Last February, the Sixers were the talk of the NBA after their early-morning trade for Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott. They made a few splashes this summer, too, signing Al Horford, sending Jimmy Butler to Miami, bringing in Josh Richardson and letting JJ Redick leave.
This trade deadline was never going to be nearly as chaotic or impactful.
A year into Harris’ tenure in Philadelphia, general manager Elton Brand’s decision to give up as much as he did for Harris, Scott and Marjanovic does not look great. As a reminder, the Clippers picked up the Sixers’ lottery protected 2020 first-round pick, the Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-rounder, Detroit’s 2021 and 2023 second-rounders, Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala and the promising Landry Shamet. The decision to double down on that original bet and sign Harris to a five-year, $180 contract in July has had lukewarm early returns.
Brand chose to sign the 33-year-old Horford to a lucrative four-year deal and construct a massive team reliant on its defense and hopeful that weaknesses with outside shooting and shot creation wouldn’t be exposed. He has been audacious as a general manager, and as a result placed himself and the Sixers in a challenging position.
He entered Thursday afternoon’s trade deadline with limitations of his own doing. Harris and Horford are being paid more than they’re worth, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are too young and too talented to abandon, Matisse Thybulle is a defensive gem the team should value, and the Sixers’ asset stash is unimpressive after all of Brand’s dealing. Mike Scott is a proven veteran and Zhaire Smith is a 20-year-old former first-round pick, but it appears improbable those two could have assisted Brand in swinging a major move.
In that context, Brand came away with a decent haul. Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III directly address areas where the team needed help. We’ll have to see if Robinson’s career year carries over to Philadelphia, and if Burks’ streaky tendencies are problematic on a team far more competitive than the 12-40 Warriors. Still, the two have the skills to help the Sixers’ bench, and to lessen the responsibilities on young players like Furkan Korkmaz and Shake Milton.
Brand spent three second-round picks to acquire Burks and Robinson, none of which are projected to be high second-rounders. Given the Sixers’ urgency to contend and the frustration around a team that’s been brutal on the road, those were reasonable assets to trade. In fact, it wouldn’t have been surprising if Brand had felt obliged to overpay out of desperation.
The Sixers also received one second-round pick Thursday as a return from the Magic for James Ennis (see story). Ennis, who waived his no-trade clause, had a curious path this season. His role diminished in mid-January because, according to head coach Brett Brown, the Sixers wanted to develop Thybulle with the goal of the rookie being equipped to handle meaningful playoff minutes. Though he was below average as a three-point shooter during his time with the Sixers (33.8 percent), Ennis was a passable, multi-position defender and strong offensive rebounder. He wasn’t playing much, though, and Brand must have figured it was best to get a draft pick for a player who’d been deemed non-essential and had a player option for 2020-21.
Waiving Trey Burke is another move on the margins open to scrutiny. At his best, the popular point guard can change games with his scoring. We didn’t see much of that ability in Philadelphia as Burke only played in 25 regular-season games. Like with Ennis, it appears Brown picked other options over Burke, specifically Raul Neto. Though they subtracted Burke, the Sixers did add a player in Burks who’s a capable initiator.
None of these moves are likely to be of tremendous importance, though Brand will hope Burks and Robinson can make a difference in the playoffs. Ultimately, Brand took a little, gave a little and adopted a sensible, low-risk approach. His tenure as GM won’t be defined by these decisions.
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