Although they are 17-8 and on pace for the second seed in the Eastern Conference, the Sixers have a point differential of just +2.1. However, the team’s starting lineup of Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, Jimmy Butler, Wilson Chandler, and Joel Embiid has an offensive rating consistent with that of the elite teams in the league (in other words, they get buckets). On the other hand, the Sixers lineup of Ben Simmons, Landry Shamet, Jimmy Butler, Wilson Chandler, and Joel Embiid has the lowest defensive rating of all 2,500 different lineups in the NBA.
That paints a pretty clear picture of one of the Sixers’ biggest problems: defense. Landry Shamet is not strong enough to hold his own defensively. Wilson Chandler is fine, but a guy in his 30s with his injury history is not exactly desirable when the defense is switching on screens. This is part of why guards around the league have cooked the Sixers thus far.
Further, any lineup that features less than three of the Sixers starters fails to break 100 in offensive rating. The story I’m telling is that the team’s starters are able to blow out virtually any lineup it faces, frequently building leads greater than 10 points before being subbed out. Unfortunately, once Joel, Jimmy, and JJ take a seat, and the likes of Mike Muscala, TJ McConnell, and Landry Shamet enter the game, the bench is completely incapable of holding that lead. It eventually evaporates and turns into a 5 point deficit, often at the worst times in games.
Suddenly, the “fire Brett Brown,” “Ben Simmons can’t shoot,” and other negative narratives start flying. This does not have nearly as much to do with Brett Brown’s coaching or Ben Simmons’ jumper as it has to do with the fact that the Sixers’ bench is simply inadequate, and the team’s defense is not good enough to keep teams at bay when the players who drive the offense sub out.
To push it a bit further, Joel Embiid is flinging three-balls at a 30% clip. JJ Redick, the team’s best shooter, is shooting treys at 35%. Jimmy Butler, at above 50%, is hitting three-pointers at an astronomical level that will not last forever. Everyone’s favorite rookie Landry Shamet is stroking 40% of his attempts. Mike Muscala is tickling twine on 33% of his attempts, while Wilson Chandler is finding the basket on 38% of his attempts. While these numbers do not appear bad at all, at 35.2% as a team, there are 14 teams that shoot it better than them and 14 teams that shoot it worse. In other words, the Sixers are the average three-point shooting team in the NBA.
To give themselves the best chance at beating the Celtics or the Bucks and, thus, get to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Sixers MUST secure the two seed to guarantee the home-court advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs. With that context, I am going to discuss some of the viable trade options and buyout candidates that the Sixers should pursue. Before I provide these candidates, I will issue a disclaimer: *I will not address the financial aspect of buyouts because to do so would require knowledge directly from the player, agent, or team, and I do not have that*
DeMarre Carroll and Jared Dudley (Brooklyn Nets)
At 8-16, the Nets are just trying to remain respectable on their way to a lottery pick for the first time since Billy King mortgaged their future for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry. With the youth movement under way in Brooklyn, players like 32-year-old DeMarre Carroll and 33-year-old Jared Dudley have no future in the Nets’ plans. With likely no team willing to give away legitimate assets for an aging role player, buyouts of their respective $15.4 million and $9.53 million contracts should be in order once the Nets officially fall out of the race.
At 6’8″, Carroll has the positional versatility and experience to play either forward spot. At 36.2% for the season (nearly identical to the 36.4% for his career), Carroll’s three-ball is certainly a weapon, and his “3-and-D” reputation would be the ultimate pick-up for the Sixers. Matt Cord would surely have fun letting the “R” in “Carroll” roll off his tongue.
At 6’7″, Dudley has connected on treys 39.2% of the time throughout his career. He’s having a down year, but the anomalistic nature of his struggle this season could be a result of usage or limited minutes. With the shooting prowess of a shooting guard, the body of a small forward, and the versatility of a power forward, Dudley would be an ideal candidate for this team in that his game and body would allow him to fit any lineup the Sixers put on the court.
Trevor Ariza (Phoenix Suns)
The Suns (4-18) are in the business of developing young assets in the hopes that they can find young stars on rookie deals that they can build around, and then maybe land a superstar on max money to complete the foundation of their future. Suffice it to say, Trevor Ariza, a 33-year-old role player who has traveled around the NBA as a 3-and-D swingman, is not part of that future.
At 6’8″, Ariza is built exactly like Robert Covington. Even more similarly, he shoots the long ball at a 35% clip for his career (and he is right on his career average this season, so no decline). To pick up Trevor Ariza would be to clone “Big Shot Bob” a few years after his prime. The best part about Ariza is that, similar to Covington, his mentality as a shooter, his skill set, and his body promote positional versatility across the shooting guard, small forward, and power forward spots. Whether he starts for Wilson Chandler or comes off the bench, Trevor Ariza would be a huge asset for this team on both sides of the ball.
Courtney Lee (New York Knicks)
The Knicks fit in between the Nets and Suns on the lottery spectrum. They are objectively not good enough to contend for even a playoff birth this season, but they are not just mailing it in like the Suns are. It is only a matter of time before they surrender, and when they do, they will want to get rid of older role players like Courtney Lee, whose $12.7 million salary for next season would eat into the money they can offer players like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. They should want to get him off of their books as soon as possible. When they do, I can think of one team who could use the veteran shooting guard’s services. Lee is a 39% career three-point shooter, which is on the border of sniper territory.
