With the NBA draft on Thursday and the free-agent signing period shortly thereafter, the Sixers’ offseason is about to kick into high gear. Daryl Morey has a number of directions he can turn, depending on the answer to a handful of pressing questions.
If James Harden signs a short-term extension that lowers his cap number closer to $30 million, the Sixers could have an opportunity to do much of their shopping in free agency if they can use the No. 23 pick to shed Tobias Harris’ contract without taking back much salary in return. Otherwise, the offseason seems likely to consist of a series of incremental upgrades leveraging the modest assets at Morey’s disposal, chiefly the No. 23 pick and two years of team control of Matisse Thybulle.
To give you some idea of the scale I’m envisioning, here are three hypothetical trades that, in my opinion, would make some sense for the Sixers and are not completely detached from reality.
Danny Green, Thybulle, and Shake Milton for Kelly Olynyk and Cory Joseph:
If there isn’t a market for Harris, these are the types of moves that the Sixers are going to have to cobble together to build a rotation this offseason. The big unknown is whether we’re overstating or understating Thybulle’s value. The Pistons would essentially be taking on $10 million in dead money in Green, who is expected to miss most of the season while recovering from a knee injury he suffered in the playoffs. But they’d also be parting with $17.9 million in combined salary in the way of a couple of veterans who don’t bring a whole lot of big-picture utility to Detroit’s rebuilding project.
From the Sixers’ perspective, the trade adds a couple of veterans with playoff experience and skill sets that complement the Joel Embiid-Harden-Tyrese Maxey core.
Joseph may no longer be in his prime, but he has a track record as a tough defender who can knock down a three. Over the last three seasons, he has shot .441 from the corners and .362 overall. He doesn’t bring a whole lot of scoring punch, but he would give Rivers a defense-oriented guard to play alongside Maxey and Harden whenever the other is off the court. The Sixers could also potentially sign Joseph as a free agent if they can use the Mid-Level Exception to offer him more than the $5.1 million player option he has.
Does Olynyk really fit with the Sixers? That depends on a couple of factors: Harris’ future, and Olynyk’s health. If the Sixers can find a taker for Harris’ contract, and if Olynyk can still be the player he was in Boston and Miami, it would give Rivers a solid backup big man and injury insurance policy for Embiid, plus an option at power forward. He’s a 40% career shooter from the corners and 36.5% overall from deep. That being said, he’s also a 31-year-old big man who battled a knee injury this season and has showed some signs of decline. At worst, Olynyk’s two years and would give the Sixers a contract they can swap at the trade deadline or next offseason. (Olynyk is under contract for two more seasons, though the second is not fully guaranteed.)
Harris and Milton for Kevin Love and Caris LeVert or Lauri Markkanen:
The Cavs probably aren’t nearly as desperate to shed Love’s contract as they were before this season. And any interest in Harris might be contingent on them moving fellow power forward Markkanen. But Cleveland is also at a point where a veteran swingman like Harris could make sense, both as a locker-room leader and a second or third scoring option.
After a rocky few seasons in which he played just 103 games, Love reinvented himself as a valuable sixth man behind the young front-court tandem of Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen. He played in 74 games, shot .392 from three-point range, and averaged 13.6 points and 7.2 rebounds in 22.5 minutes per night.
Adding Markkanen and Love to the Sixers rotation would add more size and catch-and-shoot ability at the four and give Rivers the option of going small behind Embiid with Love at the five. Markkanen had a down year shooting-wise, hitting 35.8%of his threes one year after shooting 40.2% in his final season for the Chicago Bulls.
That said, the Cavs might be able to get more value from Markkanen elsewhere. In which case, perhaps LeVert’s expiring $18.9 million salary might be more realistic after a down shooting season in which he knocked down just 32% of his threes. This wouldn’t do much to shore up the Sixers’ defensive concerns, but LeVert would give them some scoring punch off the bench. Or, so the thinking would go.
Green, Thybulle and Jaden Springer to Houston for Eric Gordon:
This one is pretty straightforward. Gordon is coming off a season in which he knocked down 41.2% of his shots from three-point range while averaging 13.4 points for the Rockets. Harden and Gordon had a ton of success during their four seasons together in Houston. He’s a tough defender who can handle the ball and knock down catch-and-shoot looks from deep.
Underwhelming? Perhaps. But it gives you some idea of the Sixers’ reality as I see it. Their best path forward might be to use the No. 23 pick to offload Harris’ contract to a team with cap room and give themselves money to spend in the free-agent market, where guys like Bruce Brown, Kyle Anderson, Caleb Martin, Delon Wright, and Bobby Portis offer some intriguing complementary options.