Hard to remember a team getting as many plaudits for giving away moderately priced expiring contracts of once-prized young players as the Philadelphia 76ers are getting for ridding themselves of the rookie deals of Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas yesterday. Pablo Uggetti of the Ringer wrote one of many makes-sense-for-both-sides-type takes on the swap, even as he allowed, "The Sixers effectively had to surrender a pick just to get rid of Okafor and Stauskas, both of whom weren’t getting significant playing time." Ultimately, he declared the transaction a necessary evil for Philly: "It may have cost a pick, but at least the saga is finally over." Hooray?
Of course, the Sixers themselves declared Mission: Accomplished by focusing on the player acquired from the Brooklyn Nets in the deal, power forward Trevor Booker. Quoth Bryan Colangelo, in the press release announcing the trade: "Trevor Booker has been a solid and competitive two-way contributor at every NBA stop. Trevor’s abilities should complement our style of play and his experience should add to our bench depth with playoff contention in mind." Did you hear that, guys? Playoffs! Who even cares about the other stuff?
Like the horrific Nerlens Noel deal last season, the Okafor/Stauskas trade is a solution to a problem that only ever existed in PR terms. The Sixers traded two young guys who aren't playing for one old guy who won't be playing, saved zero short-term or long-term money in the process, and gave up a future draft pick to do it. Let's hope Our Once and Always Dark Lord didn't take a big sip of his double-espresso before checking Twitter from his Palo Alto coffee shop yesterday.
There is no real universe in which the most practical answer for what the Sixers should have done with Jahlil Okafor was not simply buying him out once they declined his fourth-year option. By that point, a combination of organizational incompetence and Jah's own poor play had reduced his trade value to effectively nil, if not into the outright negatives. He wasn't part of the Sixers' future or their present, and it was time to make him part of their past: a buyout was the right and sensible thing to do.
And yet, against all market research, the Sixers insisted on continuing to pursue a trade partner. Well, they finally found one in the Nets, who decided to take a low-leverage gamble on Jah, but smartly decided to shake down the Colangelos for Nik Stauskas and a future pick as the cost of doing business. Despite my personal feelings towards my son Sauce Castillo, admittedly he's not a huge loss for the Sixers either: Following a terrible preseason that left him further buried in the Sixers' increasingly crowded depth chart, Nik had seen his rotation minutes slashed to shredded lettuce this season, and had done little in his limited PT to suggest he deserved more. With his rookie contract expiring at the end of his fourth year -- that's this one -- it was unlikely he'd be here after this season, either.
You know who also won't be here after this season, though? Trevor Booker! No offense to the eighth-year power forward with the sick volleyball skills -- I've always kind of liked Booker, and he's a tough veteran who can rebound and score the occasional bucket if posted deep enough. Of course, the Sixers already have one of those: His name is Amir Johnson, and we're paying him 12 million dollars this season. Are we really gonna celebrate landing another? One who's made the playoffs once in eight seasons?
As little use as this team currently has for Stauskas, there's a world in which he matters for the Sixers this season: If Jerryd Bayless gets hurt and has to miss extended time, and Markelle Fultz isn't ready to slide into his missing minutes. Philly would need another guard to play off-ball with Simmons, to shoot and to handle a little bit. It's not like Nik can't contribute to a good Sixers squad; unlike Okafor he's actually done it before, starting at two-guard for them for their 10-5 month of January last season. Being rid of him certainly doesn't mean a ton for the Sixers, but it's not nothing, either.
At best, the return of Booker in the Nets deal cancels out the loss of Stauskas. Sauce was Bayless insurance, Booker is Amir insurance. He certainly can't play alongside Johnson -- two beefy bigs who can't stretch the floor or switch much on D -- and there's no reason why he should play alongside Joel Embiid. Brett Brown has already said that he doesn't see immediate rotation minutes coming to Booker, and, well, duh. Whether you have him at center or power forward, there's no reason he should be anywhere higher than third for any position on the Sixers' depth chart. Like Nik, he only matters for the Sixers if someone better gets hurt.
So if Jah should've been bought out months ago and Stauskas and Booker are of equally negligible importance, where does that leave this trade? With the Sixers sending the Nets a future 2019 second-round pick (courtesy of the Knicks), essentially for nothing but an empty roster spot. Not that a 2019 Knicks second-rounder is gonna be the final piece of the Sixers' championship puzzle -- the Sixers have no reason to hoard second-round picks these days, at least not the way they did at the height of Hinkiemania -- but it's an asset, and incredibly enough, given the subpar play and insecure contract status of Stauskas and Okafor, it might be the most objectively valuable asset that changed hands in this deal. It's not the sort of thing that the Sixers should be giving up without any kind of equivalent return.
But of course, the Sixers are getting something out of this trade: They're getting the opportunity to claim that they Got Something for Okafor. To waive the No. 3 pick of the 2015 draft before his rookie deal even expires would be embarrassing, no doubt -- though not quite as embarrassing as taking Okafor with the third pick in the first place -- and it's a headline that the Colangelos seemed determined to avoid. So today, they got to send out an email titled PHILADELPHIA 76ERS ACQUIRE TREVOR BOOKER FROM BROOKLYN, instead of one titled PHILADELPHIA 76ERS WAIVE PLAYER THEY TOOK WITH A TOP-THREE PICK 30 MONTHS AGO SORRY AGAIN ABOUT THAT BTW. (And if you don't buy that such concerns are really of paramount importance of the Sixers, remember that the title of the press email sent out after the Nerlens trade led with PHILADELPHIA 76ERS ACQUIRE FIRST-ROUND PICK, despite the fact that said first-rounder never had more of a 1% chance of conveying to Philly.)
Well, congrats dudes -- you did it. For the second straight in-season deal, the Sixers have prioritized spin over asset management, and made a self-defeating trade inspired by an imaginary public imperative. This won't smart quite as badly as the Noel trade, since The Eraser was (and remains) a far more valuable quantity than anything else that changed hands in this swap, but on principle, it's every bit as insulting. The Jah saga is finally over, yes, but it came at a cost -- one that, no matter how sizable it ultimately ends up being, Philly should never have had to pay.