What will the 76ers do?

There are several questions surrounding the Sixers heading into Wednesday night’s virtual NBA draft.

Will they stay pat and keep the 21st pick in the first round and picks 34, 36, 49, and 58 in the second round? Will the Sixers continue their recent history of trading a couple of second-round picks for cash? Or will they include at least one first-round pick in a blockbuster trade for a star player?

The Sixers are interested in trading for Houston Rockets perennial All-NBA selection James Harden. The former MVP is said to prefer a trade to the Brooklyn Nets, yet the Sixers remain a possibility. Rapper Meek Mill, a close friend of Harden, reportedly reached out to sell him on coming to Philly. The Sixers, however, would most likely have to part ways with three-time All-NBA point guard Ben Simmons to secure Harden. There’s no guarantee a deal for Harden will be made on draft night, or at all because he is under contract this season and next. He has a player option for the 2022-23 season.

Yet, there are plenty of options for the Sixers. A lot of the intrigue has to do with Daryl Morey, their new president of basketball operation.

Morey is a win-now executive who had a knack for packaging draft picks in trades for star players during his recently concluded tenure as the Rockets' general manager. Because of that, Houston hasn’t had a first-round pick since it selected Sam Dekker in 2015.

Nor did the Rockets have a first-round pick in Wednesday’s draft until Monday night. That’s when they agreed to send former Sixer Robert Covington to the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for Trevor Ariza, the No. 16 pick, and a protected 2021 first-round selection.

Sixers vice president of scouting Vince Rozman, who has been running the draft preparation, has been impressed with Morey since his hiring three weeks ago but says he’s not sure which way his new boss is leaning going into the draft.

“I think the one thing that immediately comes through with Daryl is kind of the pace at which he works, and trying to keep up with that,” Rozman said Monday. “From a philosophical standpoint, we still have a couple of days to go. It’s hard to say right now where exactly his head is, and he’s going to view those five picks.”

Guards Cole Anthony (North Carolina), Tyrell Terry (Stanford), Nico Mannion (Arizona), Josh Green (Arizona), Kira Lewis Jr. (Alabama), and Malachi Flynn (San Diego State); and small forwards Saddiq Bey (Villanova) and Desmond Bane (TCU) are possible Sixers draft acquisitions if they keep the first-round pick.

Meanwhile, the belief is that the Sixers will select Isaiah Joe (Arkansas) early in the second round. Sources around the league believe the team had promised to select him before Morey became president.

The problem is, the Sixers are in a win-now mode. The best way to do that would be to get a player the caliber of Harden. Harden’s presence would create a lot of spacing for All-Star center Joel Embiid to operate down low. It would also catapult the Sixers back into the elite status conversation.

Now, they are behind the Milwaukee Bucks, Nets, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, and maybe the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference pecking order.

The Sixers had an interest in Harden, the three-time reigning scoring champion, even before hiring Morey, Harden’s former boss in Houston.

Sacramento shooting guard Buddy Hield, San Antonio reserve point guard Patty Mills, and point guards Jrue Holiday and Chris Paul also were trade targets.

However, Holiday and Paul both were traded Monday. Oklahoma City traded Paul (along with Abdel Nader) to Phoenix for Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre, Ty Jerome, Jalen Lecque, and a protected 2022 first-round pick. And New Orleans traded Holiday to the Bucks for Eric Bledsoe, George Hill, and three first-rounders and pick swaps. One of the first-rounders the Pelicans will receive is the 24th overall pick in Wednesday’s draft, according to The Athletic.

Former Sixer Jrue Holiday is a popular player these days.
Michael Conroy / AP
Former Sixer Jrue Holiday is a popular player these days.

A source confirmed a Ringer report that the Sixers are interested in Mills.

Another Milwaukee transaction may have hindered the Sixers' ability to trade for Hield, who had indicated his interest in Philly on social media. The Kings agreed to a deal in the early hours Tuesday that sent Bogdan Bogdanovic and Justin James to Milwaukee in exchange for former Villanova star Donte DiVincenzo, D.J. Wilson, and former Sixer Ersan Ilyasova.

Before that trade, the Kings were considering trading the disgruntled Hield as a way to slash salary and sign Bogdanovic to a lucrative deal. But with Bogdanovic gone, Sacramento would be wise to keep the sharpshooting Hield.