Sure, the [unprotected] 2021 first round pick from the Miami Heat is a big reason that Sixers coach [and acting General Manager] Brett Brown greenlit the draft night trade that sent hometown product Mikal Bridges to Phoenix in exchange for Zhaire Smith, but so is Smith’s potential.

“He was comparing me to Kawhi {Leonard],” Smith said when I asked him what kind of conversations he had with Brown prior to Thursday night. “He said ‘I really like your game.’ It's just really interesting. He was just curious. He was like, ‘We're going to make something happen.’ Apparently, he did.”

Indeed he did.

By swapping Bridges for Smith, Brown passed on a player that projected to be a very solid fit at a position of need – and a potential fan favorite with his Philadelphia-based background – for a less polished player, but one with a potentially higher ceiling.

Brown was in San Antonio when the Spurs traded for Leonard on draft night in 2011, and he helped him to blossom from a somewhat unheralded forward out of San Diego State to a top-tier talent in the league. Apparently he sees something similar in Smith; probably two-way potential.

“Probably because Kawhi in college he was like a 4 and he turned him into a wing. I guess he looked forward to turning me into a shooting guard,” Smith replied when asked why he thought that Brown compared him to Kawhi.” And he just liked me for defense, too.”

Smith, who worked out with Philadelphia twice prior to the draft, thinks that he will fit in well with the young Sixers squad, especially Ben Simmons

“It's a blessing to end up with the Sixers.. They run in transition. I feel I can be a part of that. Ben Simmons, he can bring it up and make good passes. I'm a good cutter, so he'll make me look good.”

Considering his local ties, drafting [and keeping] Bridges would have been a feel-good story. However, the ultimate feel good story will be if/when the Sixers win a championship, and Brown clearly thinks that the move he made on Thursday night will help the team to achieve that goal.


Brown elaborated on the decision to trade Bridges for Smith on Thursday night, as well as what he likes so much about Smith.

On the trade: “On our big board, we had 1A and 1B, and when the ninth pick was selected [Alabama’s Collin Sexton to New York], you realize, we’re going to get one of our two, and we chose Mikal,” Brown said, via the Sixers. "Then Phoenix came in and offered a 2021 unprotected plus our 1B in Zhaire [Smith], who we value very highly, and you’re in a position that you’re on the clock and you really have a decision to make.”

On Smith: “As we judged Zhaire, we saw a person, we saw a player, we saw a place that we need to develop him, to grow him and take him,” Brown said. “We believe entirely in time he has the ability to be incredibly unique, maybe even great.. The city of Philadelphia is going to love him because of his complete competitiveness, his athleticism and his toughness. He is bred for the city of Philadelphia.”

Follow Michael Kaskey-Blomain on Twitter @therealmikekb.

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