Now that the trade deadline has come and gone, the 76ers at least have some clarity in not having to deal with constant trade rumors. The fanbase might still feel grim after learning that the team traded Nerlens Noel to the Mavericks, many believing Bryan Colangelo settled for a very low ball offer and effectively overplayed his hand against trade suitors.
I spoke with fellow Hashtag Basketball 76ers writer Tyler Watts in an email chain about the trade and subsequent events in an attempt to talk myself off the proverbial ledge. Here was a bit of our conversation:
Christmas: OK, so being more than 12 hours removed from the 76ers trading Nerlens Noel to the Dallas Mavericks for basically Justin Anderson and two second-round picks disguised as a top 18 protected 2017 first-round draft pick, I have calmed down a little bit to where we can hopefully have an objective conversation breaking down the trade. First, do you see ANY positives that can come out of this trade? We might as well try and find positives. (OK, maybe I'm still a little bit peeved about the trade.)
Watts: Well, I think the only positive of this trade was that it freed up playing time for their team of the future. I have said since I first saw Jahil Okafor play that he is best suited to be a backup center in the Enes Kanter mold who comes off the bench and uses his offensive talents to get buckets in a hurry. Now, you have a defined starting center in Joel Embiid and a defined back-up in Okafor. If you view the trade through that lens, it is getting something from nothing.
Now in real world terms, was it a good haul for a player of Noel's talent and pedigree? The answer is an emphatic no, but it was probably the best offer they received. I think they made a good move in trading away Ersan Ilyasova and opening up the front court minutes for Dario Saric. Overall, I believe the deadline was the 76ers making moves they thought they needed to make to keep a harmonious locker room, and continue to build into a contender.
Did you see it differently? What were your thoughts on the Ilyasova deal?
Christmas: I do see it a little bit differently. I think if you peel back all the layers of this trade (and there are a lot of layers), it comes down to Colangelo choosing the wrong center, even though I wasn't convinced Colangelo valued Noel as much as the coaching staff or fans ever since he snaked his way into the organization. Okafor is a great kid; he has handled this whole situation well, and he is a dynamite post scorer, but even when he comes off the bench he is a detriment to the team (-22 net rating when he is on the court), while Noel is an elite defensive player, rim runner and does so many other little things better than Okafor outside of post scoring. I know Noel would have commanded a lot of money as a restricted free agent, but as I wrote about before, the 76ers had the cap room to sign Noel and trade his contract a few years down the line. This trade felt like a panic move, and the value Colangelo got back doesn't match Noel's value playing on the court for the 76ers. Colangelo would have been better off standing pat or trading Okafor first. I think the center logjam more than anything was about Okafor and his lack of fit with this particular team; I still think he'll have a long NBA career, but keeping Noel would've kept the 76ers on a path to contention via building an elite defense. If the organization didn't want to pay Noel a large amount of money, why was the return in this trade bad? It makes no sense.
I do like the Illysova trade, however. He always seemed like a trade candidate from the moment the team got him. I think it's great for Saric and his development, as he has had the best month of his rookie season. The thing about this trade is that I got lulled to sleep thinking Colangelo figured it out, but of course, the gut punch followed.
The question now is, do you think Okafor will be traded this summer?
Watts: I am with you 100 percent in the fact that Noel is a better player. Noel is a much more valuable player with defensive skills few centers have. The 76ers were never going to get good value for either player in a trade, which is something I touched on in my trade rumors piece. It was simple supply and demand. The 76ers had too much supply (big men assets), so it drove down the price it could receive in return. Okafor is a player that needs a defensive power forward played with him, so he can do a lot of the dirty work and Okafor can score and rebound. It was not a great move by the 6ers, but it was the best move for a team that felt pressured to make a move.
It is worth mentioning that Noel was probably not going to be happy playing second fiddle to Joel Embiid and was outspoken against the organization for drafting so many fives. That probably played a role in moving him instead of Okafor as well.
I'll second all your thoughts on the Ilyasova trade. The team did well there.
