• Alec Liebsch

76ers trade targets after the James Harden blockbuster

Now that James Harden has been traded to a rival, it's time for the 76ers to re-calibrate their plan for this season. They're a tier below the elites of the East, but as I outline here, they can't simply pack it in for all of 2021. Joel Embiid is an MVP candidate right now; the front office can't afford to waste that.

There isn't anyone obtainable who is as good as Harden, but there are plenty of guys out there who would make the Sixers markedly better. And Philadelphia has ample ways to acquire said players: The team owns all its first round picks going forward, a bunch of small salaries that can be aggregated, and a group of intriguing young players that could be dangled as trade bait.

So with all the resources at the 76ers' disposal, how can they join the arms race at the top of the East?

Tier 1: Bradley Beal

The "next man up" in trade rumors appears to be Bradley Beal, a guy that our own Kenny Adkins was high on before it was cool. He had good reason to pregame for that party, as Beal is now the most coveted player on the trade market if the Washington Wizards decide to move on.

As a 27 year-old elite shooter with an array of on-ball skills, proven playoff success and minimal reported issues with teammates, Beal is a wonderful fit with just about any team. He approaches the talent level of that halfcourt creator teams covet, is just entering his prime, and doesn't come with any subjective stains.

Problem is, his price just went way up. If the Bucks were willing to fork over almost everything they had for Jrue Holiday, and the Nets were content with mortgaging their future (again) for Harden, then the Wizards can drive a very hard bargain for Beal.

One can argue the Sixers have the best centerpiece for a trade like this in Simmons, but the Pelicans and Rockets beg to differ. They each traded their stars for hauls of strictly draft picks and salaries, rather than a great young player and a pick or two. The logic here is that if you're trading that coveted star, you're hitting the reset button entirely, so a harvest of draft capital is better to start off with than than a ready-made young cornerstone who you have to build around ASAP.

Washington is a bottomfeeder even with Beal, and needs a lot more than Simmons to get back to prosperity. Even if Philly includes him in a deal for Beal, Washington is likely to ask for a bunch of picks or young players on top. Maybe the Sixers' best offer is a bunch of picks and swaps, Matisse Thybulle, Danny Green's expiring contract, one or two of the smaller salaries, and the $8.2 million trade exception. If Simmons is desired by the Wizards, than he and Thybulle could be enough to get it done.

Is Morey willing to do that type of deal? Past precedent shows that he is, and the Sixers have pulled this type of trigger several times before. We all know this front office can jump; a Beal trade would be asking how high.

Tier 2: Scoring guards with flaws

Victor Oladipo is probably a Houston Rocket in name only. By opting for an expiring Oladipo instead of a locked up Caris LeVert in the Harden trade, Houston telegraphed that it doesn't want to take on long-term money. Oladipo is a free agent at the end of the year, and therefore is almost certainly going to be flipped again before the trade deadline.

The 28 year-old guard brings the skill set the Sixers are looking for, although with warts. He's not as sharp a shooter as Beal, nor as precise a playmaker as Harden, and has suffered serious injuries the past few years that may continue to hinder him as he ages. The early season returns have been promising though, as he looks more like the 2017-18 version of himself that earned All-NBA honors. How long he can stay at that level remains to be seen.

One aspect Oladipo thrives in is perimeter defense, a distinct weakness for both Beal and Harden. The Sixers don't need another great defender, but they at least don't have to worry about Oladipo for most matchups. That could be really helpful against Brooklyn, when they'll need all hands on deck defensively without losing much on offense. Oladipo, Green, Simmons and Embiid is a great defensive foundation that's still pretty good at producing points.

Another benefit to an Oladipo trade would be the cost. Simmons is off the table in this type of deal, meaning that it just comes down to the Sixers' picks, young players and salaries. It's a bit tougher to make this trade legal without Danny Green, but it's doable: Mike Scott, Matisse Thybulle, Terrance Ferguson, Tony Bradley and Vincent Poirier combine for $17.8 million, which is just enough to "match" Oladipo's salary of $21 million. Throw in a first round pick and/or swap, and Houston can be content with getting Thybulle and a pick for a guy it wasn't going to keep.

