Previewing Sixers' trade deadline, from needs to strategy to essential info


There has been and will be plenty of trade buzz and speculation about what the Sixers might do.

We’ll touch on some of the most important questions facing the team here, as well as essential information with the trade deadline now a week away: 

When is the deadline?

March 25 at 3 p.m. ET. The Sixers have a game that night at 10 p.m. ET in Los Angeles against the Lakers. With three games before the deadline, they sit at 28-13, tied with the Nets for the Eastern Conference’s best record. The Bucks are 1.5 games behind. 

What can we expect from the Sixers?

As always, late surprises are a possibility. Based on his history, Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey will consider every option. Morey thinks in terms of championship probability, but he also won’t focus solely on this season.

At the moment, given where the Sixers stand and which players appear available in trades, the most likely approach for the team seems to be a move or moves that seek to improve the bench. 

That said, Morey should be monitoring the situation with Kyle Lowry and the Raptors. He won’t be the only one watching with interest, either. The Raptors fell to 17-23 Wednesday night with a loss to the Pistons, though Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet returned to Toronto’s lineup after being sidelined because of the NBA’s health and safety protocols. 

In theory, the Sixers could upgrade both their starting lineup and their bench by acquiring Lowry, whose ball handling, passing, three-point shooting and grit would all be desirable qualities. He looks to be the most realistic big-name player the Sixers might land. 

What do the Sixers need most?

We explored that question in detail here, and the answers haven’t changed much. Players who take and make three-pointers, are effective in transition and don’t turn the ball over often could be helpful.

The Sixers have cemented an identity as a sturdy defensive team. Since the beginning of March, they have a 100.9 defensive rating in non-garbage time minutes, per Cleaning the Glass, by far the best in the NBA. They’re been very difficult to score on at the end of close games. 

“I think No. 1, we have some pretty good defensive players,” head coach Doc Rivers said Wednesday. “You start with Ben (Simmons), and then you have Joel (Embiid) and then you have Tobias (Harris)— just those three in particular. And then you have the team concept … it doesn’t matter what the (other) team runs, it matters how we defend every night and how we defend every action. That eliminates the chance of you getting fooled on something. But it really starts with just our basic, solid defense.”

Half-court offense is the Sixers’ most glaring weakness, especially when Embiid is out. The team has averaged 95.1 points per 100 half-court plays, according to Cleaning the Glass, which ranks 21st. 

Ideally, any player the Sixers trade for would improve their half-court offense — through outside shooting, facilitating, speed, smart cutting or some combination of those traits — while being a trustworthy defender in the playoffs. Specialists exist, though, and it wouldn’t be a huge shock if the Sixers added a shooter who’s mediocre defensively. 

Which factors should they consider?

We briefly alluded it to earlier, but the short-term vs. medium-term vs. long-term balance is always tricky in the NBA. 

The fact that this season is being played during the COVID-19 pandemic adds another difficult variable. It might sound trivial, but how many fans will be permitted at Wells Fargo Center during the playoffs? Will the Sixers be fully vaccinated by then? Those are indeed relatively insignificant questions in the big picture, but from the narrow perspective of competitive factors for this season, they matter.

Embiid’s health is paramount for the Sixers. If all goes according to plan, he’ll have rehabbed from his left knee bone bruise and be in good condition well before the postseason. One of his goals is to lead the Sixers to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, but that will be very challenging if the Nets and Bucks keep losing games so rarely. 

The Sixers are learning more about their center options behind Embiid in his absence. Even at 35 years old, it’s apparent Dwight Howard has a lot of energy and production to give. Do the Sixers believe he can be their primary postseason backup center? Can lineups with Simmons at center be a net positive if used in the right situations? The team could answer “Yes” to both of those questions and still think acquiring a stretch big man is worthwhile. 

In Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle and Furkan Korkmaz, the Sixers have relied on three bench players who are 24, 24 and 23 years old, respectively. Are they comfortable rolling with Milton and Thybulle in key playoff roles? Should another team want one of those players or 20-year-old Tyrese Maxey in a trade, the Sixers will have to determine exactly how much they believe their youngsters can develop.

Finally, it's worth noting the Sixers have trade exceptions generated from the James Ennis, Josh Richardson and Al Horford deals. The Horford exception is by far the largest, at nearly $8.2 million. 

Which players have the Sixers been linked to? 

This is not a comprehensive list, but below are a few of the players the Sixers have reportedly had interest in at one stage. P.J. Tucker would’ve been among these players, but Milwaukee traded for him Wednesday night.

How could they improve after the deadline?  

Instead of signing another veteran in free agency, the Sixers held on to most of their taxpayer mid-level exception. They used a small chunk of it to sign second-round pick Isaiah Joe.

This means the Sixers have approximately $4.8 million left to sign another player, so they could make a meaningful move post-deadline. The team would need to have the roster space to do so, but that likely wouldn’t be an obstacle given that Terrance Ferguson and Vincent Poirier have been outside of Rivers’ rotation all season and could be waived if they haven’t already been traded. 

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