their size and athleticism was a big part of why they pushed Toronto to seven games this year, and they should be trying to lean into that as much as possible.

Philadelphia (wisely, in this writer's opinion) passed on giving Ilyasova a multi-year contract last summer, and it was Milwaukee who stepped up to the plate to pay him. The Bucks handed him a three year, $21 million deal, and though the third year is non-guaranteed, the seven million he would represent on the books for 2019-20 is at least a medium-sized deal for a team like Philadelphia.

Ownership has promised to pay into the luxury tax to support this team's championship aspirations, and that starts with retaining the likes of Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. It is one thing to go beyond the salary cap for max (or near max) players, but you have to be selective with the rest of the supporting cast around them. Using $7 million on a guy who might end up useless in the playoffs is probably not the best allocation of resources, even if they would still be armed with other tools (e.g. the mid-level exception) after theoretically making a deal.

It's not as though the Bucks are offering up a premium asset here — it's most likely the 30th pick in the draft. If the Sixers were dying to get back into the late first round, they already have the resources to do so with a pair of picks near the top of the second round in No. 33 and 34. Perhaps it could be the difference in a bigger move to trade up, but so far there has been minimal buzz about Philly being interested in that sort of move.

(Salary cap machinations would also fudge up this deal. The Sixers could make the financials work by guaranteeing Jonathon Simmons' contract and sending him out, but with Milwaukee looking to clear space, it would necessitate bringing in a third party. At that point, you would probably have to send draft assets to the third party to swap Simmons out, and Milwaukee could also say they'd rather just straight up dump Ilyasova somewhere rather than complicating discussions with a third team. Ilyasova is not really worth that much effort on his own.)

The Sixers shouldn't be opposed to bringing on veterans who make sense in their program, because they won't have a lot of talent acquisition options available to them moving forward. But they should be focused on getting younger and more athletic, and Ilyasova is not that.

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