Last year’s NBA Trade Deadline was an absolute classic, especially for Sixers fans. They swapped the reigning Rookie of the Year for a draft pick that may come to fruition this year. For non-Process Heads, it was hard to fathom (never mind the fact that before MCW was traded, the anti-Hinkie crowd hated him, but after he was dealt, suddenly that was an affront to their fandom).
Even for me, a firm believer in The Hinkie Plan, I was perplexed. The Carter-Williams trade catapulted the Sixers into the third phase of the tanking strategy.
Phase 1 (The Jrue Holiday Trade): “We will intentionally field a bad team in order to stockpile draft assets.”
Phase 2 (The Joel Embiid-Dario Saric Draft): “We will do so, even for multiple years, as long as we find a superstar caliber player.”
Phase 3 (The MCW Trade): “This strategy absolutely takes precedent over the opinions and expectations of fans, players, their agents, or the rest of the league.”
You could argue that hiring Jerry Colangelo to do whatever it is they hired Jerry Colangelo to do pushed them into a new phase. How many phases can a plan really have? At a certain point, the cows will come home. This is where the anti-Hinkie crowd screams about landing a plane, which makes a small amount of sense to me:
At the end of the day, the Sixers assets will come to fruition in the relatively near future. They’ll draft in the top 5 again this season, potentially finishing as the worst team in the NBA for the first time in the Hinkie era. They’ll either receive the Lakers pick this year or next. They’ll almost certainly receive first round picks from the Thunder and Heat this year. They can swap picks with the Kings, this year and next (Important to note: if the Kings finish in the lottery, this essentially means the Sixers own Sac-town’s ping pong balls). Dario Saric has given all indications that, despite the financial consequence of doing so, he will join the Sixers this offseason. Joel Embiid will (knock on wood until I break every bone in my hand) play basketball at some point (continues to knock on wood, despite excruciating pain).
This trade deadline offers a unique opportunity. While the plan has largely centered on acquiring a superstar in the draft, the idea of swapping assets for a star in a James Harden-esque deal has always been on the table. Right now, the experiment of pairing Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor has not exactly worked out. With Embiid, Saric, and potentially more drafted frontcourt players still to join the team, eventually one (…or both) cannot be considered a piece of the franchise’s future. It is here where two personal preferences enter the discussion.
First, I would wait to trade either until after the season, nearer the draft. I’d like to know which prospects are in play before moving one of the bigs. I’d like to give the pair even more time on the floor together, since they have improved, even mildly. And I’d prefer not to appear to be giving up on one of my franchise’s cornerstones right now.
That leads to my second preference. Given the option, I would rather trade Okafor than Noel. I think Noel’s defensive ability and athleticism make him a better fit for today’s NBA and would make him a more logical fit next to Embiid, Saric, Ben Simmons, or a host of other potential Sixers. Perhaps most importantly, this is an opinion that may not be unanimous around the league. Thanks to Okafor’s age and contract, he is probably worth more in the trade market. If there’s a heated debate about which to part with, and one can fetch more in return, favoring the higher return makes sense.
I’ve laid out four potential moves the Sixers could make before the deadline, all under the assumption that Okafor is the piece to be moved AND that the team has no qualms with looking to move him so soon in his Sixers career. One of those I agree with, the other I don’t, but for this exercise, that line of thinking is the healthiest.
If you’re #TeamKeepJahTradeNerlens instead of #TeamKeepNerlensTradeJah, all four of the trades I explored are still entirely plausible. You can play “Who Says No-el?” instead of “Who Says No-kafor?”.
Imagine the possibilities as you see fit. That being said, let’s get to it.
TO THE ESPN TRADE MACHINE!!
OPTION 1: THE DREAM SCENARIO
76ers get: Blake Griffin
Trailblazers get: JJ Redick, Jahlil Okafor, Oklahoma City Thunder 2016 1st Round Pick (via 76ers)
Clippers get: Carl Landry, CJ McCollum, Robert Covington, Lakers 2016 1st Round Pick (top 3 protected, via 76ers), Trailblazers 2016 1st Round Pick
So…Blake Griffin might be available?
Ok, so chances are Blake isn’t going anywhere. Let’s try to find a way that the Clippers would at least think about it. Start with CJ McCollum, one of the NBA’s most improved guards. Add in Robert Covington, a capable starter on the “Hinkie Special” contract. Toss in two picks, which either help Doc and crew see beyond the Chris Paul years, or can help right away as trade assets.
If the Clippers are actually questioning the CP3-Blake-DeAndre trio’s ability to win a title, the only way to break up that group is by showing them a group that could potentially could. After this trade, they sport a lineup of:
PG: Chris Paul
SG: CJ McCollum
SF: Robert Covington
PF: Paul Pierce/Luc Ricard Mbah A Moute/Carl Landry
C: DeAndre Jordan
In today’s NBA, that could be a more viable option. If the Lakers’ pick they acquire here becomes Henry Ellenson or Dragan Bender, they could enter 2017 as real contenders to top the Warriors.
Meanwhile, Portland breaks up their backcourt, instead opting to go all-offense with Dame Lillard and Jahlil Okafor. Add in Redick and the other shooters and athletes they’ve stockpiled and you at least have a fun team.