Another scoring guard who may be on the move is Zach LaVine, whose high-flying dunks and skilled scoring plays are a blast to watch. Since becoming the focal point of the Chicago Bulls, LaVine has been an effective and efficient scorer for a team that lacks much firepower behind him.

The problem is that he doesn't provide much else. He's a very limited playmaker and porous defender, not to mention the Bulls have been better when he sits according to net rating (which is basically your team's point differential per 100 possessions) every season in Chicago. Since his time as a Minnesota Timberwolf, LaVine has failed to contribute to winning basketball.

In his defense, LaVine has also never had a great support cast. In Minnesota, he was stuck in the shadows of Andrew Wiggins (!) and young Karl-Anthony Towns, which was a bad situation all around. Once dealt to Chicago, he was coached by Fred Hoiberg, who is back to coaching in college, and Jim Boylen, who was considered one of the worst coaches in the league.

Under Billy Donovan, early results have been awesome. Through 11 games, LaVine is averaging 28.3 points and 4.8 assists per game on a scorching 63.4% true shooting. His playmaking has taken a jump now that he's in a better system and sharing the load with Coby White. Also, despite him still being a horrible defender by most accounts, that end may not be entirely his fault. The Bulls rank 28th in the NBA in defense so far; that's not all on LaVine.

The hyperathletic guard would be a great fit with the Sixers, as he's an efficient scorer, burgeoning playmaker, and would have his defensive warts accounted for. He would simply have to play a role behind two All-Defense nominees, while also being a great offensive option for a team that doesn't have a player like him.

There is also more certainty in LaVine than Oladipo: He's locked up through next season, only 25 years old, and much less injury-prone. LaVine is overall an inferior player to Oladipo, but he would complement Embiid and Simmons better, which is kind of the point here.

That makes the trade package a little bigger too. Along with Thybulle, Scott and the other expirings, it will probably take two first round picks or Tyrese Maxey to get the Bulls talking.

Tier 3: Finishing touches

After the dust settles on the big swings, the Sixers probably need to hit a few singles and doubles to shore up the rotation. The bench unit is intriguing right now, but overall not very good, which is a common theme for non-Embiid lineups.

Dwight Howard isn't completely to blame, but he can't be their only backup 5 when the playoffs roll around. The postseason is about exploiting weaknesses, and Howard would get run off the floor by a team that can deploy five shooters. Someone who can switch defensively and stay on the court offensively needs to be a target, and the quintessential player of that archetype is P.J. Tucker.

During the Rockets' title runs, Tucker was often the man in the middle of their defense. He's one of the sturdiest defenders in the league, able to contain post-ups from even Embiid on occasion, while also being a legitimate 3-point threat, especially in the corners. Despite only standing 6'5", Tucker is the type of center every playoff team needs.

The cost would probably be a first or an intriguing young player, both of which the Sixers can offer. He also fits right into the Sixers' trade exception from the Al Horford deal, so salaries don't have to go Houston's way. Tucker may have serious mileage on those 35 year-old legs, but they're as strong as ever, especially if he can mostly play spot minutes as he warms up for the playoffs.

If Oladipo is the man of the hour, then another shooter should be targeted. There's no guarantee that Furkan Korkmaz or Isaiah Joe can get playoff minutes, and Seth Curry can't play 48 minutes. There should be another elite shooter to open up the offense, and I can't stop thinking about that guy possibly being J.J. Redick.

The 36 year-old sniper has a lot of ties to the Sixers: Embiid would love to have Redick back, and Doc Rivers was instrumental in his ascension with the Los Angeles Clippers. As long as he doesn't have to start, Redick would be a deadly addition to the Sixers' playoff rotation. If he and Embiid can create instant offense in the right matchup, instead of being the staple of the offense, the unit can be potent while maintaining a strong defense.

Redick would probably cost less to acquire than Tucker, though his $13 million salary is harder to reach. The outgoing package depends on what players are left from other trades, but either way there's almost no chance he garners a first round pick on the trade market. Teams would leverage that he's a possible buyout candidate if the New Orleans Pelicans demand more than a few second round picks.

There you have it, folks. Five players, separated by three tiers, that the Sixers could potentially target in their quest for a championship. Plenty of guys can and will be added to Tier 3 before the deadline arrives, and a few may join the ranks of Beal, Oladipo or LaVine if certain teams' seasons go sideways.