In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Clippers agreed to a deal that will have a ripple effect across both conferences not only for the rest of this season, but for years to come.
Philadelphia acquired Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott for Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, Landry Shamet, a protected 2020 Philadelphia first-round pick, a 2021 first-round pick from the Miami Heat via the Sixers and two future second picks, both from the Detroit Pistons via the 76ers. It’s a massive trade-deadline swap that has immediate and long-range impacts for both teams.
76ers are all in, both now and in the future
The Sixers had been looking for an upgrade at the power forward spot since they traded Dario Saric in the deal to acquire Jimmy Butler. They’ve found their man in Harris. Chandler had been fine for Philadelphia, but he’s injured and the Sixers want something more than just fine.
Harris has been one of the better offensive players in the NBA this season, averaging over 20 points per game for the first time (20.9) on 50/43/88 shooting splits, which are easily the best of his career. He excels both with the ball in his hands and as a spot-up shooter, as he’s right near the top 10 in most shooting categories. In addition, Harris is averaging a career-high 7.9 rebounds per game. He’ll fill the four spot remarkably well for Philly, giving it some floor balance they lost when they traded Saric and Robert Covington in the Butler deal.
And don’t overlook Marjanovic and Scott. Marjanovic gives Philadelphia a quality backup big behind Joel Embiid. He can give Embiid 15 minutes of rest per night, or could finally allow the Sixers to spot Embiid a game off here and there. And Scott is a better backup four than anyone Philadelphia has had all season. He’s a solid scoring option who can also rebound. Scott can spot Harris when necessary and allow Harris to slide to the three to give Butler rest. Or Philly could use Scott in jumbo lineups with Embiid, Harris, Butler and Simmons.
The trade doesn’t come without risk for the 76ers. As it stands right now, they have precious little guard and wing depth. It’s T.J. McConnell and … well … not much else. Philadelphia will continue to be active looking for bench upgrades, both through the trade deadline and in buyout season. It has a couple of assets left to swing a trade with (Is it time to finally move on from Markelle Fultz?) and can offer both minutes and a rotation role on a contender to any veterans who get bought out.
Beyond the depth issues, which could very well sort themselves out, the Sixers are still confined by the NBA rules of playing with only one basketball at a time. They’ve already had challenges with enough touches to go around to keep Embiid, Butler and Simmons happy. Harris is great off the ball, but he’s used to having it in his hands a lot, too. Coach Brett Brown can stagger minutes more to solve some of this, but in crunch time, he’s going to have to be judicious about drawing up plays to keep everyone happy. In addition, JJ Redick is a rhythm player who needs shots to stay engaged in the offense. It’s a challenge that Brown will happily undertake, but it’s a challenge nonetheless.
Down the line, this trade could pay off in a few ways for Philadelphia. This summer both Butler and Harris are free agents, along with Redick. The 76ers’ plan was to renounce all their free agents except for Butler, get another big piece, and then re-sign Butler and Redick. Now, they’ve got that other big piece. That will make the Sixers operate as an over-the-cap team in July. But that’s not the worst thing. Now, they can use their Early Bird rights to give Redick a bump in salary, while preserving all of their mid-level exception for other players. And given the state of their bench, they’re going to need it.
In addition, adding Harris gives Philly both protection and flexibility going forward. If Butler leaves, or the fit remains clunky, GM Elton Brand is positioned to move on from either player. Assuming they re-sign both Butler and Harris, Brand could later flip one of them (or, less likely, Simmons) for better fitting pieces, while also recouping some of the assets the team gave up to get Butler and Harris.
Brand has acted quickly in his short tenure as Philadelphia’s general manager, and this sort of decisiveness was necessary to push things forward. If he can flesh out the rest of the rotation with some guard/wing depth, Brand has turned the 76ers from a good playoff team into a Finals contender in the span of a few months. And he did it while retaining flexibility going forward. That’s a win-win.
Clippers punt this season for the future
Speaking of being decisive, the Clippers, currently sitting in the eighth spot in the Western Conference, just said, “Meh, let’s blow up this thing.” It’s a move that speaks to being hyper-realistic about where they are, while prioritizing being in a much better place in the very near future.
Los Angeles is having a good season. If all broke right, they’d compete for a playoff spot. But just making the postseason in the Western Conference means being first-round fodder for the Golden State Warriors. The Clippers have been to the playoffs enough recently that their fans don’t need to be sold on a “We’re just happy to be here!” season. They have bigger dreams.
L.A. has been a two-team town for more than a decade now, but it’s always been the Lakers’ city. The Clippers haven’t even been the little brother. They’ve been like a third cousin who shows up every once and a while at your playoff party. For the first time now, the Clips are really poised to change that.
By trading Harris for a bunch of expiring contracts, it takes the Clippers down a few pegs in the playoff race. It might even be the move that allows the Lakers to sneak in, assuming the upstart Sacramento Kings eventually fade (but don’t count on it). The Clippers will now look at what they can do to ship out the other veterans on their roster.
Guards Patrick Beverley and Avery Bradley could return small assets from a playoff team looking for backcourt help. Marcin Gortat has been shopped for a while now and could eventually be bought out. It also wouldn’t be a surprise to see Los Angeles try to flip Chandler or Muscala before the deadline.
In addition, this trade puts L.A. in position to retain its own 2019 first-round draft pick. That pick would go to the Boston Celtics if the Clips make the playoffs. If Los Angeles is a lottery team, it keeps it. The pick will then roll to 2020 with the same protections. If it doesn’t convey to Boston at that point, it turns into a second-round pick. That’s a somewhat overlooked part of this trade for L.A.
Basically, the Clippers’ goal is to hit the summer with only Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell and players on their rookie-scale contracts still on the roster. They’ve got to find a home for Danilo Gallinari and his $22.6 million salary for 2019-20, but they’ve now got the draft capital to entice someone to bite on taking on his contract.
If Los Angeles can pull that off, it would have two max salary slots, something only the New York Knicks can rival. It also has a respected veteran in Williams, a high-upside big in Harrell and one of everyone’s favorite young guards, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, to sell to free agents. That immediately makes the Clippers players for Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler (if he chooses to leave Philadelphia) and any other big names on the market. They’ve also got the assets to make a run at trading for Anthony Davis, with the promise of adding a second superstar alongside him.
Being realistic is a quality that is often in short supply in the NBA. Very few teams would look at the standings and have the guts to pull the trigger on a trade that effectively ends their season. Barring something really unforeseen, the Clippers should get passed by the Lakers and Kings in the standings. But that’s OK. They’ll keep their pick, likely shed some other salaries, and hit the summer with the best chance they’ve ever had at really making Los Angeles a two-team town.
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