The Sixers get their star, hoping to build around a core of Griffin, Joel Embiid (if healthy), Nerlens Noel (if Embiid isn’t healthy), The Guy They Trade Nerlens For (if Embiid is healthy), and their top 3 draft pick this year.
OPTION 2: PROBLEM FOR PROBLEM
76ers get: Victor Oladipo, CJ Watson
Magic get: David Lee (expiring contract), Kelly Olynyk, RJ Hunter, Oklahoma City Thunder 2016 1st Round Pick (via 76ers), Dallas Mavericks 2016 1st Round Pick (via Celtics), Brooklyn Nets 2018 1st Round Pick (via Celtics), Philadelphia 76ers 2016 2nd Round Pick (via Celtics, oddly)
Celtics get: Jahlil Okafor, Channing Frye
In a year without obvious buyers and sellers, the most likely trades will be teams helping each other with common interests. The Sixers could soon admit that the Okafor-Noel pairing is redundant, especially with Embiid’s return looming. Orlando is facing much of the same with Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo unable to play together.
Philly gets Oladipo (and a salary throw-in) for Okafor and the OKC pick.
Boston adds a top 3 pick (Okafor), a guy who can help right now (Frye) and still hangs on to their coveted unprotected Nets pick. Right now they are trying to rebuild from the middle of the league. Add another top 5 pick to a core of Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, and Okafor, and you’ve got something.
The Magic admit this season isn’t going anywhere. They get Olynyk for a quarter of what they pay Frye. Lee’s contract expires, clearing cap space. Orlando gets a flyer on Hunter and LOADS UP on picks.
OPTION 3: FACILITATING A BLOCKBUSTER
76ers get: Ben McLemore, Dennis Schroder, Dallas Mavericks 2016 1st Round Pick (via Celtics), Boston Celtics 2016 1st Round Pick
Hawks get: Boogie Cousins
Kings get: David Lee’s expiring contract, Jahlil Okafor
Celtics get: Al Horford, Oklahoma City Thunder 2016 1st Round Pick
The headlines of this trade are Cousins to Atlanta and Horford to Boston. Both are teams eager to take their team to the next tier of the league, potentially acquiring a player capable of doing so. Injecting Boogie into that Atlanta team is dangerous, but so is a starting five of Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, Kent Bazemore, Paul Millsap, and Cousins.
Boston goes from a mish-mash of big men to a real centerpiece in their frontcourt (and he’s an upcoming free agent, potentially opening Beantown as a big destination this summer).
The Kings finally shake the Cousins drama and instead sign up for Okafor drama (not nearly as worrisome). Lee expires after this year and the Kings can maybe, finally move into a new era.
Philadelphia doesn’t acquire a star but takes the chance that maybe Schroeder becomes one. Stuck behind Teague in Atlanta, he’s shown flashes but needs the keys to the kingdom. Give him a Nerlens, an Embiid, and a litany of shooters (Covington, Stauskas, Hollis Thompson, and Ben McLemore from this deal) and see what happens.
Plus, the Sixers somehow leave the deadline with more 1st round picks than they arrived with, swapping their least valuable pick this year for two from the Celtics (who still hold that golden Nets pick in the lottery).
OPTION 4: THE TRASH SHUFFLE
76ers get: Jabari Parker, Greivis Vasquez, RJ Hunter, their own 2016 2nd Round Pick (via Celtics)
Nets get: Greg Monroe, David Lee, Dallas Mavericks 2016 1st Round Pick (via Celtics)
Bucks get: Thaddeus Young, Brook Lopez, Boston Celtics 2016 1st Round pick, Miami Heat 2016 1st Round Pick (via 76ers), Oklahoma City Thunder 2016 1st Round Pick (via Sixers)
Celtics get: Jahlil Okafor
Again, if no one is selling, let’s just move my problem in exchange for yours.
No one has more trash on their roster than the Nets, who are eager to make any change they can. They wave goodbye to their two actually productive players, but bring back Greg Monroe (not too different from Lopez anyway), Lee’s expiring (much, much, much needed cap relief…like water in the desert relief), and an actual draft pick (to make up for the oodles they traded away).
Boston again gets Okafor, still for a cheap price (only costing them Lee, Hunter, two mid-1st round picks).
The Bucks…are kind of a mess. They swap Monroe, who hasn’t been great for them, for Lopez, who is solid when healthy. They take on Thad Young to be their supersub and shift more playing time to John Henson. Giving up early on Parker, once the second overall pick, nets them Young and three first round picks.
The Sixers break up the Noel-Okafor tandem and slot Parker into the starting lineup. They add Hunter to the previously listed pile of shooters. A core of Parker-Noel-Saric-Embiid is already frontcourt heavy and the top of this year’s draft is laden with size as well, but at least they begin to look like a team who can play their best players together.
So readers, what do you think? Which of these trades would you pull the trigger on? Which do you think are close, but give up too much? Which do you think don’t net enough for the Sixers? Or which other teams would back out of these deals?
Let’s discuss. Leave a comment below and we’ll figure it all out.
If you’re more into democracy, we can vote on it:
Header image via Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to SALTMoney.org, Rush The Court, ESPN.com, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. If you have any suggestions, tips, ideas, or questions, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.