More Sports:

February 12, 2021

NBA Trade Rumors: Sixers 'considering' move for Kings forward Nemanja Bjelica

The Sixers are considering a move for Sacramento Kings forward Nemanja Bjelica, according to a new report from Sam Amick of The Athletic. Perhaps more shooting is in the cards for Philadelphia.

A 32-year-old forward hailing from Serbia, Bjelica's calling card since entering the league has been his touch from beyond the arc. From 2017-2020, Bjelica put together three straight seasons of 40+ percent from three, albeit on teams with pretty low expectations, and he averaged a career-high in scoring last season with an expanded role under Luke Walton in Sacramento.

With the Kings in the midst of turning things over to a younger cast, Bjelica has found himself out of the rotation, appearing in just 10 games and playing rather poorly when he has had his opportunities. Measuring a shooter by a 10-game stretch would be unwise, but when a below-average defender shoots 23.8 percent from three in limited minutes, it's no surprise he has found himself on the outside looking in. Bjelica isn't an awful fit with the Kings' backcourt of the future, but they haven't suffered as they've turned the team over to a younger, more athletic group of forwards.

Local fans may remember Bjelica from a screwy saga in the summer of 2018, when the Sixers were operating without a GM in the wake of the Bryan Colangelo burner scandal. It was reported (and the Sixers believed) they had come to terms with Bjelica on a team-friendly deal, only for Bjelica to back out of the agreement under the pretense of returning to Europe and a potential family-related issue. He would ultimately sign with the Kings for a lot more money that summer, and he finishes out the third year of the $20 million deal this season before hitting free agency.

As Bjelica would later explain, there was no ill will on his part, but that had some consequences for Philadelphia. Ersan Ilyasova, who had been a productive rotation player for Philly the year prior, would end up departing for Milwaukee when it appeared the Sixers had a deal in place with Bjelica. Stretch four would not end up being a huge priority for them that season in their star-studded flurry of deals, but the back out certainly changed part of their offseason.

On the surface, it's a move that seems a tad similar to their reported interest in JJ Redick. Giving up assets for a questionable defender in the midst of a career-worst year as a shooter is a tough sell on the surface. But from a lineup construction standpoint, a deal for Bjelica actually makes a lot of sense for Philadelphia, even if it's a move with a heavy regular season focus.

The Sixers have been left with little flexibility in bench lineups thanks to their options in the frontcourt. With Mike Scott out due to injury and their backup centers (Dwight Howard and Tony Bradley) both non-shooters, the Sixers have not been able to toy around more with lineups featuring Ben Simmons as the biggest guy on the floor. It's a look Doc Rivers has talked about liking, and though there are defensive issues connected to Simmons' inexperience/ineffectiveness as a rim protector, the offensive premise of Simmons with a bunch of shooters around him has always made sense on paper.

Bjelica would give them some more options to go to on that front, and a more viable look for the team to play on nights where Dwight Howard is ineffective or off the pace of the game. Those nights have come more frequently lately, and that should be expected with a backup center in his mid-30s, with the Lakers choosing to let him ride the pine in certain matchups last season.

Is that a grouping you want to see when the playoffs begin? Almost certainly not. But with guys like Mike Muscala in the middle in the past, Simmons has shown the ability to extract more from bench groups that are well-spaced around him. They're an especially important resource in games where Joel Embiid is out, as those games typically feature the Sixers trying to MacGuyver something together in order to score points.

It's not just Simmons who would benefit from a stretchy forward like Bjjelica on offense. With the veteran forward serving as a pick-and-pop target, Sixers guards like Shake Milton and Tyrese Maxey (and even Furkan Korkmaz) could see cleaner paths to the rim on their drives. Maxey would figure to gain a lot from that relationship, as his size has made getting all the way to the rim a tough proposition at times. Anything they can do to add juice to the bench unit would be welcome, and this move would have the added bonus of potentially aiding the one of your young prospects.

Even if the Sixers were to invest in Bjjelica purely as a stretch four, there's merit in going after him to shore up the rotation during the regular season. Scott's injury has left the Sixers thin on bigger forwards, forcing Simmons and Harris to log some extra minutes with the backups that Philadelphia's training staff is probably cringing at right now. Getting a guy who can eat minutes every night is valuable in its own right before you consider how the on-floor skill would help lineups work. The Sixers have had a terrific closing kick this year, and one way to preserve that advantage is to make sure your stars have the freshest legs possible when they check-in for the final time in the fourth quarter.

Cost also shouldn't be much of an issue. Bjelica has an easy salary match at a little over $7 million, he's out of the rotation for his current team, and he's a veteran on an expiring deal. It's possible the Sixers could try to wait it out and hope he gets bought out, reconnecting with the guy the organization is already familiar with once that process takes place. If we assume the Kings would prefer to pick up something for their trouble, I think Philly could do a lot worse than adding him for the cost of a minor draft asset.

If not, Bjelica will live on in Sixers lore as the guy who spurned them for more money in the summer of 2018. Should they somehow acquire him, I'm sure he'll be forgiven for past transgressions as long as he knocks down open threes. The game is the game

Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleNeubeck

Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports

Subscribe to Kyle's Sixers podcast "The New Slant" on Apple, Google, and Spotify