76ers 2021 Trade Deadline Preview: Bigs
It's the most wonderful time of the year—Trade Season—and your 76ers are right in the thick of it. In this three-part series, I will be outlining just about every player the Sixers can trade for ahead of the March 25 trade deadline. Your squad is on a chase for a championship, and I've got you covered with everything you need to know.
The second half of the NBA season has begun. Spring is in the air. The trade deadline is around the corner. Whispers have become murmurs, murmurs have become talks, and talks have become discussions. Everyone has turned on Twitter notifications for Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania.
Teams have a good idea of what they are by now (or at least where they will be), and are ready to load up—or strip down—in preparation for the present and/or future.
The Sixers fit into the former category. Joel Embiid is one of the favorites for Most Valuable Player, Ben Simmons stands atop the ladder for Defensive Player of the Year, and the team sports the best record in the East. Tobias Harris is having an excellent season himself, shooting and scoring like a true professional and third star.
But they can't do it alone. Years of asset mismanagement have put the Sixers in a tough spot once again, unable to rely on any backup not named Shake Milton when the going gets tough. Even the starters around the Big Three have had their struggles; Seth Curry is not the same guy since contracting COVID-19, and Danny Green is not a great defender anymore. There's still not an easy source of offense in tough spots. Shooting has been hard to come by at times, which can be a problem when your best two players are best on the inside.
No problem is too big for Daryl Morey to fix. The Sixers' current President of Basketball Operations has made lemonade out of lemons several times before, maximizing James Harden's prime at every possible turn with the Houston Rockets. Morey has a consistent track record of finding ways to make something out of nothing, turning over every last stone to try and find the right mix.
This is why Morey gets paid the big bucks. He, Elton Brand and the rest of the front office are in pursuit of a championship, and that's achievable as long as Embiid is upright. The time to strike is now, and there are plenty of guys the Sixers can target, even in a depressed trade market.
Through this three-part series, I'll be covering every possible name the Sixers could trade for in their quest for a championship. They'll be split up into three positional categories: bigs, ball handlers and wings. The top three names of each category will be explained in-depth, while the remaining gents will get a synopsis that explains their fit with the team and how to acquire them.
We start with the bigs for one crucial reason: Embiid's knee injury that he suffered on Friday night. The Sixers' alpha and omega will miss only two to three weeks, avoiding what was feared to be a much more serious setback.
But those absences will add up, especially for a team that loses by 4.4 points per-100 possessions when he sits. The frontcourt needs help now, and each of these guys can also potentially help in the playoffs when Dwight Howard becomes unplayable.
Larry Nance Jr., Cleveland Cavaliers
The best word to describe Nance Jr. is "professional." Originally not a shooter whatsoever for his first three years in the league, Nance Jr. added that element to his game out of necessity. The game was changing, and bigs like him who couldn't shoot were becoming less valuable.
Now he's exactly what contenders need: a stretch big who can defend multiple positions. Since the start of 2018-19, the Slam Dunk Contest competitor has taken 324 threes and made 35.5% of them—league average, which plays up in the frontcourt. He's also shifted between the 4 and 5 throughout his career, holding his own defensively by using his superior athleticism, tools and intellect.
Nance has become one of the most well-rounded bigs in the league—and he's available. The Cavaliers aren't going places this year, making them a prime candidate to sell their veterans. The Sixers have already expressed interest, per Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com, and he'd be an excellent fit in the Simmons-only lineups. He could even survive at the 4 next to Embiid when Simmons is out, seeing as he's already tread water playing next to Andre Drummond and Jarrett Allen.
The asking price won't be cheap, given how many teams are interested and how many more could use him. A first round pick and a young player will probably be demanded; the Sixers may be hesitant to match that.
Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls
One of several 2017 Draft selections whose contract runs out after this season, Markkanen is sure to have demand as both a short and long term option. Any team who trades for him will acquire Markkanen's restricted free agent rights, meaning it can match any offer a team sends his way.
How many of those offers come his way remains to be seen. Other than prolific shooting and some scoring for himself, Markkanen hasn't made his mark on the league yet. A lot of his production has been empty calories; only one of his four years in the league has he been a distinct net positive on the court (by net rating).
The bet for anyone trading for Markkanen is that he can be a supercharged stretch-4 and potential 5 option. The defense has a long way to go, making his outlook at the 5 especially murky, but his strengths would definitely be aggrandized in Philly. Simmons generates 3s for teammates like no one else, and Embiid post-ups often result in an open 3 somewhere.
If Markkanen can hit 3s at a good clip and not get roasted on defense, he may be an excellent buy-low option for the next several years. The latter is the biggest question, which is why the cost of a trade wouldn't be very high.
Thaddeus Young, Bulls
A familiar face to Sixers fans, Young coming back for a championship run would be one of the most full-circle developments in Philadelphia sports history. Young has become the Bulls' backup 5 this year, holding down the fort at an effective level defensively and playing within his strengths offensively.
The "stretch" element of his game has waned though; he doesn't even average one 3-point attempt a game this year. That aspect would have to come back if he were to don a Sixers uniform, a realistic ask for a guy who shot 34.9% from downtown across the four seasons prior (667 attempts).
Another part of Young's game hasn't been used too much in Chicago: his switchable defense. In a crunch-time lineup where everyone has to be malleable on D, Young is more than qualified to give a contender what it needs on that end without stinking on offense. Lineups with him, Simmons and Matisse Thybulle would be sure to wreak havoc in the non-Embiid minutes—as long as they can stay functional on O.
Matching his $13.5 million figure is tough, especially when he makes $14.1 million next season. The Sixers would be pushing the luxury tax in 2021-22 with only eight roster contracts on the books. This kind of trade would need approval from ownership—and a legit argument that he pushes the 2020-21 Sixers over the top.
P.J. Tucker, Houston Rockets - I wrote about Tucker a few weeks ago, and the situation has changed quite a bit since then. Houston will be lucky to get a 2nd rounder for him. Either he truly is washed, or he's unmotivated playing for a doomed Rockets team. Morey will certainly be eager to find out.
Nemanja Bjelica, Sacramento Kings - Bjelica dissed the Sixers a few years ago, but the new front office seems keen on him despite that. He probably wouldn't cost much given that he can't crack the Kings' rotation, but he also may not be that useful come playoff time given his defensive warts.
Mike Muscala, Oklahoma City Thunder - Moose was not beloved during his first stint in Philadelphia, but a new coaching staff may be able to use him better. He can clearly shoot (36.8% on 3s for his career) and has found a solid role in OKC the past two years. Someone will talk themselves into him being a serviceable backup.