July 18, 2023
The Sixers' Summer League campaign is over, James Harden is still with the team, and the dog days of the offseason are here. Buckle up for two months of nonsense until training camp arrives, or a big trade shakes up the core of the team.
The latest name floated as a future Sixer? Toronto's Pascal Siakam. According to a dispatch from Las Vegas courtesy of Matt Moore at The Action Network, the Sixers were mentioned as a potential home for Siakam if the Raptors were to get moving on a deal for their All-Star forward.
There was a lot of chuckling when I brought up reporting out of Toronto that the Raptors were exploring deals for Pascal Siakam. “Tell me one I haven’t heard.” “Oh, I love this song!” “Fool me twice, Shame on Masai (Ujiri).” These were among the comments. Nevertheless, the Hawks, Thunder, and Sixers (in a multi-team trade) were among those mentioned as possible landing spots if Toronto does actually move the All-NBA forward. [Action Network]
So let's run through the potential hurdles for this in no particular order:
A lot of problems, right? And that doesn't even consider Siakam's potential fit in Philadelphia, or if the two teams have goals that align in a potential trade. But there are reasons to give this idea some consideration, starting with the fact that Siakam's name has been on the trade block basically all off-season.
Even if you are dubious that Ujiri will actually make a trade, Siakam appears to be one of the few star-level players in the league who is actively available for the right price. The Sixers have two real goals in mind for a James Harden trade — they either want to maintain or improve on their title chances immediately, or make more of an asset acquisition trade that will allow them to flip picks and players for a star who becomes available in a later trade. Siakam would seem to give them an option to move for prior to training camp, which would allow Nurse and Co. to have an idea of what they're working with from day one of the new year.
Quibble with the "star" label if you want, but Siakam has been a do-it-all player for Toronto with essentially a floor of 21-7-5 on good efficiency over the last few seasons. We have already seen him play an important role for a title-winner, albeit in a smaller role than he has played recently or would play in Philadelphia. He's a very good two-way player, a long and switchable athlete on defense who posted good numbers even within a fairly rough offensive environment for the Raptors.
That said, it's my estimation that Siakam exists in a weird spot for the Sixers. He's not going to be available for cheap enough that you could hope to get him by flipping Tobias Harris' contract, limited draft capital, and maybe one other small piece/player. If he was acquired in a multi-team Harden deal, Siakam is not a big enough creative force that you could expect him to be the lead perimeter creator for a great team. Essentially, acquiring Siakam leaves you a move short of being a real threat to win, and that's if you keep Tyrese Maxey in that deal.
Would a Siakam-Embiid pairing even work without a high-level creator? Though Siakam has been a volume three-point shooter in the past, his marksmanship has been far, far better from the corners to the extent that conceding above-the-break threes to Siakam is a viable defensive strategy (he has been a low 30-percent shooter from that spot for basically his whole career). The Sixers would have to split the difference between using his versatility, getting him to his sweet spots as a shooter, and not having him interfere with Embiid's preferred floor spots. Without a floor general and organizer, that would be pretty tricky, to say nothing of how they'd have to reconfigure the roster to make the team make sense.
However, there is a connection as fellow countrymen* between Embiid and Siakam. He is looming as one of the big free agents next summer as the Sixers attempt to preserve cap space for a massive 2024 offseason. And there are definitely some huge positives in Siakam's favor. An Embiid-Siakam combo as the defensive spine of the team would give you the foundation for a dominant defensive group. He would give the Sixers a shot in the arm as an athletic, high-motor, grind-it-out player who will steal you extra possessions on the glass and give you another plus player in transition. The vet forward is an excellent finisher around the basket — he has finished 70 percent or better at the rim in five of his seven seasons, thanks to his ability to score in transition, punish smaller defenders, and play through contact. And he has plenty of experience as an off-ball guy, with the ability to score off cuts and movement.
(*I don't want to necessarily overstate the "countrymen" angle given that Cameroon is a nation of over 27 million people. There's a connection between the two that they've mentioned in passing over the years, but two men who grew up 4.5 hours away in Texas — a state of roughly 28 million people — would probably not be assumed to have a tight-knit relationship.)
It doesn't strike you as a likely move, given the various roadblocks on both ends of a potential deal. If I had to guess, the Sixers would probably rather chase a cleaner-fitting star (and arguably a "better" star) if they were going to try to flip a bunch of stuff for one big player, like another creative guard or a do-it-all wing. As something closer to a traditional forward, albeit with versatile skills, Siakam is in a middle ground that could leave them stuck.
But a pie-in-the-sky trade for a perfect-fit superstar is unlikely to materialize for the Sixers for many reasons. If Siakam is genuinely gettable, it's worth the phone call to see what's what in Canada.
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