December 16, 2019
There is no formal name for it like we have for the trade deadline, but December 15th was a significant day on the NBA calendar all the same. It is the day most players around the NBA who signed new deals over the summer can be traded, opening up more paths to deals between now and the deadline. If you have a splashy signing that didn't work out, congratulations, you are free to find him a new home.
Teams like the Philadelphia 76ers, who have their eyes set on a potential Finals run next spring, will be searching far and wide for any moves that can upgrade the rotation. So let's take a look at some names that will pop up in the rumor mill over the next couple of months.
This is probably the most important question when it comes to narrowing down trade candidates for Philly. They do not have much movable salary on the books, limiting their options to players on mid-tier and lower contracts unless they earnestly consider moving one of the core pieces on the team. The two names that jump out right away will hurt different sections of the Sixers' fanbase.
Zhaire Smith, an exciting young athlete brought in under the pretense of "star hunting," feels like a victim of circumstance in Philly. He had no control over the unexpected health issue he had to overcome during his rookie season, but the franchise shifted dramatically during the time he missed. On the version of this team with Robert Covington and Dario Saric playing key roles, the Sixers' timeline was quite a bit longer, and thus there was a clearer developmental path for Smith in Philadelphia. If the trades before signing Al Horford didn't make it clear enough, this is now a team that wants to win and almost has to win in the short-term.
The acceleration of the timeline over the last year and change leaves Smith in a tough spot, and the Sixers don't really have extra developmental minutes for a wing laying around. For another franchise, the chance to mold Smith might still have some appeal.
Mike Scott is the other obvious candidate, simply because he's on a decent-sized contract (about $4.67 million for matching purposes), has a defined skill set that could be useful to a lot of teams around the league, and as Philadelphia has learned, is generally a pretty good guy who isn't afraid of big moments.
Beyond those two, there are a bunch of players on small contracts who might be needed to make things cap legal. Exactly who they would be depends on who is coming back in a trade, so let's get down to business. Note the following restrictions/points of consideration:
The Golden State Warriors want to clear salary so they can covert two-way player Ky Bowman onto a real contract. The Sixers need more players who can dribble and shoot. What's not to like?
Burks may not be particularly adept at either one of those things, but he's capable enough at both to help the Sixers' rotation. His skill set sort of splits the difference between the backup point guards and wing shooters on the roster, giving you some pick-and-roll juice along with reliable, if unspectacular shooting from deep. Having another secondary ballhandler would allow the Sixers to toy around more with Josh Richardson at backup point guard, a look we'll likely see in the playoffs regardless.
His clear availability cuts both ways, however. The Warriors are looking to pick up cap space and draft assets in any Burks deal. Are the Sixers willing to pony up an extra second for a guy with a history of stress fractures who is a jack-of-all-trades, master of none?
Trading for Forbes now looks less attractive on the surface than it did before the season. The fourth-year guard's shooting numbers are down in San Antonio, driven by a huge dip in form on catch-and-shoot looks. Forbes made over 45 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes last season, and that number has dipped under 35 percent this year on higher volume.
I think Forbes is a good bet to rebound in a better setting. The Spurs are dead last in three-point attempts and 19th in percentage, and Forbes' uptick in volume has coincided with the quality of his attempts dropping. Last season, 46 percent of his three-point attempts were of the "wide open" variety, per the NBA's stats database, a figure that has dropped to under 28 percent. The attention Philly's stars draw in the paint would be a boon for Forbes. Across the board, Philly's off-ball players get a lot of open looks, and they could use another confident shooter to hit on the perimeter.
Forbes is nothing special as a creator, but he's at least passable there and neither of Philly's backup point guards have been much to write home about. With Forbes comfortable on or off-ball, he would also be a better option in multi-guard lineups next to Ben Simmons. He's on a cheap, expiring deal, and the only question is what direction the Spurs find themselves headed in. San Antonio is usually pretty dormant during in-season trade talks, though that could change in the middle of a rare bad year.
You may think he is only being included here because he absolutely torched the Sixers recently, but you would be wrong. Davis Bertans can shoot the hell out of the ball and is in the midst of a career year for the Washington Wizards. Anyone making over 46 percent of their threes on over eight attempts per game has to be looked at closely by a team with Philly's roster construction.
