Four Questions The Sixers Need To Answer Before The Trade Deadline
Two weeks till the deadline.
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With the trade deadline less than two weeks away and the Sixers in search of some upgrades, I figured it would be apt to compile a list of relevant questions that the team should consider when perusing the market. Let’s get right into it:
#1: Is P.J. Tucker washed up?
With Tucker now sitting out in Houston, it seems inevitable that he’ll get dealt before the deadline.
In theory, he makes a ton of sense for the Sixers. Problem is, there are many people around the league who insist that Tucker is a shell of his former self. He is now 35 years old, his numbers are down from last year, and critics argue that his defensive impact is not on the same level that it used to be. One could easily make the case that Tucker's subpar play this year is in fact a result of lack of effort/engagement due to Houston‘s bizarre season, but if you are a team that’s trading for him, you had better be sure that that’s the case, and that he has not in fact fallen off a cliff athletically.
After watching a bunch of film on Tucker defensively, my two cents is that he has indeed declined somewhat, but that he could still have a massive impact on the Sixers defense. Tucker may not be the one through five lockdown defender that he once was, but he still has the lateral quickness to guard just about anyone with reasonable effectiveness. To make a Sixers comparison, Tucker has suffered around the same relative degree of athletic decline as Danny Green.
For the Sixers purposes, I remain a big advocate for a potential Tucker trade. Tucker would give the Sixers another high-level defender on the wing next to Ben Simmons, which would come very much in handy in a series against the Nets. Tucker has experience guarding Kevin Durant in multiple playoff series in the past, and guarded James Harden every day in practice for years. With Simmons guarding Durant, Tucker guarding Harden, and Matisse Thybulle guarding Kyrie Irving, the Sixers could match up as well defensively with Brooklyn as anyone in the league.
The good news for the Sixers is that Daryl Morey should have as keen an eye as anyone for Tucker, as he watched him up close for years. If Morey sees signs of a major athletic decline, I trust his judgment to not pull the trigger. But to my eye, Tucker still looks like a player who could make a major difference on the defensive end.
#2: Where do you draw the line for Kyle Lowry?
I have no new reporting to add on the Lowry situation, but my intuition is to think that he could be had if you’re willing to give up a significant haul. Lowry’s agent can deny it all he wants, but with all of the rumors that have swirled recently, you have to believe that where there’s smoke there’s fire.
At the root of this question is whether or not it’s worth it to mortgage your future assets in exchange for what might be a three month rental. Lowry raises their championship odds for this year significantly, but if either A) he walks in free agency or B) he re-signs but his play falls off a cliff after this year, can you even be certain that trading for him raises their championship odds over the next five years, given that trading for him may take them out of the running for future blockbuster trades? Would they be better off saving their remaining assets for later?
Even if both A and B are unlikely, the severity of the downside risk here is something that I believe not enough people are considering. Personally, I would not give up more than two valuable assets in exchange for Lowry. The most I would give up is something in the realm of Tyrese Maxey, a first round pick, and a second round pick. If the Raptors start to demand another young player or first round pick, that’s the end of the discussion for me.
If we consider Maxey to be essentially a first round pick, giving up two more first rounders on top of him would make this trade start to look somewhat similar to the Jrue Holiday trade. And keep in mind: Holiday is five years younger, is likely a superior player, and while he’s also on an expiring contract, he was traded before the start of the season as opposed to the middle of it.
I would certainly hear an argument for going all in on Lowry based on the fact that you can’t afford to waste prime Joel Embiid seasons, and the championship race is fairly open this year. But at a certain point, it’s just unwise to blow all of your assets on 35 year old players. They might be better off passing up on Lowry and instead making a similar trade in the off-season that the Bucks made for Holiday— a fistful of first round picks, salary filler, and a young player for the next star that becomes available.
#3: Which current bench players do you trust?
Let’s assume for a minute that the Sixers don’t trade for Lowry or any other star level player. From there, the question becomes which bench spots you want to prioritize for an upgrade, and that’s a question that seems impossible to get a handle on.
A month or so ago, it felt like backup center was the priority there. But with Dwight Howard playing better of late, that need has felt less dire. For my money, the spot that most needs an upgrade is Furkan Korkmaz’s. Despite his value when his shots are falling, I can’t see a scenario where Korkmaz is able to hang defensively in the playoffs.
For that reason, I’d prioritize trading for a back up wing before a point guard or big man. Should the Will Barton rumors come to fruition, he’d be a great upgrade over Korkmaz. Even acquiring the likes of Wayne Ellington would make a meaningful difference.
A deadline haul of P.J. Tucker and Wayne Ellington wouldn’t be the sexiest. But it would make the Sixers bench a whole lot more versatile and trustworthy, and would add some more rugged veterans to a group that is mostly plucky youngsters.
#4: Is another high volume shot creator worth the risk?
While there aren’t any true superstars who figure to be traded at the deadline, there are a couple of high-level shot creators who should be available. One such example is Victor Oladipo, who Houston is very likely to move.
If you are someone who subscribes to the belief that this Sixers team can never win the championship without a high-level perimeter shot creator, then you likely are in the camp that trading for someone like Oladipo is worthwhile.
While I’m sympathetic to that argument, I don’t see it being worth the risk. Even if Oladipo is in good health, which is not a guarantee, acclimating him mid season would be extremely challenging, as it would require every player on the roster to shift their role a tad bit, and would transform the identity of the team all together. This acclimation would be made even more difficult by the fact that Oladipo is in a contract year, and might not be as willing as, say, Lowry, to sacrifice for the greater good and accept a lesser role than he is capable of.
Much of the same could be said about Evan Fournier. While Fournier is a better shooter and hypothetically fits better on offense, he still would require a shifting of roles for many players on the roster, and you would still have to worry about whether he’d buy into the team's needs completely given that he is in a contract year.
Both Oladipo and Fournier might also cost a considerable price. If Morey is able to acquire one of them on the cheap, it may be worth the gamble. But I don’t think I would give up more than a first round pick and salary filler for either of them. Going all-in to acquire a non-elite shot creator doesn’t seem worth the trouble