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May 29, 2019

Houston Rockets making Chris Paul, Clint Capela available — are Sixers a fit?

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Chris-Paul_052919_usat Erik Williams/USA TODAY Sports

Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul brings the ball up the court against the Philadelphia 76ers at Toyota Center.

When you're an expensive, capped-out team in pursuit of a championship, each offseason brings questions about whether you should blow it up or deal your high-priced stars for better-fitting parts. It appears that time has come for the Houston Rockets, who are reportedly making everyone short of James Harden available.

That's the word from ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, who reported on Wednesday afternoon that Rockets GM Daryl Morey has been making calls around the league in an attempt to reshape the roster.

If Chris Paul and Clint Capela are on the block, in theory, everyone else is on the block. Does that help the Sixers at all?

Glad you asked. A run-through of the names in questions follows.

Chris Paul

This is going to be a hard pass for several reasons, mostly because it's 2019 and not 2012. If a younger Chris Paul was available at the moment, it would be a different story, but his age and his cost make it absolutely impossible for the Sixers to consider trading for him.

Not a misprint — Paul is 34 years old and is set to make roughly $124 million over the next three seasons. For anyone who is concerned about how Jimmy Butler would age over the course of a five-year contract, Paul's contract is considerably worse. He has a pretty extensive injury history, a personality that can rub certain guys the wrong way, a need to have the ball in his hands, and a body type that tends to age poorly in NBA history.

Salary-matching would make it difficult to construct a trade for him even if the Sixers were interested in pursuing a deal, and even as the resident Chris Paul mark around these parts, it's a hard pass. You would have to end up moving one of your younger and better stars to make this happen, which is a big no-no.

After watching Brett Brown run the point guard gauntlet early in his days as Sixers coach, it would feel like poetic justice to get him one of the most productive guards to ever play the position, but unfortunately, the deal would not come with a time machine. 

Clint Capela

While I'd like to dismiss the prospect of trading for an expensive center off hand, the Sixers did use a third of their roster space on centers this year. So maybe you can't rule anything out?

I'm only teasing, this ain't happening. Once again, this is a problem financially above all else. Capela has four years left on a deal that will pay him about $74.5 million through the 2022-23 season, and the Sixers simply can't commit resources like that to the position unless they decide to move on from Joel Embiid for some unknown reason.

Stylistically, Capela is the exact sort of big you'd want to be playing behind Embiid. He had his struggles in the playoffs against Golden State, but a rim running, shot-blocking big is exactly what the Sixers could use on the second unit next to their high-usage stars. The Sixers should basically be searching for a young and cheap version of Capela, and perhaps one day they can turn Jonah Bolden's athleticism into something resembling Capela.

Moving on though, let's consider some actual candidates.

Is there anybody else of interest?

The first name that jumps to mind here — P.J. Tucker, who was one of the key figures in Houston's series against Golden State. He has done a little bit of everything for the Rockets, spending most of his time on the wing while being able to play small-ball center minutes in a pinch, as he did quite successfully in the playoffs.

And that all underlines one fact: Tucker is tough as nails. His basketball journey probably has something to do with that. After an early NBA flameout forced him overseas, Tucker cut his teeth in countries like Isreal, Ukraine, Germany, and others before finally making his return to the league five years after he left. Playing in dimly-lit gyms in unfamiliar places will make playing in the NBA seem like a piece of cake.

That journey, unfortunately, also took up the bulk of Tucker's prime, and he recently turned 34 along with Chris Paul. He's on a much more manageable salary of around $8 million a year over the next two seasons, and his 2020-21 year is only partially guaranteed. But the Sixers don't necessarily have a lot to offer the Rockets in ways that work within the salary cap, because their trade chips are either far too expensive or important to the team to move in a deal.

This is one downside of the "stars at all costs" philosophy that brought them here. It is many ways easier to make moves involving role players because their contracts are cheaper and thus can be used in different sorts of deals, either as sweeteners in bigger deals or in swaps for better-fitting players. 

The players they do have on cheap contracts, a la Zhaire Smith, are some of their only chances at upside left on the roster, and the Sixers need to treasure players like that because of how expensive things are about to get elsewhere. On top of that, the Rockets most likely want players who are built to help right now, rather than project players. If they're moving guys who are good but expensive or ill-fitting, the idea is to get meaningful production in return, not lottery tickets.

One thing this does highlight is the failures around the margins from the previous regime. The Sixers mostly avoided long-term commitments under Bryan Colangelo to chase stars, which was a worthwhile strategy, but they also didn't do much to help the team's future as they mostly punted on free agency. With even one or two savvy draft picks, the Sixers might have some ammunition to get to the trade table.

(Trading away a small fortune of assets for Tobias Harris at the deadline certainly doesn't help here either.)

So while it's fun to try to play fake GM and dream up a bunch of fantasy trades whenever a rumor pops up, I don't see a great fit to be had here. Unless you're an insane person and think moving Ben Simmons in a package for a role player is a good idea, don't expect much involvement on Philadelphia's end here.


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