The NBA trade deadline is just five days away, and contending teams are ramping up their efforts to bolster their rosters for a playoff run. The Philadelphia 76ers find themselves in a very interesting position; they currently own the third seed in the Eastern Conference, and have one of the most talented starting lineups in the league.
However, they lack solid depth, and could use just one more high quality player. With the New Orleans Pelicans looking to blow things up after Anthony Davis announced his intentions to leave the team next season, Philly could take advantage and add two players who would drastically improve their roster, and give them the beginnings of a rotation that would have the best shot of anyone at slowing down the Golden State Warriors.
Before we look into a specific trade, we must first determine which players are untouchable. Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Jimmy Butler make up this category. The rest of the team should be available for the right price, but the Sixers should attempt to keep J.J. Redick, Wilson Chandler, T.J. McConnell, Mike Muscala, Zhaire Smith, and Landry Shamet, if possible. However, if Philadelphia wants to add a real difference-maker, they will have to part with more than one of these players.
So what do the 76ers need? A starting-caliber stretch-4 and another scoring guard. The Pelicans can provide both. At 6’10” 250lbs, Nikola Mirotic is an excellent rebounder and is shooting 37% from beyond the arc on 7.2 attempts per game. He would replace Wilson Chandler in the starting lineup and give Philly the floor spacing they are searching for.
Rumors are linking Mirotic to the Sixers, and for good reason. He is an excellent fit and would help the team during their playoff push, as well as free up $12.5 million in cap space after the season.
The centerpiece of this trade is Jrue Holiday, arguably the best defensive guard in the NBA. Holiday is an excellent ball-handler and can play either back-court spot extremely well. He can run an offense as the primary scorer and distributor, or he can function well without the ball. He spent his first four seasons with the 76ers, making an All-Star team, but he never really came into his own until the past few seasons with the Pelicans. Holiday is an exceptional player, and by adding him, Philadelphia will have created a starting lineup that would rival even the Warriors.
The problem with acquiring Holiday and Mirotic is the cost. Mirotic alone won’t be hard to obtain, but Holiday’s salary is nearly $26 million this season. He is worth every penny, but his pricetag makes is difficult to work out a trade, as the 76ers don’t have a large contract they can ship out. It would require Philly to essentially gut their already weak bench, which just took a major hit with Chandler’s injury. However, if the last four Finals have taught us anything, it’s that a deep bench isn’t the best way to beat Golden State. Obviously having a seven-man rotation isn’t smart, but the playoff rotation doesn’t have to be 12 players deep either.
PHI receives: SG Jrue Holiday, PF Nikola Mirotic
NOP receives: PG Markelle Fultz, PG Landry Shamet, SF Wilson Chandler, PF Mike Muscala, PF Jonah Bolden, C Justin Patton, PHI 2019 first-round pick
At first, it may appear that the Sixers are practically stealing Holiday and Mirotic. However, a closer look reveals that the Pelicans should be very interested this deal or one very similar. Not only are they receiving a a draft pick, they are getting value for a player they would otherwise watch sign elsewhere in the offseason for nothing, and they are getting rid of Holiday’s large contract, something a small-market team would rather not pay during a rebuild.
Chandler and Muscala will be free agents after this season, opening up cap space and saving New Orleans money. Bolden and Shamet are young players with potential, with Shamet already showing he deserves to be a significant part of a rotation. And Fultz is the wildcard; Philly doesn’t have to pay him his $10 million salary next season, instead using that money to actually help the team on the court.
No one knows how the Fultz situation will play out. He may never play again, he could return and be completely ineffective, or he could regain the form that made him the first overall pick in 2017 and become an All-Star. In a low-pressure situation, Fultz will be able to heal completely and shake the rust off, without being relied upon to play a large role on a championship contender. It’s best for Fultz and the 76ers that the two sides go their separate ways, and New Orleans presents a great landing spot.
Speaking of championship contenders, that’s exactly what the 76ers will be after this trade. A starting lineup of Simmons, Holiday, Butler, Mirotic, and Embiid combines floor spacing, slashing, passing, and defense, all at a high level. They can match up with the Warriors’ physical presence and play style. With Redick and McConnell off the bench, the backcourt is mostly set.
The rest of the team will be very weak, although that could be fixed by taking advantage of the buyout market. If Philadelphia can land one or both of DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews, their bench will be solid. If young players like Furkan Korkmaz and Zhaire Smith can prove themselves worthy of a playoff role, things will look even better. LeBron James is clearly the best player that Golden State has faced during their dynasty, but the 76ers with Holiday, Mirotic, and a buyout or two would be the best team to challenge the Warriors.
It won’t be cheap, and there is an argument to be made that the bench would be too thin after a trade, but Philadelphia adding Jrue Holiday and Nikola Mirotic should strike fear into the hearts of Golden State. If the two teams were to meet in the NBA Finals, it would be the best series since the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead back in 2016.
This may very well be the last year that Golden State’s super core is intact, and if the 76ers can swing this trade, the Warriors may end their run with a Finals loss.