However, I would say I'm a bit lower on Bertans to Philly than most. The price is going to be steep, and though he is currently the best possible version of his archetype, you might be paying a career-year tax for a guy on an expiring contract who is liable to get run off of the floor in a playoff game.
If the Sixers are going to push in more chips this season, I think it should be to target someone who isn't a souped-up Mike Scott, who has had a down start to the year as a shooter but seems like a sure bet to rebound at some point before the year is over.
"Wow, trading for a guy who hasn't played a minute this year, are you an idiot?!" I can hear a few of you yelling at your screen. And yes, Bullock has missed all of this season so far after undergoing surgery in mid-July for a herniated disk in his back. It would be a risk to acquire him.
But Bullock has shot better than 39 percent beyond the arc for his career, and he's a sort of off-screen shooter the Sixers don't have on the roster this year. He'd be a good complement to guys like Matisse Thybulle and James Ennis, who are thriving in more stationary roles in the corners.
Just as important, he's on a relatively cheap salary (just a $4 million base this season) which makes him much easier to acquire with Philadelphia's cap constraints. The Sixers could combine a couple of their minimum salary players to make the money work instead of having to use any of their bigger chips, saving guys like Smith for a bigger potential move (or even to hang onto him as a lottery ticket). Assuming they can come up with a draft asset the Knicks like, perhaps even New York's second-round pick they own in 2021, there's a realistic path to a deal here.
As a nailed on member of the starting lineup and a potential target to be hunted in late-game situations, JJ Redick had his downsides. As a potential sixth man and explosive scoring option off of the bench, Redick would be tremendous in Philadelphia, provided they could somehow make a trade work.
The beauty of bringing in Redick vs. most other options is that there would be no real integration period for the former Sixers player. You dust off all of the old plays from the playbook, run two-man game with Embiid, and fly down the floor to give Ben Simmons an elite shooter to hit in transition. And he comes back knowing he's not going to start or close games, outside of offense-defense subs.
It's hard to know if the Pelicans will make him available or not. I would imagine Redick didn't sign with New Orleans thinking they'd be this bad, and getting max value for him before the deadline is probably the smart move. But given the surplus of young players in New Orleans, perhaps the Pels end up believing they need as many professionals around them as possible.
So what are the roadblocks? His salary means it'll take moving a few players to make it work financially, and that means the Pelicans would have to clear roster space in advance of the trade to make it happen (unless a third party were to be involved). Are they willing to drop developmental prospects already on the roster to bring in another one like Smith (plus draft compensation)? They might not be interested in adding more unpolished gems to their collection.
On an ESPN special Sunday night, Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Nuggets are trying to find more playing time for Michael Porter Jr., the rookie who they've been hyping up behind the scenes for two years now, and that teams around the league believe Malik Beasley will be available. I may not understand the fascination with Porter Jr., who defends like a cardboard cutout of himself, but Beasley's been a candidate for a potential trade since the start of the season, and he fits what Philly does well.
Beasley brings two things to the table — he's a terrific athlete and can shoot the hell out of the ball. You usually don't have the opportunity to acquire guys with both of those traits, and Beasley is a pretty classic two-guard, capable of shooting off-the-catch or off-the-dribble. He's shooting 41.5 percent on the former and 45.5 percent on the latter from three. That's pretty damn good.
The bad news is you would almost certainly be acquiring Beasley with the idea that he is a rental. He reportedly turned down a contract extension worth $10 million a year in the fall, with some debate over whether the issue for Beasley is money or a desire to start, and the Sixers aren't in a position to offer him either right now. Denver could probably get more for him from a team looking to lock him in long-term, and the Sixers would have to consider if they are willing to cash in more chips for what would potentially be a single playoff run.
(The previous paragraph largely applies to Sacramento's Bogdan Bogdanovic, by the way, who makes sense for a lot of the same reasons and comes with similar drawbacks.)
And that is sort of the problem for the Sixers at the moment. The guys who can potentially help them could end up out of their price range, and the people in their price range may not move the needle much. Recent history suggests you shouldn't discount their willingness to make a big move, but star-hunting season is over.
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