CAMDEN, N.J. — It’s tough to know what to make of Elton Brand’s first draft as the Sixers’ GM.
An optimist may applaud his boldness in seeing a player he liked in Matisse Thybulle and doing what he needed to do to get that player.
A pessimist may say that Brand tipped his hand with Thybulle and Danny Ainge did what Danny Ainge does and took advantage of Brand’s anxiousness to acquire the defensive-minded wing.
There had been rumors swirling that a team had “promised” Thybulle, which is why the 22-year-old left the combine early and didn’t conduct any pre-draft workouts. Whether it was through deductive reasoning or sniffing out the Sixers’ interest, it appeared the Celtics knew what Brand was up to and were able to squeeze a second-round pick out of the situation.
Thybulle certainly said nothing to quell the idea that his new team made him a promise.
“I actually didn’t work out for anyone,” Thybulle said. “Like I said before, Philly showed interest early and we just trusted them, decided that we were going to put our faith in them and just shut things down and see what happens on draft night. They stayed true to their word and the rest is history.”
Yep, that sure sounds like a promise.
Brand was asked about it two different ways and didn’t deny it.
“His representation, Aaron Goodwin, decided [to not workout for teams],” Brand said. “Whatever they want to do, they knew that we had a lot of interest because I needed a player like that.”
Thybulle is an excellent prospect. He was the NCAA Defensive Player of the Year for a reason. He wreaked havoc and racked up gaudy steal and block numbers. If he can hit threes closer to the mark in his first three years in college (37.9 percent) as opposed to his last season (30.5 percent), he’s a perfect fit here. He’s not the type of player who needs the ball in his hands. He can fill a role next to star players as a 3-and-D wing.
But the issue is not the player, who will now be unfairly judged in part by the results of the entire trade. The issue is Ainge clearly knew the Sixers wanted Thybulle and made them fork over a second-round pick for him. The Celtics then went ahead and drafted sharpshooter Carsen Edwards from Purdue at pick No. 33 — a player that also appeared to check off a lot of boxes for Brand’s description of the kind of player he was looking for.
Selling away picks in general was a peculiar move by Brand. He had just mentioned on Tuesday that his team needed to add talent for not just now, but two years from now. The second round is an opportunity to add young talent on non-guaranteed contracts. Wouldn’t you think a team like the Sixers would be looking for all the young, cheap players it can find?
The biggest head-scratcher was trading Jonathon Simmons — who was only guaranteed $1 million this season — along with pick No. 42 to Washington for cash considerations. There appeared to be more useful players in that range. Tennessee’s Admiral Schofield, who the Wizards took at 42, is a tough and experienced player that can hit threes. Nebraska’s Isaiah Roby is more of a project, but the Sixers brought him in for a pre-draft workout and he has some intriguing tools.
Brand basically said he wants financial flexibility and there simply isn’t enough room on this team’s roster for too many young players.
“For the Jonathon Simmons [trade], it’s about cap space,” Brand said. “We can put them into the [traded player exception], now we have an extra million dollars that we can use during free agency and I feel like I’m going to need every dollar. Things like that. Picks are worth a certain amount and for us, I don’t think we can add them. Like I said, I don’t think, I know we can’t add five young players to this established team — 50-plus wins two years in a row, a few bounces away from going to overtime and maybe the Eastern Conference Finals and beyond. Five young players wouldn’t have worked for that.”
It’s impossible to truly judge a draft the night of, but Brand’s first time running the show will certainly face heavy scrutiny.
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