Identifying the 76ers options after the Dejounte Murray trade

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Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George (13) shoots a 3-point basket during the first half of Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks, Sunday, April 28, 2024, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)

Take another name off the list of prospective targets for the Philadelphia 76ers. Dejounte Murray, who the Sixers were connected to around the trade deadline last season, has been traded to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for Larry Nance Jr., Dyson Daniels, and two future first-round picks.

This comes after the New York Knicks added Mikal Bridges to their Villanova infinity gauntlet, sending the Brooklyn Nets a godfather offer including five first-round draft picks, a first-round draft swap, a second-round pick, and forward Bojan Bogdanović.

New York then managed to re-sign OG Anunoby to a five-year deal worth $212.5 million, adding further to their talented squad, which will look to dethrone the champion Boston Celtics next season.

With Bridges, Anunoby, and now Murray off the board, it’s time to take a look at the Sixers’ remaining options this offseason.

*Note: LeBron James, considering the odds are virtually zero that he is leaving Los Angeles, is absent from this list.

The latest on Paul George

Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George, left, shoots as Dallas Mavericks forward Maxi Kleber defends during the first half in Game 2 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Despite the apparent plan earlier this offseason to sign Paul George to the max-level contract that the Clippers won’t, it seems free agency may not be in George’s immediate future after all. Taking a page out of his teammate James Harden’s playbook, all signs are pointing toward George opting into his deal in favor of seeking a trade.

This opens up George’s list of prospective suitors to include the Miami Heat, the Golden State Warriors, the Dallas Mavericks, and yes, somehow, the New York Knicks, even after the Mikal Bridges trade. Still, George appears to desire to remain out west, potentially limiting the list of suitors but also eliminating the 76ers.

“I’m not so sure Paul George really wanted to leave the West Coast,” said NBA insider Brian Windhorst on The Hoop Collective podcast. “I think that was something Philadelphia kinda ran into when they kicked the tires there.”

The smoke to Golden State appears to be very much real, and it should be noted that the Sacramento Kings, who are desperate for wing production, cannot be overlooked either.

Windhorst on ESPN’s Get Up not only acknowledged the smoke but also explained why there may be fire.

“Paul George, frankly, wants four years. He wants a full-out max, and there are a number of teams out there, I am told, that are prepared to give it to him, who are prepared to trade for him. One of those teams, potentially, is up the coast in Golden State.”

The Warriors are reportedly prioritizing a Paul George trade over retaining longtime Warrior and future Hall of Famer Klay Thompson, who could potentially become a target for the Sixers in George’s place.

The idea of Philadelphia acquiring Paul George is becoming less and less likely. While that may be disheartening on first read, signing a declining 34-year-old star to a four-year max was already less than ideal. Having to trade away assets and adding a fifth year to that deal makes the move a bit tougher to stomach.

The key component to all of this comes today, June 29, at 5 p.m. Eastern time, the deadline for Paul George to opt into his deal with the Clippers. Should he opt in, it appears likely he will be on the move, just not to Philadelphia.

Philadelphia could make a ‘splash’ in free agency

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Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) passes the ball ahead of Memphis Grizzlies guard John Konchar (46) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Feb. 2, 2024, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

As the options in free agency continue to dry up, one rumor that has grown louder is the possibility of the Sixers signing Klay Thompson this offseason. Once upon a time, this would have been music to the ears of any fanbase. The issue today is that Thompson is not the same player that he once was. Father Time and injuries have slowed down his game, and he has become average at best defensively due to this.

Heavy criticism out of the way; here’s why Thompson is still an attractive free-agent target.

Klay is still a strong, high-volume shooter from three. Connecting on 38.7 percent of his nine attempts per game from deep, Thompson would be the most aggressive shooter from three that the Sixers have seen since JJ Redick, but he still possesses a bigger body that can at least stay in front of his man.

When it comes to the Sixers potentially signing Thompson, it comes down to two factors: money and years. If Klay is insistent on a major payday, for the sake of argument, in the $25 million to $30 million range in terms of average annual value, then anything more than a two-year contract would be difficult to swallow. If he is willing to play ball in terms of salary and agrees to something in the more palatable $20 million to sub-$25 million range, then a third-year should not be a tall order.

