The Sixers will know a little bit more about the tools at their disposal this offseason within the next 72 hours.
Philadelphia surrendered 2022 and 2027 first-round draft picks to the Nets to complete the James Harden trade in February. The 2027 pick is protected 1 through 8. If the Sixers land in the top 8 of the lottery in that draft, it then conveys as a 2028 first-rounder with the same protections. If that does not convey, the pick becomes a 2028 second-round selection and $2 million cash.
The 2022 first-round ticket is obviously the more pressing subject at the moment. The Nets have the right to defer that pick one year. They must decide whether or not they’ll defer the pick on June 1.
There is a bit of semantic house-keeping to be done regarding the deferral. To defer, Brooklyn sends written notice to the Sixers and league office before 11:59 p.m., Eastern time, on June 1. That 2023 first-round pick is unprotected.
If Brooklyn does not notify the Sixers and league office prior to June 2, the Nets will receive the Sixers’ 2022 first-round pick. That is the 23rd selection in this summer’s draft.
Brooklyn General Manager Sean Marks seemed to lean towards keeping the pick in his end of season press conference. But, he left the door to the other option open. “We’re going through as if we’re trying to find somebody for this team, that can help us move forward with. So, obviously if we find a group that we think is going to be there, we’ll keep the pick. That’s what we’re planning on right now, but we’ll see,” Marks said.
Ever since that quote was delivered, though, information made public has indicated otherwise.
A source familiar with the Nets’ thinking expects Brooklyn to defer the pick to 2023.
If Brooklyn follows that expectation, the Sixers will have their own first-round pick in the upcoming draft.
The Sixers can either use that pick and make a selection, or they can trade it on draft night. They cannot trade the rights to the selection before draft night. Doing so would leave them without first-round picks in back-to-back years — a violation of the NBA’s Stepien Rule. But, they can trade the rights to a selection that they’ve already made as part of a draft-night deal. The timeline would likely dictate that a trade partner directs them to select the desired prospect as part of negotiations. The Sixers would use their pick on said prospect on that team’s behalf, and then Philadelphia would forward his draft rights to the acquiring team as part of finalizing the deal.
That’s the only probable scenario in which the Sixers can maximize the trade value of their 2022 first-rounder. They may happen to select the guy a desired trade partner wanted anyway, but that’s far more improbable. Otherwise, the pick loses its trade equity as soon as the Sixers make the selection.
As for whether or not the Sixers should trade the pick makes for an interesting dialogue. A big part of why the Sixers are separated from the rest of the elite contenders is the lack of value they put into late first-round selections. They’ve either made bad selections or given away picks as if they were pennies in past trades. Because the organization hasn’t valued its picks in recent history, Philadelphia doesn’t have a surplus of cost-effective depth. In fact, many of the Sixers’ most featured reserves in recent years were free-agent signings.
On the other hand, head coach Doc Rivers rarely puts trust in first- and second-year players. In fact, you could reasonably argue that the lack of opportunity Rivers afforded Tyrese Maxey to show what he could do as a rookie contributed to his candidacy for the Most Improved Player award this past season. Right or wrong, Rivers’ preference for more-established players aligns with the fact that President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey has a history of shipping out first-round picks in big trades. In the context of these Sixers, those two traits are perhaps tied together by Joel Embiid. The organization’s goal should be to maximize the team’s ceiling in Embiid’s prime. Theoretically, that is done by surrounding him with players that are developed enough to immediately contribute to winning.
Those philosophies are also why I find extensive deep-dives into draft prospects to be something of a pointless exercise under this regime. You may do a ton of work preparing for the draft, only for the pick(s) to be traded away. Or, the prospects spend more time traveling between Philly and Wilmington, Delaware than they do on an NBA court. By the time they build enough sweat equity to get on the court, they may even be utilized at a different position or role than the ones at which you scouted them. For that reason, there won’t be any scouting included in this chapter of the offseason guide. Rather, team needs will be specified in a later edition of the offseason guide and should be satisfied by any of the available means. Perhaps some scouting will be done separately from the offseason guides.
At the end of the day, the Sixers may not have much of a choice in deciding what to do with their pick because they don’t have a ton of trade capital on their roster. And without cap space, Philadelphia is limited to the built-in margins of financial flexibility permitted by the league’s collective bargaining agreement. At best, that means the Sixers do not have a competitive advantage over other contenders vying for the services of certain free agents. At worst, it means the Sixers are actually at a competitive disadvantage when you consider the geographic, market, and economic benefits that other teams can naturally offer.
So maybe Philadelphia isn’t going to get the best role players that the league’s methods of marginal financial flexibility can buy. If so, it is likely going to have to expense draft capital as part of trades made to upgrade the roster. That might even make the most sense considering the core’s timeline and the philosophies the organization’s central figures seem to hold regarding young players, anyway.
On the topic of draft equity as trade capital, the Sixers also have the following picks at their disposal:
- 2023 second-round pick
- 2023 second-round pick via Hawks, Hornets, or Nets
- 2024 first-round pick
- 2024 second-round pick
- 2026 first-round pick
- 2027 second-round pick
- 2028 first-round pick (assuming the 2027 first conveys to Brooklyn)
- 2028 second-round pick
Teams are permitted to trade draft picks as far as seven years into the future. They cannot trade future first-round picks in back-to-back years because of the Stepien Rule. The rule is intended to prevent teams from being without a first-round pick in consecutive drafts. It is important to note that the rule doesn’t require teams to possess their own first-round picks, though. Any team’s first-round pick is sufficient. So, perhaps the fine terms of the rule provide a loophole for the smartest front offices to exploit.