Well, I think now they are comfortable playing out two scenarios: 1) Embiid is the primary center with Okafor playing the remaining minutes. If Okafor is content being a reserve and does not cause waves in the organization, then this is the scenario I believe the 6ers want. 2) It is Embiid and Richaun Holmes because Okafor believes he is a star and demands to start or be moved. Then, the organization's hand gets forced, and they move him. I think they have the luxury of getting what they want in return for Okafor as they cleared their glut of centers.
Do you think Okafor is definitely on his way out of town? Do you see Holmes as the future reserve five behind Embiid?
Christmas: I agree that the 76ers had a glut of big men in an already over-saturated market, but Colangelo went against his comments by stating, "I won't make a bad trade," and then following it up a month later with a bad trade. Sometimes the best deals are the ones you don't make, especially when the decision, at least to me, is so simple.
It's also worth mentioning — and it's a point I failed to mention earlier — that I think Okafor will be moved this summer around the draft, and he should be. Then again, I thought that last summer too so who knows. Overall, I don't believe that this trade damages the future in the long run because Embiid, Simmons and a vast trove of assets are still around. I've just got to hope Colangelo doesn't have another month-long stretch like this when it comes time to decide what to do with those assets to supplement the Embiid/Simmons/2017 pick core.
I also think Holmes has a future as a decent to even good backup center, though I wish some fans would stop saying he can do what Noel does. He doesn't and can't. He chases every block and still gets lost on defensive rotations. He is a good bench player and deserves minutes, but just because Holmes can shoot better than Noel and has a ridiculously cheaper contract doesn't mean he is the better player.
What do you think?
Watts: I agree with everything you said there. People quickly forget that Embiid didn't play for two seasons and now has missed a chunk of this season. That is a whole other can of worms, though. I agree Colangelo made a trade he shouldn't have made, and one Sam Hinkie would never have done. Hopefully, he knows something we don't about Anderson and the trade looks better in a few years time.
I agree with everything you said on Holmes, too, and that is exactly why I think if you view Holmes as a future 20-minute-a-night player or more, he needs to play. He does struggle with defensive assignments, so he needs court time to develop.
I do not think anyone thinks Holmes is a better player than Noel, but I believe Colangelo made the decision that Noel was the piece he didn't want moving forward for some amount of reasons. I do not agree with it. I believe Noel is a starting center and defensive anchor for a playoff team in the future, but we are in this boat now.
Is there any way this trade looks better in the future?
Christmas: I mean, you really don't ever know with sports, but outside of drafting our version of a Manu Ginobili with the 2017 second-rounder (or the other second-rounder, which is actually in 2020, not 2018) and Anderson developing into an athletic version of Robert Covington, I think this trade will not look any better down the road. It's unfortunate because I like Anderson. He plays hard, and I'm not just giving the old sports cliché either; he plays his ass off when he gets minutes, which is a trait Sixer fans fall in love with. However, he will be forever known as the player we traded Noel for.
Last question and it's a two-parter: What's your reaction to Simmons being officially ruled out for the rest of the year? Part two, and this might be because I have my Hinkie-tinted glasses on: Do you think anyone in the national media will criticize Colangelo for effectively stealth tanking? If this was Hinkie, I'm pretty positive we'd see an outcry from media.
Watts: Not entirely surprised. The 76ers have made this move in the past, and I can see the reasoning. The fans lose out on seeing a great talent play basketball, but he is young and should be back next season healthy and ready to rock.
I don't think Colangelo will take any flack for this move. Hinkie took tanking to the extreme, and it looks like it might pay off, but that also made him a martyr for the cause. Do you see it differently?
Christmas: No, I agree 100 percent. Colangelo won't get any negative press, even though he is pretty much doing what the Lakers did last year. Ultimately, it will land us a top three pick from a loaded draft class, fan baseso we will forget about this. The Simmons injury wasn't entirely surprising; I just wish the front office was honest with fans from the jump. This has just been a tough month from the front office, and I feel like a large sectionfanbaseis uneasy at the moment.