As exciting as the 76ers have been this season, you would have been hard-pressed to find someone who really thought they were capable of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals. But now you have to put them in that category with the Boston Celtics, the Toronto Raptors, and the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Sixers’ reality changed Wednesday when Tobias Harris became the headliner of the first of the team’s two trades. He will become the Sixers’ starting power forward.
In a win-now move, they acquired the fringe All-Star talent along with 7-foot-3 center Boban Marjanovic and power forward Mike Scott from the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for rookie guard Landry Shamet, veterans Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala, and four draft picks: a protected 2020 first-rounder, the Miami Heat’s 2021 first-rounder, a Detroit Pistons 2021 second-rounder, and the Pistons’ 2023 second-rounder. (The 2020 pick is lottery protected for three years. Afterward, it will turn into two second-round picks – one in 2023 and one in 2024.)
“We are in the unique position to contend now and we think this trade positions us well for the postseason,” general manager Elton Brand said in a statement. “Tobias is one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA and possesses an innate ability to impact the game on both ends of the floor, while Boban and Mike provide valuable skill sets, size and depth to our team.”
In a separate deal, Philly picked up shooting guard Malachi Richardson from the Toronto Raptors along with their 2022 second-round pick and the draft rights to swingman Emir Preldzic for cash considerations.
The Sixers could make at least one more move before Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline. They’ve reportedly had conversations with the Atlanta Hawks and Orlando Magic to trade Markelle Fultz, the guard who was the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft but has played just 33 games.
The team is expected to hold a news conference on Thursday to introduce the players they acquired Wednesday.
Harris will surely garner most of the attention.
The 6-foot-9, 235-pounder, primarily a power forward, also can slide down to play small forward.
In addition to being a solid three-point shooter, Harris is a first-rate scorer. The eighth-year veteran out of Tennessee is averaging career highs in scoring (20.9 points per game), assists (2.7) and three-point shooting (43.4 percent). He was the 19th player taken in the 2011 draft and has played for Milwaukee, Orlando, and Detroit in addition to the Clippers.
The Sixers believe he complements and strengthens the core group they already have in center Joel Embiid, point guard Ben Simmons and small forward Jimmy Butler. Embiid was voted an All-Star starter for the second consecutive season, Simmons was named an All-Star reserve this season, and Butler is a four-time All-Star.
The Sixers have long-term plans for their Big 4.
Look for the team to sign Butler and Harris to max contracts next summer to make that possible. Harris is in the final year of his contract. He’ll become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Meanwhile, Butler can opt out of the final year — 2019-20 — of his contract next summer to become a free agent.
On paper, the foursome and shooting guard JJ Redick are arguably on a par with – if not better than – any NBA starting lineup outside of Golden State’s group of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins.
And Harris’ versatility is vital on a Sixers squad that still lacks depth. The Sixers have a minimum of two starters on the floor at any given time. He could move to small forward in instances when Butler plays point guard.
Marjanovic will back up Embiid at center. His size makes him a matchup problem in certain situations. Mike Scott (6-8) will serve as a sharpshooting yet undersized backup power forward.
But some are questioning if the Sixers surrendered too much in the trade.
“I think the Sixers overpaid in the trade,” said an NBA executive. “Think about what Boston [Celtics] gave up for Kyrie [Irving]. It was Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round pick [No. 8, Collin Sexton], and Isaiah was hurt.”
The executive was pointing out that Irving is a six-time NBA All-Star, and Harris hasn’t been named an All-Star in any of his seasons. Yet, the Sixers surrendered a solid rookie in Shamet and several draft picks as part of the package.
But the Sixers view it as if the 2021 unprotected Miami draft pick they acquired on draft night last year enabled them to get Harris, a proven veteran in his prime. They also expect to be one of the league’s elite teams for some time. So they think the 2020 pick will turn into a late first-round selection. In that scenario, that person probably wouldn’t make the Sixers’ rotation.
The Sixers just have to make sure Harris and Butler re-sign with them in the offseason.
Meanwhile, Richardson is a reserve shooting guard from Trenton Catholic Academy and Syracuse who played AAU basketball for Philly’s Team Final. The 23-year-old averaged 1.4 points and 4.7 minutes in 22 games this season in Toronto. Richardson played a season-high 18 minutes, 50 seconds against Chicago on Nov. 17. He finished with a season-best nine points on 3-for-4 shooting, including 2-for-3 on three-pointers.
The Charlotte Hornets drafted him 22nd overall in 2016 after his lone season in college and traded him to Sacramento. At the time of the draft, he wanted to play for the Sixers.