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Sixers Poised for Conference Contention Following Trade Deadline

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It’s official: the Philadelphia 76ers are in win-now mode.

In the whirlwind that is the NBA trade deadline, the Sixers acquired Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic and James Ennis among many others. All it cost were a few picks, a dismal Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, a promising rookie in Landry Shamet, and former number one overall pick Markelle Fultz. The only question now is: will it work? To that, the answer is yes and no.

Sixers Desperately Needed Depth

Heading into the deadline, the Sixers had one thing on their mind: depth. The Jimmy Butler trade decimated their bench and they needed depth—specifically at the wing positions—to be able to compete with the Raptors, Bucks and Celtics. As of February 2nd, the Sixers’ bench ranked 23rd in scoring, 20th in efficiency and 22nd in defensive efficiency.  

So what moves did Sixers GM Elton Brand make to remedy these concerns? Very little. Instead, Brand strengthened their starting lineup with Harris, found Joel Embiid’s back up in Marjanovic and brought an underwhelming end to the Fultz saga.

The Process Adds Another Star

The potential is obviously there. Harris is having a career year, averaging 20.9 points (50% FG, 43% 3Pt), 7.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists over 34.6 minutes per game. On top of that, he’s converting catch-and-shoot threes at a better clip than Klay Thompson, Devin Booker and Khris Middleton.

There’s just one big issue. After being the focal point of the Los Angeles Clippers‘ offense, can Harris adjust to being a lesser option? And, for the sake of argument, let’s say he does, but the Sixers lose in the Eastern Conference Finals. Is he willing to commit to five more years of being that fourth option? These are both tough questions, but Sixers fans can take solace in their front office’s confidence that they’ll be able to keep this core together, according to Woj.

The acquisition of Marjanovic, however, is more promising. Although a backup center should not have been high on the Sixers’ list of needs, he brings a different element to the Sixers’ bench. Aside from being a dance machine, the 7’3” center’s per-36 numbers are astounding: 23.2 points (60% FG) and 14.6 rebounds. Granted, he doesn’t offer much on the defensive end, however. Utilizing him in contrast with the more athletic and better shooting Jonah Bolden will give head coach Brett Brown multiple options come postseason. Considering the Sixers’ bench lacked scoring, Marjanovic will be a welcomed addition to their second unit.

Disappointing Ending to the Fultz Era

As for the end to the Fultz’s tenure in Philly, it was about time Brand tied up that lose end. Fultz eventually will be back to that otherworldly talent his collegiate highlight tape made him out to be. The only issue is the Sixers couldn’t wait for that to transpire. Trading for Butler had exponentially sped up the Sixers championship timeline. Coupled with Fultz’s injury history, trading the former number one overall pick only became more tempting.

The return, on the other hand, was rather meh. In exchange for Fultz, the Sixers received Jonathon Simmons, a 2020 first round pick (via Oklahoma City) as well as a future second round pick. Simmons is a solid defender who hits corner threes at a slightly above average rate of 36.3%. The 2020 pick was actually the Sixers’ to begin with. On the bright side, clearing Fultz’s contract makes signing both Harris and Butler even more realistic.

Can it Work?

This all amounts to this one giant question mark for the Sixers. Sure, Philly’s starting lineup looks significantly better—they’re the only team with five starters averaging over 15 points per game. Their wing rotation definitely improved with the addition of Simmons and Ennis who’s a solid three-point shooter (36.3%) and, at 6’7”, can guard the two through four.

The success of these trades ultimately hinge on Harris’s ability to quickly assimilate to Brown’s offense. This is easier said than done. While there surely had to be better wing options than Simmons and Ennis, hypotheticals do no good at this point. The playoffs are just are around the corner and Brown still has to figure out how to mesh five new players into his system without upsetting the likes of Butler, Embiid and Ben Simmons.

Plus, the Sixers aren’t the only team who made moves at the deadline. The Raptors added Marc Gasol, a three time all-star and former defensive player of the year. The Bucks, conversely, gave Giannis Antetokounmpo yet another weapon in Nikola Mirotic. For the first time in years, the Eastern Conference will be must watch TV. The Sixers got better, but so did everybody else. Only time will tell if the moves were worth it.

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About C. Isaiah Smalls II

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