The Philadelphia 76ers aren’t playing around.
After getting waxed by the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals last year, the Sixers knew they couldn’t stand pat. They traded for Jimmy Butler in November. Then, they abandoned the Markelle Fultz starting experiment. And now, they’ve landed Tobias Harris from the Clippers.
In a blockbuster deal, the 76ers reportedly agreed to trade Wilson Chandler, Landry Shamet, Mike Muscala, their 2020 first-round pick, Miami’s 2021 first-rounder and two future second-round picks for Harris, Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott, a source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia.
Was it a good move?
Let’s break down this deal, winners and losers style.
Tobias Harris is not just a good shooter. He’s a great shooter. Pop quiz: How many players have made more 3-pointers over the last two seasons and at a higher rate than Harris (295 3s at a 42.0-percent clip)?
The answer is just two: Stephen Curry (427 3-pointers on 43.7 percent) and Buddy Hield (359 3-pointers on 44.5 percent). That’s how good Harris is from beyond the arc. And he’s shooting north of 50 percent from the corners, where the 76ers need help.
Don’t minimize him as just a shooter. Harris is a huge body at 6-foot-9 and 235 pounds who can run a pick-and-roll and run in transition. Among the 36 players with at least 250 finishing plays as the pick-and-roll ball-handler, only seven players were more efficient than Harris, according to Synergy tracking. He ranks a smidge ahead of Kevin Durant and just below LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard. Harris is not as good as Durant or nearly as consistent, but Paul George may be the only superior Durant proxy in the league.
Given that Ben Simmons is still just 22 years old, are all these moves too much too soon? I’d worry about that if Harris was on the downside of his career, but he’s 26 years old, the same age as 2017 Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon. He’s someone who might be an All-Star in the Eastern Conference. He may not pick Philadelphia as a free-agent destination, but now they can make it feel like home.
Boban Marjanovic is a really good backup for Joel Embiid for 10 minutes, not much more. Mike Scott is another sneaky good shooter who can be a lesser, non-rebounding Ersan Ilyasova for the Sixers. Those two pieces aren’t toss-ins. They will help in the playoffs.
There are legitimate worries about having too many cooks in the kitchen, too many mouths to feed. But I put that in the category of “good problems” to have. It means you have too many stars.
Better yet, the 76ers still have another trick up their sleeve. Notice that Markelle Fultz was not included in the trade, leaving them with another trade chip to improve the depth. The team exchanged five rotation players -- Wilson Chandler, Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Landry Shamet and Mike Muscala -- into two stars. Don’t be surprised if they go on a hunt for another wing shooter. Keep an eye on Memphis’ Garrett Temple, Miami’s Wayne Ellington (and Rodney MacGruder) and Orlando’s Terrence Ross. On the buyout market, Wesley Matthews is expected to be a target for Philly.
Philadelphia isn’t the favorite to win the East. But from my vantage point, no team has better odds.
This would be a disastrous season for James if the Lakers missed out on Anthony Davis and the playoffs. The Sixers pried away Harris, who was the Clippers’ best chance at taking the No. 8 slot and the Lakers’ biggest roadblock. Now that the Clippers’ star 26-year-old is out East, the Lakers have a clearer path to the playoffs.
That likely won’t make James feel a whole lot better after suffering Wednesday’s 42-point loss, the largest of his career in uniform. But James will take what he can get these days. The Lakers don’t appear to have completely wasted LeBron’s age-34 season. Not yet.
Los Angeles Clippers
Usually you expect a deal to have a winner and a loser, but I don’t see that to be the case here. The Clippers effectively turned Blake Griffin’s five-year, $173 million contract into their point guard of the future Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2018 No. 11 overall pick via Charlotte), Landry Shamet (Philadelphia’s 2018 No. 26 overall pick), Philadelphia’s 2020 first-round pick, Miami’s 2021 unprotected first-rounder and Philadelphia’s 2021 and 2023 second-round picks. That’s quite the pivot.
Most importantly, the Clippers have fully committed to the 2019 free agency sweepstakes, which will see Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson and Kyrie Irving become free agents (along with Philadelphia’s Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris). If Leonard truly wants his own team, the Clippers have rolled out the Hollywood red carpet.
By moving on from Harris, the Clippers also avoid the temptation of using Harris’ Bird Rights to max him out and settling into what looks to be a middling team in the West. Those Bird Rights may have been a bug for the Clippers, but it’s a feature for other teams loading up above the cap. As a borderline All-Star, Harris is better suited as a third or fourth piece on a contender. Just like he’ll be for the Sixers.
Last but not least, the Clippers did right by trading Harris and Boban Marjanovic together. Tobi and Bobi lives on.
The Toronto Raptors
This is a haymaker on two fronts. By trading for Tobias Harris, an All-Star-level player who fills a distinct need as an elite shooter, the Sixers have dealt a big blow to Toronto’s NBA Finals chances. The Sixers likely won’t be able to catch them in the standings, with just 28 games left to close the gap of 4.5 games, but as the Raptors found out last postseason, rotations shrink in the postseason. The Sixers just armed themselves with the best starting lineup in the Eastern Conference. They’re going to be a tough out.
On another front, by moving Harris, the Clippers have firmly opened up a max slot for the Raptors’ best player in Kawhi Leonard. Executives around the league weren’t sure that Harris was going to stay put in L.A., not with the team’s bigger aspirations of landing Leonard. (Ask former Clippers analyst Bruce Bowen how serious they are about the Kawhi sweepstakes). The Clippers can now focus all their attention on landing the big fish. Leonard is No. 1; Harris — whose Bird Rights are more valuable to a team over the cap like the Sixers — is not.
This was a great gamble by the Sixers on its own merits. But the 1-2 punch it levied against an elite East superpower can’t be discounted. Will the Raptors counter? Don’t be surprised if they make a move for Marc Gasol or Kevin Love. Raptors president Masai Ujiri is pot-committed.
Again, the ripple effects of this deal go far and wide. The Celtics came into the season hoping they’d have four first-round picks in their coffers for the 2019 draft. The outlook looked great to start the season. They’d receive the Memphis Grizzlies’ first-round pick as long as it didn’t fall in the first eight picks. They’d get the Sacramento Kings’ first-rounder (top-one protected) and the Clippers’ first-rounder if L.A. made the playoffs.
Those dreams are crumbling as we speak. By trading their best player in Harris, the Clippers seem destined to tank for that pick and swipe it away from the Celtics -- either to add to their rebuild or for trade value (Hello, Pelicans?). Seven of the Clippers’ 27 remaining games are against playoff hopefuls Utah, Minnesota, Sacramento and the Lakers. Worse yet, the Celtics have yet to play any of their two games against the Clippers, who are now incentivized to lose those games and keep the pick in L.A.
Remember, every game that the Kings win going forward dents the Celtics’ hopes of landing a lottery pick in Sacramento’s place. The likelihood that the Celtics get that Memphis pick are dwindling by the day, especially if the Grizzlies unload veterans Garrett Temple, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol.
The good news for the Celtics is that these picks will roll over to next season if they’re not conveyed this season. Should the Clippers miss the playoffs, the pick becomes a 2020 first-rounder (lottery protected). If the Clippers strike out on the playoffs again in 2019-20, the pick becomes a 2022 second-rounder. The Memphis pick becomes top-six protected for 2020 and if not conveyed, it turns into a fully unprotected first-rounder in 2021. We’ll see if the Grizzlies will be good by then.
There was a time that the Celtics were looking at having four first-rounders in the upcoming draft, including a top-five pick from Sacramento. Now, they might have only two, reduced to the back half of the draft.