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Sixers' 1st-round trade all about flexibility to chase star players

Sixers' 1st-round trade all about flexibility to chase star players

CAMDEN, N.J. — The Sixers had plans for options “1A” and “1B” with the No. 10 pick in the 2018 NBA draft. Then, they had plans for their future.

For the first time in years, this draft wasn’t about the Sixers finding the next big star in the making. It provided an opportunity for the them to potentially acquire a player who’s already made his mark in the NBA. 

“We are star hunting,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “Or we are star developing. That’s how you win a championship.” 

The Sixers began their night by drafting Villanova forward Mikal Bridges 10th overall. Beyond his collegiate ties, he grew up locally and his mother works for the organization. It was an easy fit, both on and off the court, with his skills to contribute this coming season. The Sixers ranked Bridges option “1A” among all prospects. 

The draft, though, was far from over. As the first round continued, so did discussions with other teams. The Suns came to the Sixers with an offer they couldn’t turn down — Texas guard Zhaire Smith, also known as the Sixers’ “1B,” and the Heat’s 2021 unprotected first-round pick. That’s right, unprotected. 

The Sixers had to put the personal connections aside. They said yes to the deal.

“There is a human side to this that is kind of really hard to explain,” Brown, who approved the final decision, said. “We all, I am assuming, go from this level of excitement and coincidence, like you can’t make this up, to something as a group, we sit there and we field offers. Again, one we knocked back that was a great opportunity, really a great opportunity. 

“And then there it is. There’s this thing that involves our 1B. It wasn’t like it involved another player. It was our 1B who we had targeted and brought back twice and studied the things that we felt he could improve on to really be quite different in the NBA because of his incredible character and athleticism and toughness. 

“And then there’s a 2021 pick, and we all understand that that could be the year that high school people are allowed into the NBA and that is far out. And it also could be the thing … that could be the thing that flips it with us having more assets to enhance a realistic trade for a star.” 

There are times with trades like this that the pick becomes an afterthought, a throw-in to complete the deal. Not in this case. 

The Sixers are looking to elevate the roster with “high-level talent.” While they have the salary cap flexibility to land a mega free agent like LeBron James or Paul George, there are no guarantees. If they were to try to acquire a star through a heavily-packaged trade, the inclusion of a first-round pick could be the difference maker in making it happen. Kawhi Leonard headlines the NBA’s the top trade prospects.  

“We talked about it all the time and it always comes back to what you hear us say all the time, ‘How do you get a star?’” Brown said. “You’re going to need assets, we understand that. If you’re going to really want to go out into a trade, they’re going to look at what do you have. The more good things we have obviously the better off we can attract the stars that we all know are out there … 

“It happened organically. It wasn’t something that we sought. They chased us. They chased us and they chased us hard. Obviously, the rewards, the assets that they gave up were something that was hard for us to backpedal from.”

What the Sixers do with the 2021 pick remains to be seen. What is certain in the now is the team sees potential for Smith. The 19-year old averaged 11.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.1 steals last season as a freshman. He isn’t projected to be the immediate contributor that Bridges was, but the Sixers have time to develop rookies with their successful young core already intact. 

“The fact that he has a foundation that is incredibly unique in his relation to his athleticism [made him 1B],” Brown said. “The foundation that he has in his character, the foundation that he has in his defense, the incredible growth that we are seeing in his shot, his ability to create his own shot. There is no mystery of how we want to play here in Philadelphia, nor is there no mystery on the direction our sport is growing … We believe entirely in time he has the ability to be incredibly unique, maybe even great.”

The Sixers’ draft night trade could be just the beginning of a summer of major moves. 

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Breaking down Sixers' trade targets as December 15th arrives

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Breaking down Sixers' trade targets as December 15th arrives

Updated: 11:49 a.m.

If you’re a basketball fan, you’ve inevitably seen the date Dec. 15 described as an important one in the NBA.

Why, you might ask? Well, it’s the first day free agents that were signed during this past offseason are able to be traded. It’s a rule the NBA instituted so bad teams flush with cap space couldn’t sign players to big-money deals with the intent of trading them (though has it really stopped them?).

So if you’re wondering why Elton Brand hasn’t made a move while the Sixers’ bench remains super thin, this could be a reason why.

With all that said, let’s look at a few players — minus the just traded Trevor Ariza — the Sixers could target now that it’s Dec. 15.

Jabari Parker

Parker is out of the Bulls’ rotation and carries a $20 million cap hit. So I don’t know why you’d want him here and I also don’t know how you’d make it work. Parker can score but his defense is cripplingly bad. Pass.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

The Sixers have been linked to Caldwell-Pope and we outlined that the other day. Caldwell-Pope would be a big upgrade defensively for the Sixers off the bench. He’s an inconsistent offensive player, but he’s far from inept on that end. His $12 million hit could also make a trade tricky.