Still, Klay Thompson is nearly halfway through his 30s and has dealt with major injury in the past. Philadelphia should be cautious in negotiations and should not rule out additions by trade.

“Settle” for Brandon Ingram

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New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram (14) dunks over Toronto Raptors center Jontay Porter (34) as Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas (17) looks on during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Toronto on Tuesday, March 5, 2024.

Looking toward the trade market, the top name available name for the 76ers appears to be Brandon Ingram, at least for the moment.

While an imperfect player who far too easily falls in love with his own midrange game, Ingram offers potentially the most future value of the available options.

Averaging 23.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.2 assists over the past five seasons with the New Orleans Pelicans. While he took a bit of a step back last season, he’s also had a bit of a back-and-forth role trying to find his place between Zion Williamson and Trey Murphy III, who seemingly has successfully supplanted him.

With a potentially massive payday in Ingram’s new future, the Pelicans, who have never paid the luxury tax in their franchise’s history, have to effectively decide between crossing the tax threshold or deciding between paying Ingram or the more affordable Murphy. That, matched with his comparatively weak performance in 2024, may lead to the asking price being a bit more palatable than one might have initially expected.

Between the 16th pick in the 2024 NBA Draft, a future first, and either a pick swap or a second future first, Philadelphia could likely escape this deal without committing the entire future of their assets.

The Dejounte Murray trade likely expedites the trade process for Ingram, as the Pelicans are now even closer to the luxury tax and are hard-capped at the first apron. New Orleans has not once paid the tax, and it’s difficult to expect them to start now.

As they approach free agency with less than $10 million between themselves and the tax, a secondary move is likely on the horizon.

Trade for and extend Jimmy Butler

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Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, left, talks with Miami Heat’s Jimmy Butler following an NBA basketball play-in tournament game Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Philadelphia. The 76ers won 105-104. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

The smoke here appears to be one-sided. The 76ers are interested in Butler, and Butler is interested in getting paid—preferably by the Miami Heat. The Heat, meanwhile, are not interested in trading Butler, a key component to this whole concept.

As Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer put it,

“Sources continue to say the Sixers plan to give Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler a maximum-salary extension if they can acquire him in a trade. But as of Tuesday, a source said that was unlikely because of Miami’s unwillingness to part ways with the six-time All-Star who wants a contract extension this summer.”

While Philadelphia continues to make it known that they’re ready and willing to extend Butler, and his camp will continue to use those rumors, Miami has been consistent in their desire to retain Butler, barring an opportunity to land a different, perceivable better star.

Jimmy’s return to Philly would be a fun story, but one that likely would not age as well as people with graduation goggles remember his initial tenure with the team.

Try to convince Danny Ainge to trade Lauri Markkanen

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Utah Jazz’s Lauri Markkanen, left, goes up for a dunk as Philadelphia 76ers’ Nicolas Batum watches during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

The name I have most frequently shut down to those who have asked is that of Lauri Markkanen. The reason I have continually done so is simple.

While the 27-year-old sharpshooter is a picture-perfect fit for the Philadelphia 76ers, Utah Jazz president of basketball operations, Danny Ainge, has him locked away in a tall tower as if he were in a Grimm fairy tale. By that, I, of course, mean that Ainge believes Markkanen to be a part of the team’s competitive surely, which surely will begin any year now.

Could the 76ers offer their own godfather package for Markkenan as the Knicks did for Bridges? Potentially, but the Knicks had the benefit of Mikal Bridges softly demanding a trade there, a luxury the Sixers do not have from any potential additions.

Still, if the opportunity arises, it is perhaps the 76ers’ best bet despite the expected cost. Seven-footers, who also happen to be high-volume sharpshooters, do not grow on trees. Markkanen would also perfectly blend the lines between the primes of Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey.

A bit of a non-update on Markkanen: Adrian Wojnarowski spoke on his potential availability Saturday, confirming that the Jazz would prefer to keep him but that teams are continuing to aggressively pursue the sharpshooter.

