‘Major move’ or bench upgrade? Either way, Sixers won’t sit still
Daryl Morey and the Sixers are at somewhat of a crossroads.
They have the best record in the Eastern Conference while Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris are all playing at an All-Star level. They’re also 5-5 in their last 10, have seen their bench get crushed, and have the surging, star-studded Nets nipping at their heels.
So, does the front office simply add a player or two to strengthen the team’s depth and bolster the bench, or does Morey swing for the fences to make his already dominant starting five into Finals favorites?
The Sixers’ starting unit of Embiid, Simmons, Harris, Seth Curry and Danny Green has been excellent. Among five-man lineups that have played at least 150 minutes together, it's second in offensive rating and third in net rating. For those of you who don’t follow analytics, this means they’re really, really good.
The issues have come when Doc Rivers goes to his bench. Sunday’s game was a prime example. While plus/minus isn’t a perfect stat, three starters were all pluses while Embiid and Harris were both minus-1 in a game the team lost by seven. Shake Milton’s return should help going forward, but this team likely needs at least one upgrade for its bench.
A true point guard – perhaps George Hill or Delon Wright – would help create offense, get the second unit into its sets, and allow Milton to be more of a scorer off the ball. A stretch four with the ability to play small-ball five – perhaps P.J. Tucker or Nemanja Bjelica – could increase spacing and give Rivers options when Dwight Howard gets an unfavorable matchup like Chris Boucher.
If the Sixers were to add Hill, Tucker, and maybe even another veteran shooter – JJ Redick anyone? – on the buyout market, those would be considerable upgrades. While the starting five would play big minutes once the playoffs begin, having a variation of Hill, Milton, Redick, Tucker, Howard, and Matisse Thybulle gives Rivers way more flexibility. It allows the head coach to match up better and have better chess pieces for a postseason series.
Opportunities to improve the bench will be there. The Sixers have tradeable expiring contracts, a trade exception, and the taxpayer MLE all at their disposal.
But is that what Morey and company want?
A week ago, we saw Simmons score a career-high 42 points. A few days later, we saw Embiid drop 50 points for the first time in his career. The Sixers’ two best players are peaking. Meanwhile, Harris is playing the best two-way and most efficient basketball of his career.
We all know Morey’s track record. He’s not the type to sit idly by while a team like Brooklyn loads up on firepower and hunts down his team for the top seed. Part of what makes Morey such a great executive is that he explores all options and isn’t afraid to take chances.
So, what "major move" can Morey make? Bradley Beal seems like a pipedream … at least for now. Zach LaVine was an intriguing name, but with the way he’s playing and the Bulls still very much in the playoff picture, it’s hard to see Chicago pulling the trigger.
Kyle Lowry would be a fascinating name if Masai Ujiri and the Raptors decide to go with a youth movement. But would Toronto want to do that when it’s just four games behind the Sixers for the top spot? From a salary standpoint, you’d need to send the combination of Green, Mike Scott, Terrance Ferguson, and Tony Bradley – not exactly an attractive package. That would mean the Sixers would have to send over draft compensation.
How much would it take to get a soon-to-be 35-year-old on the last year of his deal? A first-rounder? Two? From a basketball standpoint, Lowry would make the starting five much better. He’s a true point guard that can create on the perimeter. He’s also a bulldog with championship experience. And he’s still playing at a high level. He’s averaging 17.7 points, 6.4 assists and 1.2 steals a game while shooting 45.2/38.8/87.4. Depending on the compensation, this could be a big swing worth taking.
Another bigger target could be Victor Oladipo. The Rockets reportedly haven’t ruled out moving the two-time All-Star after they acquired him as part of the James Harden deal. The 28-year-old has an injury history and has missed Houston’s last four games with a foot issue. Oladipo isn’t the same explosive player he once was, but he’s a much more versatile player than Green and could be an excellent pick-and-roll partner with Simmons. He’d also be easier to take on from a salary standpoint and would likely cost less compensation-wise than Lowry.
It’s difficult to predict what types of deals could be possible and which players would be available. It’s possible Lowry and Oladipo don’t hit the trade market and a player nobody has named yet does. The March 25 trade deadline is still over a month away. A lot can change between now and then.
What we do know is whether it’s a savvy move(s) to fortify the bench or a larger deal to upgrade the starting five, Morey won’t sit still. More rumors and names will surface, and you should expect the Sixers to be right in the thick of it all.