June 14, 2022
Getting their 2022 draft pick back has been a nice little boost in offseason team-building chatter for the Sixers, even if pick No. 23 is not a crown jewel asset for any organization. Philadelphia has a piece of ammunition they didn't as of a month ago, and with salary constraints limiting their options in free agency, they have just one more path, one extra chip to offer as they try to build a championship-level team.
That team, at least in the short term, will almost certainly hinge around the talents of Joel Embiid, James Harden and Tyrese Maxey. The second name in that list is the only one that's under even cursory doubt as a result of his contract situation, but there has been no indication that Harden departing is on the table in the short term. What his contractual future looks like is still a bit unclear as of this moment, and the biggest question of the offseason will only be answered when free agency opens to kick off July: just how much is Harden going to cost over the long term?
Until we all reach that point, the draft takes center stage. And the two critical words on Philadelphia's end are "rotation player" heading into next week's big event, regardless of what the path to come up with one looks like.
With the caveat that things can change quickly and it all depends on how the board shakes out, I would rank Philadelphia's possibilities on draft night in roughly this order of likelihood:
No. 4 sounds like an especially unlikely outcome at this point for all the reasons you might expect. The Sixers are already at an asset deficit as of this writing, a team with few movable contracts and perhaps fewer movable picks. Between the pick they traded to Oklahoma City to unload Al Horford and acquire Danny Green and the picks they owe Brooklyn from the Ben Simmons-James Harden swap, Philadelphia's first-round selections are tied up for years to come, unable to be moved or outside of their control. If the Sixers are going to package multiple assets for one pick or player, it's a lot more likely they'd do it for someone who is a guaranteed NBA commodity rather than a relative unknown coming out of the amateur or overseas ranks.
The flip side of that logic is why standing pat or trading back are the two most likely outcomes. The Sixers were thin before Danny Green went down with a devastating knee injury to end the season, and have even fewer playable guys now that Green is expected to miss considerable time next season. It's why Matisse Thybulle, despite his warts and issues down the stretch (self-inflicted or otherwise), is not going to be simply given away this offseason. The Sixers need to hang onto as many NBA-caliber players as they can get their hands on, and while Thybulle has real limitations that hurt in the playoffs, he has at least proven himself to be a useful regular season player. Philadelphia is open for business on Thybulle as part of the right deal, but with Thybulle on a small cap number next season, there's no urgency to move him unless that deal materializes.
A quick Green-related aside, as I'm not sure if Green has mentioned this on his podcast or not — Green underwent surgery to repair his knee around two weeks ago, so we can use (roughly) the start of June as the jumping-off point for his recovery timeline. The veteran wing has claimed he will be back by February next year, but that's an ambitious suggestion based on late-season ACL injuries for younger players in recent years. Denver's Jamal Murray, for example, missed all of last season to the chagrin of Nuggets fans everywhere.
Exactly what kind of homework they're doing on prospects has been guarded tightly during this process, though silence should not be confused with inactivity, as members of Philadelphia's front office (Daryl Morey, Elton Brand, Vince Rozman and others) have traveled for interviews and agent-run workouts during the pre-draft process. Sitting in the back half of the first round, the Sixers' options are more dependent on what teams do in front of them, which is a contributing factor to their choice to say less.
That puts Philadelphia in a position where they hope to accomplish one of two things, primarily: use No. 23 to draft a player who can help sooner than later, or turn that into multiple assets that strengthen their war chest and put them in a position to make a move at some point down the road. What does that player look like?
Dating back to Morey's end-of-season presser, the Sixers have tried to avoid putting themselves in a box in terms of what they need or want in a player they're drafting. Depending on the day, someone will tell you they're looking at big wings/forwards, a guard with scoring punch, or simply someone who can stretch the floor and open things up for their primary ball-handlers. Based on where their weaknesses are and conversations over the last month or so, the first group still feels like the most likely box to pull from, thanks to the options that should be available there and their glaring need for size, athleticism and even a bit of scoring punch on the wing.
(A semi-related tangent as we look toward free agency: TJ Warren is one of the most interesting free agent cases of the summer, the Pacers wing having missed most of the last two years after undergoing surgery on a navicular stress fracture in January 2021. Talk has picked up some on him as we inch closer to July 1, with some suitors now preparing for a rebuilding team to pay him a little extra on a short-term deal to get him in the building, hoping for a resurgence similar to what Miami got from Victor Oladipo in the playoffs. But if the first wave of spending comes and goes without Warren getting $10-plus million from somebody, a lot of teams are going to try to pitch him on taking a team-friendly deal on a higher-profile team to rehab his value and look for a payday opportunity in the summer of 2023 or '24. I suspect the Sixers would be one of those teams, though the medical concerns are real around the league.)
The Sixers do seem to feel good about their young bigs, the hope being that one (or ideally both) of Paul Reed and Charles Bassey will step forward to take a full-time role next season. In an ideal world, the Sixers use their resources this summer on upgrading the guard and wing depth while Reed and Bassey fight for minutes behind Embiid. Elsewhere in young depth musings, the team was satisfied with progress shown by 2021 first-round pick Jaden Springer throughout his time in the G-League, and there is hope that the year of experience will have him ready to compete for a rotation job in training camp. The team has not written off Isaiah Joe, but it's probably fair to say at this point he is viewed as the longest shot to stick and produce, Joe having struggled to consistently make shots in limited opportunities for the Sixers.
In a world where they make a trade, it sounds like "trading back" is orders of magnitude more likely than "trading out" if Philadelphia doesn't find a suitable deal for vet help. That's unlikely to change unless somebody absolutely bowls the Sixers over with an offer for the pick. An overpay of that sort is unlikely for several reasons, predominantly because the 2023 class is viewed as a stronger group than this one and because other teams (notably the Dallas Mavericks) have explored deals to trade out themselves.
A trade-out scenario would only seem worthwhile if the Sixers had something really big in the works, and between what we've heard locally and expectations elsewhere, star movement doesn't seem super likely. The indications are that Zach LaVine ends up back with the Bulls, and Bradley Beal has spent years reinforcing that he's more okay in D.C. than other people want him to be. That being the case, Philadelphia feels good about the talent that's expected to be available in the general range of their draft pick, even if it's fair to say they are not expecting another Tyrese Maxey to fall out of the sky and push them to new heights. A move of around a few spots for extra seconds or a protected first is not out of the question.
Outside of who we know they interviewed at the combine — a list that includes MarJon Beauchamp of the G-League Ignite, Baylor's Kendall Brown, and Nebraska's Bryce McGowens — there's still plenty of mystery left to uncover in the week-plus leading into the draft. Until then, I'll do my best to keep you as in the loop as possible.
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