With high future draft picks, talented young players and oodles of cap room, the Sixers have the assets necessary to pull off a blockbuster trade once something worthwhile materializes.
Looking around the NBA, though, there are not many players who are both young enough and good enough to fit into the Sixers' long-term plan. It obviously wouldn't make sense to trade for another big, and it probably wouldn't make sense to trade for a point guard, given the strengths of Ben Simmons. That limits the pool to a wing player, preferably one who can shoot.
Those various criteria have made the Warriors' Klay Thompson a popular name in this area. Thompson's name came up this week on SiriusXM NBA Radio, when co-host Brian Scalabrine, a longtime NBA player and former Warriors assistant coach, mentioned a Thompson rumor told to him. (Update: It's not a rumor, just something he recently read.)
The rumored/not rumored deal: Thompson to the Celtics for Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and a pick swap. The Warriors would send their first-round pick (which is more like a second-round pick) to Boston for the Brooklyn Nets pick owned by the Celtics. That Brooklyn selection almost certainly would be a lottery pick and likely a top-five pick given the Nets' lack of talent.
Why does this concern the Sixers? Because the rumor Scalabrine discussed would then involve the Warriors' flipping that high draft pick for a shot-blocking center such as Nerlens Noel.
To be clear: This is merely a rumor, one that could have no validity. To be clear again: With this rumor, the Sixers would not be landing Thompson, but another draft pick.
Let's touch on four key points:
The Warriors need rim protection
This has been obvious to anyone who's watched the Warriors go 8-2 so far and outscore their opponents by nearly three points per game fewer than last year.
To sign Kevin Durant, the Warriors had to let go of Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, Marreese Speights, Harrison Barnes and Leandro Barbosa, core members of their championship-winning and 73-game winning teams. Was it worth it? The jury's out. The Warriors are certainly terrifying with Steph Curry, Thompson and Durant on the court together, but they no longer have difference-making depth, and Draymond Green and Zaza Pachulia just cannot recreate the rim protection Bogut and Ezeli offered.
Thus, the need for a player like Noel.
Noel is not a perfect fit for Golden State
On-court, Noel is a great fit for the Warriors. He's a high-energy player who can block and alter shots and pull down rebounds. He can run the floor and finish on the fast break, and he doesn't need the ball in his hands.
But on the balance sheet, he's not a fit. The Warriors already have more than $65 million committed to next year's team, and that accounts for just six players: Durant, Thompson, Green, and bench players Kevon Looney, Damian Jones and Patrick McCaw.
Curry's contract expires after the season and he's not going anywhere. Re-signing him will require a huge annual average salary. Core bench players Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston are also unrestricted free agents. They are integral to the Warriors' success — Iguodala as a versatile defensive stopper and fastbreak facilitator, Livingston as a backup point guard and matchup nightmare for smaller PGs. You'd figure all three will be back if the Warriors can finagle it.
The Warriors simply would not have the money to re-sign Curry, Iguodala and Livingston and then also pay Noel, a restricted free agent at season's end.
So let's take a second look at the aforementioned rumor: The Warriors would be giving up Klay Thompson in exchange for Bradley, Crowder and a few months of Noel. Just doesn't seem logical for the Warriors, who would also, in a way, almost be admitting they made a mistake with Durant by trading Thompson. That would be insane roster turnover for a team that didn't need to change much in the first place.
You could argue the Warriors may not need to re-sign Iguodala and Livingston if they added Bradley and Crowder in that Celtics rumor, but that would be another wash. In that event, the end result would be Thompson, Iguodala and Livingston for Bradley, Crowder and Noel. Does that move the needle? Does that make the Warriors any better?
The Sixers and Warriors don't match up 1-for-1
Noel might only make sense for the Warriors as a short-term fit, a player to help the second half of this season for a low cost and then let walk in restricted free agency.
But the thing is, if the Warriors recognize that Noel is only a rental, they won't give up much value for him. They wouldn't trade Thompson for a rental, and there are no other trade matches that would make sense for both teams. The Sixers wouldn't have much use for older players like Iguodala and Livingston. They wouldn't get any of Golden State's core players. And the Warriors' draft pick stock is insignificant because it's all likely late first-round picks.
If the Warriors trade Thompson, they can do better
This is perhaps the most important point of all. If you trade Klay Thompson, you can get almost anything you want. Not a superstar rim protector like Anthony Davis, but maybe someone like Rudy Gobert or Derrick Favors, both of whom are better than Noel.
If the Heat would consider a Thompson-for-Hassan Whiteside swap, that would also be a better option than trading for Noel.
Same goes for second-year Pacers center Myles Turner.
So yeah, rumors involving big names are fun. But there's virtually no realistic path for Klay Thompson to end up a Sixer, and Noel doesn't seem all that likely to end up in the Bay Area.