Trading for Jimmy Butler this season might be the 76ers' best bet to get that third superstar to join Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
But that's still a huge gamble without assurance that he'll pick up his option or sign a multiple-year, maximum salary contract with them after the season. Trading for him might be enticing, though, since there's no guarantee the Sixers will sign an A-list player once free agency begins on July 1.
The Sixers failed in their bid to go 'star hunting' last summer despite being among a small number of teams with available cap space at the time for max deals. This summer, they'll be one of 13 squads that will be able to offer max salaries. Two other teams — the Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns — should be at least close to max-level money to tender offers.
Philly hopes that free agents are eager to join forces with Simmons and Embiid. However, most A-list free agents are expected to re-sign with their own team, strongly consider joining LeBron James with the Los Angeles Lakers, or go somewhere where they will be an alpha dog. They will be hard-pressed to do that with the Sixers, who are without question Embiid's team.
Plus, the Lakers, right now, appear to be a sought-after destination for free agents.
They have a team president in Hall of Famer Magic Johnson making the decisions. In addition to playing with James, the Lakers also are perhaps the most enticing free-agent destination due to location and the team's storied history.
Golden State shooting guard Klay Thompson is the best fit for the Sixers of all the free agents to be. However, the sharpshooting four-time NBA All-Star is expected to re-sign with the Warriors.
Point guards Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walkers will be two other maximum-salary free agents. Irving has stated he wants to re-sign with Boston. Meanwhile, the ball-dominant Walker wouldn't be a great fit with Simmons for the Sixers.
All-Stars Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard will become sought-after free agents if they opt out of player options for the upcoming season. Meanwhile, some in the NBA believe Anthony Davis may opt out of his deal for the 2020-21 season.
One can argue that the Sixers' chances to get Leonard became slimmer after they failed to acquire him in a trade from the San Antonio Spurs this past summer. The Spurs ended up trading him to the Toronto Raptors in July. The thought now is that he'll either remain in Toronto or sign as a free-agent with one of his hometown teams, the Los Angeles Lakers or Clippers.
Meanwhile, the Lakers will be aggressive in their pursuit of Davis in a trade if his current team, the New Orleans Pelicans, look to trade him if they believe their no longer in his long-term plans.
The Celtics, New York Knicks and Warriors reportedly would be some of the other teams the Sixers would likely have to contend with in or order to acquire Davis via a trade next summer.
Meanwhile, there have been some reports that the Knicks could be a likely destination for Durant if he opts out. However, opting out of his Golden State deal only to re-sign with the team is nothing new for Durant. That move benefits him and the Warriors financially. He's in a perfect situation in Golden State. So it doesn't make sense to move on.
That's why the Sixers might want to consider trading for Butler if they're determined to settle for nothing less than an A-list talent to play alongside Simmons and Embiid.
He's a four-time all-atar and four-time All-Defensive second-team selection, who would immediately make the Sixers (6-4) a more competitive team. The swingman leads the league in steals at 2.6 per game while averaging 22.3 points.
The Sixers, however, have to ask themselves "At what cost do you add Butler?"
He requested a trade from the Timberwolves this past offseason. However, Minnesota's asking price has been too steep, considering Butler can opt out of his contract this summer.
The Sixers inquired about the disgruntled player, but Minnesota reportedly wanted Simmons in exchange. That's not surprising considering you typically have to trade away all-star or potential all-star caliber talent to get an all-star.
But the Sixers are looking to add to the stars they have — not replace them.
Talks between the two squads could resume if the Timberwolves get a sense that Butler is not going to exercise his option. So the team would be better off moving him to get something in return than losing him to free agency in July and not getting anything.
By trading for Butler, the Sixers would acquire his Bird rights. That would enable them to offer him a five-year, $188 million max contract next summer. Teams that don't have his rights would only be able to offer Butler a four-year, $140 million max contract in free agency.
The Sixers' best offer would likely be a package that includes some combination of Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Markelle Fultz and the Miami Heat unprotected 2021 first-round pick.
But that would be giving up a lot of assets if there's no assurance that Butler is willing to re-sign with the team. That would set the team back.
The Sixers must also take into account possible chemistry issues
Butler has had well-documented team chemistry issues with the Minnesota's young stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. He also had issues with younger teammates as a Chicago Bull. So the Sixers must make sure he's a great fit with Embiid and Simmons.
Waiting until July's free-agency period to pursue Butler, 29, remains an option and less of a gamble.
However, that wouldn't give the Sixers a financial advantage over the Clippers, Nets, and Knicks, three of his reported preferred destinations. At those places, he would become the unquestioned star. In Philly, he would possibly take a back seat to Embiid and perhaps even Simmons.
But if the Sixers trade for him this season, they'll have several months to try to convince him that playing alongside the young stars is different than being in Minnesota and Chicago.
The hope is that a traded player would fall in love with organization, like Paul George fell in love with Oklahoma City Thunder after being traded there.
So the Sixers must decide if trading for Butler is worth the gamble.