There’s a chance there could be plenty of disappointed 76ers fans come Friday morning.
That’s because it appears unlikely that the Sixers will make a blockbuster deal before Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline.
Never mind that they acquired Seth Curry and trade exceptions from the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Josh Richardson and the 36th overall pick (Tyler Bey) on draft night in November. Forget that Danny Green was the headline acquisition in a multi-player trade that sent Al Horford and his expensive contract to the Oklahoma City Thunder. And disregard the Sixers’ free-agent signing of fan favorite and future Hall of Famer Dwight Howard.
Folks want more.
The expectation in Philly was that Daryl Morey would also make a major splash at the trade deadline the moment the Sixers hired him as president of basketball operations on Nov. 2. And right about now, folks are consumed with who could be on the roster more so than who’s actually on it.
However, the Sixers will tell you they can win the NBA title with this current roster.
They sure looked that way Saturday night, routing the Sacramento Kings, 129-105, at the Wells Fargo Center despite playing without starters Joel Embiid (left knee bone bruise), Ben Simmons (left knee soreness) and Curry (sprained left ankle). At 29-13, they’re a game ahead of the second-place Brooklyn Nets atop the Eastern Conference standings.
In addition to that, the Sixers have the league’s second-best record behind the 30-11 Utah Jazz.
But the Sixers’ stiffest conference competition, the Nets, third-place Milwuakee Bucks and the fourth-place Miami Heat, recently added key pieces to their rosters in pursuit of a title. There’s also a belief that the Boston Celtics make a move to bolster their chances.
After beating out the Sixers for the service of 2018 league MVP James Harden on Jan. 13, the Nets signed six-time All-Star Blake Griffin on March 8. That was three days after Griffin was bought out of his Detroit Pistons contract.
Meanwhile, the Heat (22-20) acquired Trevor Ariza from the Thunder in exchange for Meyers Leonard, a 2027 second-round pick and a trade exception on Wednesday. The Bucks’ acquisition of P.J. Tucker and Rodions Kurucs from the Rockets in exchange for D.J. Augustin and D.J. Wilson became official Friday. The trade also involved Milwaukee receiving its own 2020 first-round draft pick back and a Rockets 2021 second-round pick in exchange for the Bucks’ 2012 and 2023 first-rounders.
In Ariza, the Heat have a win-now player, who complements the games of Miami’s leading duo of Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.
“He’s kind of like a three-and-defensive guy,” Adebayo said of Ariza. “Defense helps us at the end of the day and he spaces the floor. I feel like that will go well with me and Jimmy.”
Tucker was the headliner of the Bucks-Rockets deal.
His presence gives Milwaukee three players, in Tucker, Jrue Holiday and Giannis Antetokounmpo, capable of guarding Brooklyn’s three-headed monster of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Harden.
In addition to being a solid defender, Tucker is a quality three-point shooter – especially from the corners. The undersized power forward, who can guard multiple positions, feels like he’s the missing link for the Bucks’ first NBA title since 1971.
“My main goal is to win a championship. That’s easy,” Tucker said Friday. “That’s the only reason I’m here. I feel like we’ve got a chance to win a championship and do something special.”
What about the Sixers? What are they doing to do combat the pre-trade deadline chess moves by the Nets and Bucks?
Toronto Raptors point guard and Philly native Kyle Lowry or Houston Rockets shooting guard Victor Olapido would be major acquisitions. But in regards to Lowry, the Raptors recently informed interested teams they weren’t parting ways with the sixth-time All-Star.
Oladipo is a good player, but might not be a good fit. Like Lowry, his contract expires at the conclusion of this season. The Sixers could give up assets only to lose him at season’s end. So that might not be worth it unless you get a sense that he’ll willing to stay.
Oklahoma City point guard George Hill, Pistons combo guard Delon Wright and Kings power forward Nemanja Bjelica have all been mentioned as potential trade candidates for the Sixers.
The Sixers are active.
They’re having conversations with third party teams, with a lot of cap space, about the possibility of being apart of a three-team deal that would enable the Sixers to get a much-needed acquisition. As as result, teams around the league expect them to make a move at the deadline.
But they are only prepared to make a trade if it increases their odds to win an NBA title.
To accomplish that would at least require acquiring someone who definitely will make an impact in the rotation. That could make it less likely that something happens before the trade deadline.
The Sixers say they can win a title without making a trade. They point to their future Hall of Fame coach in Doc Rivers leading a stellar coaching staff. They also have one of the league’s most unstoppable players in Embiid. But it won’t be easy. That’s because winning a title without tweaking the roster would be a tough task, especially with Brooklyn and the Bucks making upgrades.
Embiid would have to resume playing at an MVP level after returning from his knee injury in order for that to happen. Tobias Harris would have to continue his tear and Simmons would have to keep excelling as a multi-faceted player.
The Sixers believe they were playing at an NBA championship level before Embiid suffered his injury against the Washington Wizards on March 12. The four-time All-Star will remain sidelined for another week or two.
But even when Embiid was healthy, the Sixers weren’t favored to win the NBA title. And after failing to acquire Harden in a trade from Houston, there’s no trade the Sixers can make to become the favorite. They know that.
That’s why they’re not in rush to break up what they have.
Right now, the Sixers have young All-Stars, draft picks and good young players in Matisse Thybulle, Shake Milton, Tyrese Maxey and Isaiah Joe. They are a rare contending team in regards to having both young players and assets.
The Sixers are prepared to keep their valuable assets in place unless they get something that really moves the needle.
Harden would have done that. The Sixers had conversations with the Rockets, that included parting ways with Simmons and Thybulle, before Houston sent Harden to Brooklyn. But a lot of the options the Sixers are left with would just be nibbling around the surface.
The Sixers could still make a move in the buyout market. That would enable them to keep their assets. All they would have to do is create a roster opening by releasing a seldom-used player on an expiring contract.
Yet, there will be some Sixers fans who will be disheartened if the team doesn’t make a trade.