Wayne Ellington

With the Heat off to a rough start, Ellington could be the type of player that draws interest from competing teams. The Wynnewood native gives you an elite shooter off the bench with plenty of NBA experience. He also has a workable $6 million hit.

Vince Carter

The Hawks signed Carter to mentor their incredibly young team, so they may not be looking to move him, but it’s worth a phone call. The days of "Vinsanity" are over, but the 41-year-old still brings a little something and makes the veteran minimum. He’s a league average three-point shooter, has great instincts and still has some hops. 

Rudy Gay

If you — for some reason — have interest in Parker, Gay is the more attractive version of a similar player. He’s a combo forward that can score but isn’t the greatest defender. Gregg Popovich wanted him back on the Spurs this season, so you know he at least tries to defend. He also has half the cap hit of Parker. The Spurs would have to have their first losing season in over two decades to consider moving pieces, but things aren’t looking great in San Antonio. 

Channing Frye

This name won’t excite you, but Frye is a solid veteran that can shoot the basketball and doesn’t need a big role. Frye probably wouldn’t be a regular part of the rotation, but he’s a pro’s pro and will keep himself ready when the opportunity arises. He also makes the veteran minimum.

Jeff Green

We’ve discussed Green before. He’s just an OK player, though he’d be an upgrade over what the Sixers currently have off the bench. He’s another guy that makes the minimum and wouldn’t cost you much in a trade.

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There's not one easy answer for Sixers' defensive problems

There's not one easy answer for Sixers' defensive problems

There are a few obvious explanations for the Sixers’ 113-101 loss (see observations) to the Pacers on Friday night. 

Joel Embiid didn’t get enough support on a night in which he posted 40 points and a career-high 21 rebounds; the bench continues to look awfully thin for a team with championship aspirations; it would have been nice to have Jimmy Butler (he missed his second straight game with a strained groin) against a good, physical Pacers team that’s on a six-game winning streak and just surpassed the Sixers in the standings.

The Sixers’ defensive issues, though, defy a simple explanation.

After giving up 70 points in the second half of Wednesday’s loss to the Nets and 64 after halftime to Indiana, just about everyone you asked had a different answer.

While head coach Brett Brown framed the defensive problems as a team concern, he did single out two young players.

“Going down to the list, it’s not like you’re going to have a wide variety to choose from,” Brown said. “It’s not so much that, it’s trying to get those guys to expedite their birth certificates. They sure felt all of [the Pacers'] physicality, and I thought Furkan [Korkmaz] and Landry [Shamet] struggled defensively tonight.” 

Korkmaz and Shamet just don’t have the physical tools to be good NBA defenders at this stage. The Pacers identified Bogdan Bogdanovic’s advantage over the 21-year-old Korkmaz. Bogdanovic powered through Korkmaz for a couple early baskets and torched him on several occasions during a third-quarter run by Indiana.

JJ Redick had a different explanation.

“I’ll have to look at the tape on that one,” Redick said. “I think the biggest thing that we didn’t do tonight and didn’t do well against Brooklyn was just being aware of the hot guys — the hot guys being Bogdanovic, Allen Crabbe and Joe Harris, and allowing those guys to get catch-and-shoot threes. I thought we played our pick-and-roll defense tonight, and you’re going to give some stuff up against that.”

Like Redick, Embiid identified pick-and-roll defense as a concern. 

“Pick-and-roll, we gotta adjust a lot,” he said. “Like I’ve said in the past, it’s hard because coaches want us bigs to stay back and you got guys that just go and pull up. And when you come up, they get lobs or easy baskets. That’s what Indiana runs a lot — they run a lot of pick-and-rolls and they took advantage of it.”

We’ve already broken down the Sixers’ woes with pick-and-roll defense (see film review). As Embiid said, the Sixers prefer to play “drop” coverage, which leaves them vulnerable against players capable of knocking down pull up jumpers or attacking the soft spot in the defense.

At his locker before the game, Amir Johnson put aside the technical talk. Johnson, who did not play against the Pacers, has been on the fringe of the rotation.

I feel like we just gotta guard. [We've] been having trouble with 1-on-1 defense. I feel like it has to be a team effort. When we make a mistake, I feel like we gotta show anger and be pissed, like, ‘OK, I’m not going to let this motherf---er score on me again,’ excuse my language. But that’s how I think on defense, I know. I think that’s what we gotta bring. I think overall we’re 12th in defensive rating. I feel like if we get two or three stops, we can be top-10 or top-five or whatever. We just gotta guard and kinda feel painful when those guards coming off are scoring layups … just guard our man.

Every explanation that the Sixers provided for their defensive woes is plausible. Personnel; not adjusting fast enough when an opposing player is hot; pick-and-roll scheme; intensity and pride — all those things likely play a role.

Butler’s presence alleviates some of those issues, but one player doesn’t solve a problem that complex. 

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