The Sixers seemingly tried to do a little bit of everything in the few hours leading up to the NBA’s trade deadline.
Still, there’s obviously a lot left to do.
At his first deadline since agreeing to a contract extension through the 2027-28 season, Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey made four trades.
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The specifics of the second-rounders matter, but they’re not the most important aspect of Morey’s deadline work. He’ll instead be judged by the way Hield performs, how the Sixers navigate the buyout market, and whether the vast options available next offseason yield great results.
As was the case with Jalen McDaniels at last year’s trade deadline, Hield has never appeared in an NBA playoff game. That fact of course does not negate the many valid reasons to think Hield could do quite well in Philadelphia. He can sprint around a variety of off-ball screens, trouble defenses with savvy relocation, hurt opponents off dribble handoffs, and nail all kinds of three-pointers.
Hield averaged 16.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists last year, shooting 42.5 percent from three-point range. His playing time and long-distance percentage have both dropped a tad this season, but he’s surely still in his prime at 31 years old and capable of meaningfully boosting the Sixers’ offense. Regardless, he’ll attract valuable attention from defenses.
Payne is a veteran backup point guard who accumulated plenty of high-pressure reps the last three seasons with the Suns.
Beyond those two pickups, what’s to come?
Once all the trades are official, the Sixers will have just 12 standard contract players. And among the dozen, Joel Embiid (left knee meniscus surgery), Nicolas Batum (left hamstring strain), De’Anthony Melton (lumbar spine stress response) and Robert Covington (left knee bone bruise) are all out. Melton has been running through on-court drills in recent days, but it’s not known yet when he’ll return. Covington, who’d been experiencing intermittent left knee swelling, clearly has a significant injury.
“Not much light at the end of that tunnel,” Sixers head coach Nick Nurse said Sunday.
So, as the buyout market materializes, Nurse has to keep patching together a team that’s slid to seven losses in its last eight games.
With their three open roster spots, the Sixers feel they’ve put themselves in a good position to be competitive and opportunistic on the buyout market, according to a team source. We’ll see whether Nurse is reunited soon with Kyle Lowry, his title-winning, Philadelphia native point guard from the 2018-19 Raptors. Marc Stein reported Lowry is the Sixers’ “top priority in the buyout market if Lowry indeed negotiates his release from Charlotte.” Center is among the other positions it would be nice to supplement.
Back in December, when Embiid’s dominance was guaranteed and his health wasn’t cause for deep concern, Morey indicated he’d aim to strengthen the Sixers’ roster this season around the reigning MVP. The buyout market will be the last window for him to accomplish that.
“We think this year is extremely key,” Morey said at the time. “Obviously we can’t force any sort of trade that might help the team. But if all else is equal, we would like to do something earlier.
“You don’t get many chances to have a player like Joel playing at MVP-plus level, to have a young, up-and-coming player like Tyrese (Maxey) who just continues to improve day by day, and then just a whole bunch of really solid guys like (Batum) playing at a high level and helping us win. … There’s a lot of good indicators that we’ve put ourselves in the spot that we can really win it this year. And so if there’s something this year, we’ll do it this year — because we don’t think this year can be taken for granted.”
Whatever one makes of his 2024 deadline deals, Morey’s upcoming summer should be full of possibilities. Embiid is the only Sixer with a guaranteed contract for the 2024-25 season. Paul Reed’s $7.7 million salary for next year will also become fully guaranteed if the team advances to the second round of the playoffs. That’s it, which means the Sixers will presumably be able to chase stars, offer big-money contracts, and completely transform their team.
However, there's the second half of this season to play first.
A lot still needs to happen — Embiid recovering in time for the postseason; Hield elevating the offense; Morey expertly handling the buyout market — for it to turn out well.