With injuries beginning to pile up to key pieces, the Philadelphia 76ers’ trade chips are starting to depreciate
I recently predicted that the Philadelphia 76ers would make the playoffs in 2018. That was before we knew Ben Simmons would miss the whole season, and Joel Embiid’s would cap off at 31 games.
One benefit of having a young team is being under the NBA salary cap, like the Philadelphia 76ers are this year, next, and likely the 2019 season. So this summer, Philadelphia brass should actively target wing players who are free agents, and trade some of their most affordable role players for more picks and/or star players.
This is why the news that Simmons would miss the entire year was so crippling.
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The front office and the team needs to know what Simmons can reasonably be expected to do in the early stage of his career, and what he can’t. Twenty-nine other front offices might potentially want to know, too.
Is he really a Greek Freak-esq point forward? Will he be a smart and tenacious defender? How will he be as a cutter or spot up shooter? And how quickly? These are questions that were supposed to be answered this season. Without knowing with at least the same certainty we now know what Embiid brings to an NBA game, it will be harder to build the right roster around Simmons.
Not only that, but other teams looking to improve or rebuild their rosters around current 76ers players have been hamstrung too.
In an Eastern Conference that currently has two two-way wings in desperate need of a change of scenery, a healthy Ben Simmons might have been the ideal trade chip to pry Paul George or Jimmy Butler away from the disgruntled Indiana Pacers or Chicago Bulls. No serious trade rumors involved the lowly 76ers last month, but that might have changed had Simmons at least matched Joel Embiid’s 31 games.
For Philadelphia, trusting “The Process” has actually worked, but not in the way they expected. It has been the role players – not stars – that made Philadelphia’s season respectable. Three of their four lottery picks have missed their entire first season with injuries.
In the case of Noel and Embiid, the Sixers knew of these injuries before the draft. Less celebrated picks Dario Saric, T.J. McConnell, and Robert Covington, meanwhile, have become productive players. Almost any current playoff team would love to have these guys – especially on rookie contracts.
Covington and Nik Stauskas will be due for big raises in the summer of 2018. Perhaps these guys could’ve been packaged for Paul George or Jimmy Butler. Perhaps a trade could’ve involved other Eastern Conference also-rans like the Celtics, Hawks or Pistons. Maybe this could’ve finally made the Eastern Conference competitive.
A trio of Embiid, Simmons, and either of these Midwestern misfits would be amazing, but – like any other Big Three – takes time to gel. Now, even if such a trade were made (this offseason), it likely would disappoint, because George or Butler would be teaming up with two guys who have played a combined total of 31 games in a combined four seasons.
The biggest loss for the Philadelphia 76ers is the loss of time. Waiting for Embiid was worth it, because the team knew there was no way they’d be ready to fight for a playoff spot in his first few years. The hope was that they would at least be a respectable team before his rookie contract ended, and he’d be due for upwards of a $30 million raise per year.
That’s a lot to give to a big man with foot – and now knee – problems. But it would be worth it if he had developed great chemistry with fellow franchise player Simmons (or any older veteran traded for Simmons) before that money kicked in. So waiting three years to see Embiid play a full season might end up being worth it. Waiting two years for Simmons, however, isn’t.
The clock is ticking quicker than it has for this franchise since Allen Iverson was in his prime. Because of the new salary cap spending frenzy, Philadelphia’s trade chips are all depreciating, even Simmons, and they cannot extend every player who hits free agency.
After Jahlil Okafor’s Harden-esq defensive lowlights went viral, it is doubtful any team would be interested in him.
The 2017 NBA Trade Deadline was fairly underwhelming, and the 2017 offseason might be still be exciting, but not nearly as exciting as it would be if the Philadelphia 76ers had more to show for their three recent lottery picks.