Rehab projects

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Philadelphia 76ers forward Danuel House Jr., center, battles Golden State Warriors forwards Andrew Wiggins (22) and Trayce Jackson-Davis, right, for possession during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/D. Ross Cameron)

Here comes the most depressing section of these discussions. If Philadelphia does not hit the mark on any of their top targets, the idea of adding a potential rehab project, should the 76ers receive compensation to do so, is not entirely off the table.

Earlier this offseason, Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports reported that the 76ers might consider taking back the undesirable salaries of once-desirable players.

“Striking out on a big-time wing would also leave the door open for Philadelphia to consider taking back a player such as Zach LaVine, sources said, in the event Chicago or another team is willing to attach draft capital to move off salary.”

Other names who fit the concept of LaVine, that being a once-touted player the 76ers could effectively be paid to acquire—if not at least accept into open space—include Andrew Wiggins and John Collins.

The Ringer’s Logan Murdock reported that Wiggins may not be longed for Golden State:

“League sources believe Andrew Wiggins, who struggled to find a consistent role last season, will be aggressively dangled in trade talks.”

The Warriors are in a precarious spot, financially speaking, roughly $2.5 million below the first apron. Unloading Wiggins and receiving a sizable trade exception may be the best result they can hope for. Chris Paul’s $30 million deal remains unguaranteed with a deadline of June 28, but the preference appears to be trading Paul, as opposed to simply cutting ties with the future Hall of Famer.

Collins’ future in Utah remains in question, particularly considering recent rumors connect the Jazz to former Sixer Tobias Harris.

It’s far from Philadelphia’s preferred outcome, but it’s better than the team simply sitting on its hands…right?…

If all else fails…send out the ballon deals

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Denver Nuggets guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, right, reacts after making a 3-point basket against the Miami Heat during the second half of Game 1 of basketball’s NBA Finals, Thursday, June 1, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

In that same article by Jake Fischer, it is mentioned that the 76ers could also pursue a one-plus-one deal at an inflated value, sometimes referred to as a “balloon” contract.

“The Sixers, sources said, took note of Indiana’s two-year splurge for Bruce Brown that then became the biggest salary headed back to Toronto in exchange for Siakam. Veteran wings like Klay Thompson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope would fall on the Sixers’ list of targets for similar one-plus-one contracts, sources said.”

Potential targets include Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Caleb Martin, and Naji Marshall, among others. Buddy Hield and Kelly Oubre, the 76ers’ own pending free agents, could also be re-signed in a similar way.

Caldwell-Pope officially declined his player option with the Denver Nuggets Thursday night and is expected to take offers from suitors including the Dallas Mavericks, the Orlando Magic, and the Philadephai 76ers. A return to Denver is not out of the question either.

Could the 76ers opt for secret option C?

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Washington Wizards’ Corey Kispert, left, goes up for a shot past Philadelphia 76ers’ Kelly Oubre Jr. during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Nov. 6, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

One option that has not often been mentioned is pursuing young budding players with starter upside. Several players who are set to enter restricted free agency next season could not only play a role in the team’s title pursuit this season but also return for seasons to come.

Many of these players boast legitimate two-way potential, something Philadelphia needs in bunches. Among those names are Corey Kispert, Moses Moody, and Santi Aldama. While the price on all may not be cheap, potentially involving as much as the 16th pick in Wednesday’s draft, to have a young, controllable player who is far closer to contributing than most of the rookies in the 2024 draft class would be of value to the 76ers, if the price is right.

Quentin Grimes was among these names, but the Dallas Mavericks beat teams to the punch, acquiring him in exchange for Tim Hardaway Jr. and three second-round picks.

Deciding where Philadelphia goes from here is no easy task, but it’s the task Daryl Morey is paid to do. His tenure so far in Philadelphia has been a bit of a mixed bag, but the opportunity to right the ship still presents itself. Still, should this not go in a manner that seizes the opportunity of Joel Embiid’s championship window, drastic change could very well lie in the future for the Philadelphia 76ers.