Six Al Horford Trades: The Depressing Reality
This won’t be easy.
Adam Aaronson, whose legal name is Sixers Adam (@SixersAdam on Twitter), covers the Sixers for The Rights To Ricky Sanchez. He has been legally banned from covering the team in person, but that ban will be lifted in March of 2020. He is brought to you by the Official Realtor of The Process, Adam Ksebe.
Every day that passes without some sort of breakthrough in regards to the coronavirus is another step closer to the cancellation of this NBA season. While I still have some hope that we’ll at least get some sort of abbreviated postseason, it’s hard not to be pessimistic about where things stand. In turn, I’ve started thinking more at length about this offseason -- where the Sixers stand, what their options are, what their goals should be, etc.
A lot of people have a lot of takes on how Elton Brand and co. should approach this summer. But there is one thing that all of us seem to agree on, and that is the need to aggressively shop Al Horford in hopes of finding a trade that frees the Sixers of the remaining three years on his contract. But that is going to be a lot harder than it sounds. As I wrote about briefly in a mailbag a few weeks ago, Horford’s trade value is certainly negative after such an underwhelming season in the first year of a major four-year pact. So, let’s try to lay out what the options are.
The Thybulle Factor
A Horford trade becomes much easier to facilitate if the Sixers are willing to part with standout rookie Matisse Thybulle to get it done. If they are, they could likely flip the pair of players into a group of two or three rotation players on expiring contracts (something like this trade I got ratio’d into oblivion for posting). I can cover that angle of this (and why I don’t think trading Thybulle should be out of the question) in a future piece if there’s interest, but for now I’m going to stick to deals without him, as it remains a bit difficult to imagine the front office dealing him.
However, there would likely be some other compensation -- maybe the OKC pick, which will be either the 21st or 22nd pick of this year’s Draft assuming the regular season does not resume, or something even lighter. I’ll break up the candidates by what sort of compensation is likely required on the Sixers’ end.
Straight Up Deals
These are some guys I think could be acquired in a one-for-one trade with Horford going in the other direction. Obviously, it will be the least appealing set of candidates.
Andrew Wiggins, Golden State Warriors
Terry Rozier, Charlotte Hornets
The same idea exists with each of these concepts. A swap of obviously bad contracts because the pieces would fit better in their new homes. The Warriors would add a floor-spacing center who helps them return to championship contention. The Hornets would clear the way for breakout second-year guard Devonte’ Graham to take over the show. Rozier and Wiggins are both bad, which is why the Sixers could probably get either one straight up. But unfortunately, they are options that have to be considered.
I’ll try to qualify what kind of thing I’m talking about with each heading. Here, let’s say a second-round pick or two, maybe one of Shake Milton or Zhaire Smith?
Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
This is actually an interesting concept to me, because I actually think both teams would be down for a Love-Horford swap, even if it doesn’t exactly solve either of their problems. The Sixers would get someone who is a much easier fit, even if not ideal as a power forward. The Cavaliers would save some money in the short- and long-term while adding an asset or two and successfully removing the disgruntled Love from their rebuild. It’s unlikely because, again, all it does is slightly mollify each team’s concerns, but it probably is a win-win.
Nic Batum, Charlotte Hornets
A whole different idea here -- essentially an advanced salary dump. Batum and Horford will make about the same in 2020-2021, but Horford then has two fully guaranteed years left while Batum’s deal expires. Batum would not add much (if at all) to the team on the court, but he would help them create some semblance of flexibility moving forward.
Harrison Barnes, Sacramento Kings
I have long been a skeptic of Barnes’ ability to contribute to winning. But he can knock down open threes and dribble a little bit, so how is he not an upgrade over Horford? This wouldn’t be too difficult to pull off, as the Kings have a logjam on the perimeter and could use a surefire center. Everyone is clamoring for Buddy Hield, but I’m not sold that it’s possible without the exclusion of Thybulle. Barnes is certainly not the most enthralling alternative, but if I had to guess what a Horford trade looks like this offseason, I think Barnes is the most likely returning piece for the Sixers. And, not for nothing… The Sixers were prepared to offer Barnes a four-year max contract in the summer of 2016. Obviously much has changed since then, but this front office does like Barnes and that can only help the chances of a deal like this.
More Noteworthy Sweetener
Here, I’m thinking either the OKC pick or a formidable combination of assets listed in the previous grouping.
Mike Conley, Utah Jazz
With the Donovan Mitchell - Rudy Gobert rift appearing to be serious, it is not out of the question that Utah seeks a trade of Gobert. If they move him, the Sixers could get involved, either as a third team or a separate trade partner. Horford would replace Gobert as Utah’s starting center, and Conley would exit Utah after one lackluster season in hopes of reviving his star form in Philly where he could have the ball more and help unlock Simmons’ potential as a big. Next year is Conley’s final year on his deal and Horford has at least two more, so the Sixers would have to give up something of real value to make the swap worth it for the Jazz.
The Sixers have backed themselves into a difficult corner to escape with the contracts they gave to Horford and Tobias Harris. Soon, it will be time to see if they can pull it off.