Do the Lakers or the Clippers have a brighter future? The fact that that is even a question speaks volumes to Clippers management and how they’ve been able to transition away from the Lob City era. The Lakers just signed one of the best players of all time, and could potentially trade for one of the most talented players in the game. And yet, you could still make a case (maybe not a great case, but a case), that the Clippers are now better positioned for the future. In case you couldn’t tell, we’re bullish on this trade from the Clippers’ perspective. But before diving into our grades, let’s recap the deal itself:
76ers Receive: Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, and Mike Scott
Clippers Receive: Landry Shamet, Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, 2020 first round pick (from PHI), 2021 first round pick (from MIA), and 2021 and 2023 second round picks
Let’s start with the Clippers, who managed to pull off a truly remarkable feat. Just over a year ago, they had Blake Griffin signed to a massive contract that had the potential of becoming a cap-clogging nightmare. They somehow managed to parlay Griffin into two players picked in last year’s first round (Shamet and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander), two future first round picks, and in the process they’ve likely saved their own 2019 first rounder (which will go to Boston if the Clippers make the playoffs). They effectively traded Griffin for five first rounders. We can only begin to imagine how jealous Dell Demps must be.
Their spectacular asset collection obviously comes at a cost, as this trade is a significant blow to their chances of making the playoffs. But as detailed above, that might not be a bad thing as missing the playoffs will allow them to keep their pick. And really, making the playoffs would have just meant being swept in the first round by the Warriors. Now for some teams, just making the playoff is important, but the Clippers aren’t one of those teams. They’re fresh off a run of making the playoffs six straight years from 2012 to 2017, and Steve Ballmer definitely isn’t worried about getting some additional playoff revenue.
The most interesting element of this deal is how it affects the Clippers’ approach to free agency this summer. Their plan always seemed to be to go after big stars like Kawhi and KD, with Harris serving as a contingency plan. With Harris now gone, the Clippers should be even more committed to their big name hunting. Now armed with more assets, an Anthony Davis trade may also be possible this summer, or if that fails at least the Clippers will be able to add young, cost-controlled pieces around whatever superstar(s) they’re able to reel in. And if they strike out? The Clippers will still have a solid team, no bad contracts, and a lot of future assets. No matter what happens, the future looks bright for LA’s other team.
Clippers Grade: A
Looking at this deal from the Clippers’ perspective is almost boring, as it’s just a smart, forward-thinking move. As for Philadelphia, this is a truly fascinating gamble. Earlier in the season they sacrificed a significant part of their depth to upgrade their Big Two into a Big Three and add Jimmy Butler. Now they’ve taken it one step further and have a Big Four, but with even less depth behind them.
In terms of pure talent, being able to put out a lineup of Embiid, Simmons, Butler, Harris, and JJ Redick puts the Sixers above every other team in the league, save the Warriors. Sure, there are some positional concerns with that group, but from a talent standpoint they are tough to beat. Unfortunately, playing your starters 48 minutes a night isn’t a viable strategy in the NBA. Benches do get shorter in the playoffs, but we’ll still be seeing a lot more of Corey Brewer, Furkan Korkmaz, and Mike Scott than we really should. It seems like Philly’s strategy is to dominate for 40 minutes a night, and then hope their reserves don’t get beaten too badly in the remaining 8. This will almost certainly be enough to get out of the first round, but against the rest of the East’s elite (Bucks, Celtics, and Raptors) it could spell trouble for the Sixers.
Now obviously the Sixers are going to stagger the minutes of their four and a half stars, and are likely to be very active in the buy-out market to hopefully add reinforcements to their bench. So let’s shift focus to the price that was paid, which as we said was effectively three first-round picks. That’s a lot to give up for a three-month rental who isn’t even an All-Star (although had he played in the East all year, he might have been one). If you make this type of move, you basically need to make the Finals or it should be considered a failure. And while the Sixers definitely improved their chances of losing to the Warriors in June, it’s still far from a sure thing.
Which takes us to the summer, when Philly will now have both Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris looking for new max or near-max deals. If Philly offers both players the contracts they are after, and it seems likely that they will, then they will be paying them $60M-$65M combined starting next season. By the end of their deals, that number will be closer to $80M. Call us crazy, but the idea of paying a 30-year-old Tobias Harris and a 33-year-old Jimmy Butler a combined $80M in 2022 doesn’t get us particularly excited about the future in Philly. Add in Embiid’s deal and Simmons’ impending max extension, and the Sixers will likely be in luxury tax hell for at least the next several seasons. And what do teams deep into the luxury tax need to help fill out their rosters? Young, cheap players – you know, like the ones you can get with first-round picks.
This trade signals the official end of The Process. For the first time in what feels like forever, the Sixers have more future picks going out than coming in. Philly has finally gone all-in, and converted its future assets to present value. The question now is whether their present is enough to win a championship, because if it’s not, then why did Sam Hinkie even bother?
76ers Grade: C