While the Sixers obviously haven’t made it public, barring a championship, the team will likely undergo a drastic shakeup for the third year in a row this offseason.
The Al Horford experiment simple hasn’t worked out though his best days as a Sixer may still be ahead of us. The reason for that is two-fold. First, Horford, unfortunately, has been such a bad fit so far, there’s really nowhere to go but up. Second, Horford is most likely to come off the bench for a while like he did before the season was suspended. While he’s been a much better fit in that role, $27 million is quite the price tag for a backup.
The Sixers are likely to do whatever they can to move on from Horford this offseason but many feel, between his age and his contract, that the Sixers will have to give up assets just to get him off the books. Specifically, it’s been often mentioned that the Sixers will have to add a first-round pick just to get the conversation started.
Obviously the Sixers need as many assets as they can since the team has blown through Sam Hinkie’s assets like they had a bad trip to Vegas. Trading a first-round pick just to move a player who, while expensive, can still contribute to a contender, is not the type of move a forward-thinking organization makes.
Many of the teams that might consider Horford might insist on that pick (Chicago, Cleveland, Charlotte, Detroit, Golden State). All this means is that the Sixers will have to have to target the few teams that would be willing (or desperate) to trade for Horford without demanding draft capital. By all accounts, I can identify three teams that might be the perfect fit.
It’s been well-documented that the Sacramento Kings were keen on adding Horford this past offseason. The Kings have plenty of young talent but have absolutely no clue how to use them. The team is far from a free agent destination and are desperate enough to pay anything for a quality vet as shown by the $25 million contract they handed Trevor Ariza.
A team so desperate that has no direction like the Kings are the perfect team to finesse and anyone who takes advantage of that is a genius. The Sixers may not have the same level of success as last time but they could still come out this trading with a couple of role players while keeping their lone first-round pick.
Sacramento Receives: Al Horford and Mike Scott
Philadelphia Receives: Harrison Barnes, Cory Joseph, and the Kings 2021 second round pick.
The Sixers wouldn’t save any money here but they would reallocate it to positions of need. In Barnes, the team would have a switchable 3&D wing to be their new starting Small Forward. Joseph meanwhile would be a competent backup Point Guard while they wait for whomever they draft to develop.
This all depends on how this post-season goes. At the trade deadline, the Rockets made the cognitive decision to completely erase the Center position from their team. Time will tell how this will look but knowing playoff basketball I think it’s safe to say “outlook not so good”.
When the team eventually gets fed up with Jeff Green and Bruno Caboclo at Center, they will work quickly to find one that fits their game. As a floor-spacing PnR specialist, Al Horford will be an attractive solution. His presence would instantly impact the Rockets’ defense that ranks 15th out of the current 16 playoff teams.
Houston Receives: Al Horford, Furkan Korkmaz, and a second round pick (NY Knicks)
Philadelphia Receives: Eric Gordon and PJ Tucker
The Sixers would save roughly $10 million after the 2020-21 season and on top of that, Gordon and Tucker are again better fits than Horford. Tucker is the quintessential role player for any NBA contender. He can defend 2-5 and knock down threes at an above-average rate. The issue is the love the city of Houston and Tucker share. It’s hard to imagine Tucker finishing his career with any other team and the Rockets will likely remain loyal unless the hand is forced.
Gordon meanwhile would fit either as the starting shooting guard or the first man off the bench. His shooting took a major dip this past season (31.9% from three) but he’s a career 37% from deep and can easily return to those numbers. He’s guaranteed to see a smaller usage rate in Philly which could be the change he needs to find his shot.
The Dallas Mavericks are in a tough spot. They are a fringe finals contender and are absolutely devoid of future assets. They have a clear need for a Center but that lack of assets essentially rules out Myles Turner and Rudy Gobert. The Mavericks may have a shot at signing Serge Ibaka or Marc Gasol if they were to take severe pay cuts but both are comfortable in Toronto and likely want more money than the Mavericks can offer .
Between the lack of future assets and the lack of money, the Mavericks may be forced to rely on the trade market for an inexpensive option like Al Horford.
Dallas Receives: Al Horford, Furkan Korkmaz, and a 2023 second round pick (most favorable Atlanta, Brooklyn, or Charlotte)
Philadelphia Receives: Dwight Powell, Delon Wright, and Justin Jackson
The Sixers would finally find their backup Center in Dwight Powell, a bouncy Center that could give Embiid a break and even be a nice rim-running option for Ben Simmons. Powell isn’t much of a floor spacer though he will keep the defense honest. He’s taken at least one three per game over the past four seasons.
Wright would be the perfect guard behind Simmons. He can defend, facilitate, and even shoot a bit. Whether playing on or off-ball, Wright can help on both ends of the court. He shot 38.5% from three which is tied for a career-high but hopefully is something to build on from here.
Justin Jackson hasn’t had a particularly exciting career but he has the potential to be a rotational 3&D wing. He had a pretty successful start to his career in Dallas shooting 37.2% from three after being traded by Sacramento but fell back to earth this season. He could still be an interesting young player to develop.
The Sixers will obviously have to give up some value, hence trading Korkmaz, but they shouldn’t lose sleep over that decision. Teams and fans rarely like to trade young, cheap, homegrown talent but Korkmaz will be a free agent after the 2020-21 season and likely cost more than the Sixers would like to pay to retain him. Trading Korkmaz this season is something to consider whether or not Horford is a part of the deal.
The Sixers have a path to trading Horford and it’s not necessary that they give up a first. While they may have many more suitors if they did, the value of that pick outweighs the need to move him. The Sixers need to retain their first-round picks and make the most of them build a team for a Finals run. As desperate as the Sixers are to “win now”, their stars are still so young. They can’t mortgage their future, even to move off Horford’s contract.
By reaching out to the right teams, the Sixers have a chance to solve a multitude of issues from Horford’s contract, to getting younger, to adding depth. This offseason will be crucial and the Sixers need to approach it the right way.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports