The Sixers, who won a playoff series last season, have made a second, win-now, look-at-us move this season. Cool.
They might, indeed, win a few more games right now. They might win a playoff series again this spring, as they did last spring. But don’t expect much more than a small step forward; maybe a seven-game loss in the second round instead of a five-game dissection. Not even with the arrival of versatile power forward Tobias Harris from the Clippers on Wednesday morning. He’ll be yoked with small forward Jimmy Butler, still glowing from his hyped arrival in November.
They’re not enough. Not the way the league is configured right now. But that configuration will change.
It might not be immediate, but Harris’ arrival could result in major, favorable consequences for the Sixers, intended or otherwise.
It’s a pleasant thought, and it’s not impossible, but it’s simply too much to ask for an Eastern Conference Final at the Wells Fargo Center in May. The Sixers have only 28 games remaining in which to incorporate Harris and to reconfigure their bench. They’re also the current No. 5 seed, which means they have a decent chance of playing the Celtics in the first round (they’re tied for third). That would end badly. Again.
For now, we’re still betting on Kyrie, Kawhi, and the Freak. However, if the cards fall right over the next few months, expect the Sixers to make a serious title run next season.
Not at the Eastern Conference title.
The NBA title.
This assumes they sign either Harris or fellow free-agent-to-be Butler, or both, to maximum-salary or near-max extensions. That’s not a far-fetched assumption. The Sixers wouldn’t have rented either of them if they didn’t think they could retain one, if not both, to complement their King-and-Prince pairing of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The trade Thursday of dead-weight guard Markelle Fultz frees more than $9 million to throw at Butler and Harris.
» LIVE UPDATES: NBA trade deadline news and rumors
If that assumption comes to pass, then, a year from now, the Hump Day trade could be the catalyst that propels the Sixers toward their first title since 1983. That would be at least two years ahead of the schedule they were on two weeks ago — the schedule of Ben Simmons’ Shooting Evolution.
First, the trade might, indeed, strengthen the Sixers enough to topple Toronto. That, logically, further increases the likelihood that Kawhi Leonard leaves Canada via free agency and heads to Los Angeles — possibly to the Clippers, who now will have vast amounts of cap space and cash to spend. Yes, Leonard would lose money by leaving Canada, but he already forfeited $32 million by forcing a trade from San Antonio — the difference between the max the Spurs could have given him and the max the Raptors now can. Money seems to matter less to Leonard than his environment. The Sixers would love to have him change environments.
The trade also could diminish the chances of the Celtics trading for Anthony Davis this offseason. The Clippers are likely to miss the playoffs without Harris. If that happens, the Clippers would not have to send their 2019 first-round pick to the Celtics, since it is lottery-protected. That means the Celtics would have one fewer asset to use in a trade for Davis. The Sixers certainly don’t want them to land Davis and pair him with Kyrie Irving. It would be Bird/McHale all over again, only with a better coach.
What about the Warriors? If the Clippers land Leonard and Davis, they immediately become contenders to unseat the Warriors in the Western Conference — even if the Warriors retain Kevin Durant.
And it doesn’t have to be Leonard and/or Davis as Clippers. If Durant is done with Golden State, he could more-easily become a Clipper himself, especially if he sees the Clips as a team with which he can win again immediately, which is true if Leonard is a Clipper. And, remember, the trade with the Sixers has left the Clippers flush with cash and cap space.
Why wouldn’t KD land with the Lakers? He seems resistant to the idea of playing with LeBron James, and he seems eager to finally be the focal point of a team.
Which is a reasonable desire. LeBron remains the best player in the league, but, at 34, he’s on the wane. Durant has, for years, been the second-best all-around player in the league. The team that lands him immediately becomes relevant — yes, even the Knicks — but, if you pair Durant with a selfless scorer and a defensive savant like Leonard, who has never sought a spotlight, the Clippers are equipped to dethrone the Splash Brothers — especially without Durant.
Because, why bother getting to the NBA Finals just to get demolished by Steph, Klay & KD? They’re not going to lose if they stay together. Maybe this helps break them up. Which gives the Sixers (and everyone else) a chance.
Yes, that’s a lot of dominoes to fall as a result of the fourth career trade of Tobias Harris, a 26-year-old who has never been an All Star.
But then, that’s today’s NBA.