At 6’5″, he won’t offer the positional versatility that guys like Ariza, Dudley, and Carroll offer, but he does add needed shooting off the bench. What I really like is the combinations that would result from adding Lee to the bench. If Elton Brand can pick him up, that would, in theory, slide Shamet over to the point guard spot. Since Shamet is often the shooting guard when Ben Simmons’ minutes are staggered to run with the bench, Shamet sliding to the one would put Ben at one of the forward spots.With Ben operating as point forward, Shamet and Lee on the wings, Muscala at the center spot, and whoever you want at the other forward spot, that lineup would be a deadly lineup to complement Embiid, Jimmy, and JJ when they need a breather.
Now for the tricky part.
Dewayne Dedmon (Atlanta Hawks — $7.2 million/1 year)
With Amir Johnson declining to the point of being out of the rotation by the quarter point in the season, the Sixers could use an extra big. This would allow them to slide Muscala down to the four to provide the stretch capability that most power forwards offer. With it being known that Furkan Korkmaz wants out after his team option was declined, it would make sense for the Sixers to offer up a young asset like Korkmaz for a big man who is nothing more than a role player, like Dewayne Dedmon.
For the salaries to fall within acceptable range of each other, Dario Saric’s trade exception would have to be used. However, one could make the case that that trade exception should be saved in the event that a more substantial offer to improve the team is on the table and the exception is required to make it doable.
Justin Holiday (Chicago Bulls — $4.4 million/1 year)
As currently constructed, the Bulls roster feels like it is composed of 5 point guards and 7 power forwards. There’s a clear log jam at those two positions. And with the Bulls’ future lying in the hands of Wendell Carter Jr. at center and Lauri Markkanen at power forward, the Bulls are looking to go young at the wing spots.
Chandler Hutchison, a late first round pick in this summer’s draft, will get his opportunity to prove that he is part of the Bulls’ future at the small forward spot at some point. With Denzel Valentine being unhealthy and largely a disappointment at shooting guard, the Bulls might be in the market for a new two. Insert Furkan Korkmaz. At 29 years of age, Justin Holiday has no future with the Bulls. As a 39% three-point shooter, he would be the perfect candidate to utilize as a rental off the bench. The question is, would the Bulls want a draft pick in addition to Korkmaz to execute a trade that might otherwise feel too unequal to them?
Wayne Ellington (Miami Heat — $6.3 million/1 year)
The Miami Heat are never going to roll over and die. They have too much pride and talent as an organization to just declare a rebuild. That said, Hassan Whiteside, James Johnson, and Tyler Johnson are all on terrible contracts. Dion Waiters cannot even put weight on his ankle to stand up and play, but he is also making close to $35 million over the next three seasons. My guess is that, with Dwyane Wade retiring after this season, they pull the plug and rebuild. While they can remain tough and respectable in the East, they cannot contend anymore.
Wayne Ellington is on a one-year deal, so he cannot be traded until later in December. However, once that date arrives and he is eligible for trade, it would be prudent of the Heat to self-evaluate. They need to acknowledge that, while Ellington helps them compete in games, he does not win them games. With that being said, he should be one of the first candidates to leave if the Heat continue to fall out of the playoff race. In dire need of a 39% three-point shooter off the bench, the Sixers could offer Fultz (and maybe a pick) for Ellington. The salaries would not be an issue, but the Heat’s interest to pull the trigger on such a transaction might be.
Markieff Morris (Washington Wizards — $8.6 million/1 year)
The Wizards are deteriorating behind closed doors and chemistry on the court is below zero. There is a lot of speculation that they could soon blow things up. If their struggles continue, they likely will pull the plug and make everyone available to quickly begin a rebuild. Among the first to go would be 6’10” 29-year-old Markieff Morris. Morris shoots the rock at around 35% for his career – not great. But his positional versatility on both ends of the floor, his willingness to fight with the big bodies down low instead of just spotting up every possession, and his Philly-born toughness – great. Add in his average three-point shooting (which theoretically would improve because of the spacing the Sixers can offer) – very great.
However, the Wizards are hoping to find a miraculous solution to keep their still-young star core of John Wall and Bradley Beal together. Getting them to bite on a trade that does not include the Sixers’ best assets will be tricky. I think the idea of Markelle Fultz’s potential (and his basically identical contract of $8.3 million per year annually for the next three years) is very intriguing to a team like the Wizards.
What Would It Take?
Trading Fultz back home to a rebuilding team with more patience could help turn him back to the player we hoped he could be when the Sixers drafted him first overall two summers ago. If that were to happen, the Wizards would win this trade by a mile. But the odds of that are overwhelmingly against them. So, it would probably take more than just Markelle. I would be willing to include Jonah Bolden ($1.7 million/4 years) and Korkmaz in the package, as well. If that doesn’t do the trick, a few second rounders or a heavily-protected first rounder might.
If you aren’t sensing it, I’ve got my eyes on Markieff Morris. I promise, it’s not just because I am hell-bent on him matching up with his twin brother when the Sixers inevitably play the Celtics in a playoff series. Rather, he is the perfect fit for this team – and not just for this year but for the future too, should Morris and the Sixers come to terms on a palatable long-term deal this summer.
Let the Christmas Shopping Begin
These are just a few directions I could see the Sixers headed as they continue to round out their roster in the wake of the Butler trade. Will the payment be Markelle Fultz? Furkan Korkmaz? What Christmas present can we Sixers fans be expecting? We don’t know yet. One thing we can be sure of, Elton Brand isn’t done shopping. The holiday season has only just begun!
Follow me on Twitter, @AustinKrell_PFO (Austin in Villanova)!