June 01, 2022
The Sixers will keep their first-round pick in 2022, with the Nets declaring Wednesday that they will defer an asset they received in the Ben Simmons-James Harden swap this February.
As part of the Harden-Simmons deal, the Sixers sent out two different first-round picks to the Nets: an unprotected 2022 pick and a protected 2027 pick that turns into two seconds if not conveyed by 2029. Brooklyn had the right to defer that unprotected pick until 2023 and had until 5 p.m. on June 1 to make a decision. PhillyVoice reported last week that all signs pointed toward Brooklyn deferring the pick and pushing back the timeline on it by a year. On Wednesday, they went ahead and made that official.
Why would Brooklyn make that decision? There are a few layers to it. For one, it gives them more time to try to move that pick in any trade deal, with reports out of Brooklyn suggesting that they prefer to flip extra picks they have in order to strengthen a roster that has disappointed despite their terrific top-end talent. Philadelphia's 2022 pick will become an actual selection soon enough, which puts a cap on value compared to a theoretical asset like a future pick, and teams will need to weigh the player's fit and overall talent among other factors.
Critically, the Nets now get to roll the dice on Philadelphia faring worse next year, essentially hoping that Joel Embiid and James Harden either underperform or miss time to push that pick closer toward the lottery. There's a downside risk for Brooklyn — if the Sixers maintain the pace they were at an offense to end the year with Harden and Embiid on the floor, they might end up being a regular-season juggernaut.
But there's plenty that could go wrong, from injuries to the defensive downside to a lack of motivation to go full throttle in the regular season. Embiid has come in charged up for the last two seasons with a point to prove. Will that same fire be there next season, or will he take a more methodical, cautious approach with the knowledge that the endgame is what counts? Will the partnership with Harden blossom, or will they wear on one another on or off the floor? Those are the unknowns the Nets hope will tilt in their favor.
The upside for Philadelphia is also multifaceted. If they simply decide to keep the pick, they'll have the ability to add a young player on a cost-controlled contract who can help them start to fill in the gaps in their roster. There will be some long, switchable defenders who could be available in that range, a la Ohio State's E.J. Lidell or Baylor's Kendall Brown, who would help the Sixers chip away at the issues they have matching size and athleticism with playoff-caliber opponents.
Trading the pick is also a real possibility, even if pick No. 23 in this draft isn't a "premium" asset in the eyes of the league. The restrictions they have on the trade market are more due to their current roster and salary structure — Tobias Harris is productive, but on a monster contract, Danny Green is on a small and movable salary, but out with a major injury for the foreseeable future, and the rest of their non-essential players are on deals that would need to be combined to reach the cap number of one mid-tier player in return.
If they do lean toward the trade end, the Sixers also have to wait until after the draft is completed in order to avoid violating the Stepien Rule. It's a problem that can be worked around — they can essentially select a player for someone else with the intent to strike a deal once it's legal — but it takes some finessing, and you also run into the team fit issues we mentioned Brooklyn wanting to avoid.
As for names to keep an eye on in the potential "outgoing" department, it's a bit too early to say, and I would expect chatter to heat up in the weeks leading up to the draft in late June. Matisse Thybulle is a sure bet to hear his name tossed around quite a bit this summer, though that's probably true for everyone whose last name isn't Embiid, Harden, or Maxey. Thybulle is extension-eligible this offseason, but is poised to make under $4.5 million this year, so, at worst, he can be a situational role player on a fairly small contract. The Sixers are keenly aware Danny Green's injury leaves them short a wing defender in the rotation, so the Sixers in need of every useful defensive player they can get their hands on, even ones with serious offensive limitations like Thybulle.
The real winner here? Me, as it gives me plotlines to write about over the next month in a dead time of the year. The Kyle Neubeck victory tour begins.
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