“…it was the worst of times… it was the season of Darkness…”
– Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Now that smoke has cleared and the “KD to the Lakers” and “KD to the Celtics”* rumors have all but evaporated, it’s time to take a closer look at what the top three teams in the lottery have to achieve between now and the start of the season. The Sixers, Lakers, and Celtics are all in very different and very peculiar places this offseason – each for different reasons that find them with a lottery pick.
The Philly Conundrum
The mad GM, Sam Hinkie, for all his faults, got the Sixers here with the opportunity to get a franchise player. “The Hinkie Manifesto” aside, his time in Philly can be interpreted in one of two ways: either he was a misguided ‘stats guy’, who never played the game and thought that, by tanking, he could build a team, or he was a misunderstood genius who grabbed the Sixers a bundle of picks and player assets**, giving the Sixers the chance to get a transformational player, though not by the most glorious of means. Regardless, it was his shortcomings and his reluctance to communicate with the fan base or the media on his plans for the future that did him in.
Now begins the Year of the Colangelo, the unstoppable father-son duo that will undoubtedly make a trade for either an already prospering star or a star in the making with one of the three talented centers at their disposal. Not including Nik Stauskas, a.k.a the Great Canadian Hope, the only players of value on the roster are Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor (who just had reparative knee surgery) and Joel Embiid circa 3 years ago. Philly is in that wonderful poition where they literally can’t get any worse, so it’s only sunshine from here on out, right?
Wrong! The Mad King, Jerry Colangelo, could by all means turn this team around and get an extra 5 wins next season, but he could just as easily make them worse – and if Isaiah Canaan misses more than a half next season, they might as well scrap the whole thing. Barring any sort of Isaiah Canaan injury, the Sixers have a shot at a stellar 15-67 season next year. The Sixers currently don’t have the assets to pull off a quick rebuild, considering that there are question marks at every position. Even at the 5 spot, where they have a surplus of talent, there is uncertainty, as it is unclear if Embiid will ever be able to play consistently (or at all). This isn’t as much of a problem as it would have been 10 years ago, which is why they are so willing to trade away Noel and/or Okafor; but how much are these two even worth anyway?
The 76ers two most tantalizing players are big-men Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel; however, assuming that the Sixers draft Ben Simmons (which they will) that puts incoming forward Dario Saric in an uncomfortable spot with 4 other front court players, all of whom demand playing time. Dario, who is listed at the same height as Simmons (6’10’’), demonstrated some shooting ability, but nothing too special. His showings against bigger more physical opponents left much to be desired. He was beaten down in the paint, and was unable to hold his ground against players with a size advantage:
Dario hasn’t progressed as far as the Sixers would have liked, but he’s still more talented and has more potential than much of this draft class. Saric could be incorporated in a blockbuster trade with one of the centers.
Nerlens is 7-foot toothpick that has shown versatility on the defensive end, but is lacking offensively. He moves well for a center and is the easiest to trade of the three players, as he fits in to most modern NBA systems more fluidly than the other two because he won’t demand the ball when he gets there. Nerlens is a good character guy and, from what I’ve seen of him with the Sixers, a high-energy player that moves well for a big. In this vine, he covers tons of floor space to reject superstar James Harden:
With defense and quickness like that, Noel fits well on modern small-ball teams.
Jahlil is a different story and it will be much more of a challenge to find him a suitor. There are fewer teams looking for a player with his low-post centric skill set, plus he had plenty off-the-court issues in his first year with Philly. He consistently demonstrated his offensive skills last season, but didn’t have much range and couldn’t contribute to the 76ers offense without the ball in his hands. Plus, he showed an alarming lack of ability on the defensive end. The 76ers will want equal trade value in return for Jahlil, but the rest of the league has been decreasing his value since he first stepped onto the court as a pro.
Okay – here we go – it’s time to turn the trade machine and get rid of those extra pieces***.
Trade 1 : The Sixers trade Jahlil Okafor to Lakers straight up for D’angelo Russell
Jahlil and DeAngelo had similar rookie seasons, in that it was filled with problems off the court****. No one outside of Laker-Land really knows how bad the situation is in L.A, but from what I’ve heard, it’s not good. Now that Iggy and Swaggy are officially separated, the situation may be unresolvable – The Lakers might agree that it’s time for a change of scenery, and take out the divorce/trade papers.
Trade 2 : The Sixers trade Jahlil Okafor and Dario Saric to the Boston Celtics for the 3rd, the 16th, and 2 second-round picks.
The Sixers are going to pick Simmons, making Dario most valuable as a trade asset rather than as a bench player. With news coming out that the Sixers are looking to move pieces to get into the top 8, this feels like their most realistic trade partner. Boston would not be willing to trade the 3rd pick for Okafor alone, but with Dario to sweeten the deal, two of Boston’s biggest needs are filled. Boston gets a shooting big with Saric, and a scoring big in the paint with Jahlil. Both of them have defensive shortcomings, but the Celtics might assume that the great Brad Stevens will be able to sprinkle some magic powder on the two and turn them into passable players on the defensive end.
Trade 3 : The Sixers trade Dario Saric, the 23rd, and the 25th pick to the Sacramento Kings for the 8th pick and Darren Collison and Ben Mclemore.
Sacramento needs something more than players: They need a new front-office and a new owner. It’s difficult for the Kings to make a trade that clearly benefits them because Boogie Cousins doesn’t care for most of the people in or out of the NBA*****. Maybe he can put up with Dario. If the Kings think so, the two could potentially be an excellent pairing – and also get Philly into the top 8.
What to Expect Next Season
Philly could change for the better – if Ben Simmons is everything he turns out to be and Brett Brown turns out to be a capable coach when given actual NBA players. In addition to trades, the 76ers have about a billion dollars to spend on free-agents. As a team in need of play-making and shooting ability, even a few simple role-players that have somewhat decent skills would make all the difference. One player who could be a great addition to their team would be Kent Bazemore. Though the 27 year-old is not as young as you would hope for a team that is building for the future, as a player who went un-drafted and had to fight for every bit of playing time and every contract he’s received, he would be a great influence on the 76ers’ young players. They would need to overpay for Bazemore to get him, but his on-the-court abilities and off-the-court intangibles could help the Sixers become a legitimate NBA team again and help their young squad develop into something special.
* Celtics fans still think KD will be wearing green next season.
** they just so happened to be all be either injured/non-shooting centers or traded away for more picks.
*** and hopefully get players under 7 feet tall in return.
**** more specifically, in the locker-room.
***** except Rondo.