Timing is Suboptimal for 76ers to Make Blockbuster Deal

Jan 24, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) and center Jahlil Okafor (8) react after a score against the Boston Celtics during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 24, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) and center Jahlil Okafor (8) react after a score against the Boston Celtics during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

The timing is suboptimal for the Philadelphia 76ers to bring in a star via a blockbuster trade.

Patience has been preached by the Philadelphia 76ers‘ management since Sam Hinkie took over in 2013. Biding time looked to have run its course in December when CEO Josh Harris brought in the clique, led by Jerry Colangelo, in what looked to be a NWO-style takeover. Colangelo, on a three-year deal, is primed to compete and make moves that will translate to immediate success.

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Acknowledging the track record of one Sam Hinkie, the upgrades Colangelo is clamoring for could come in due time. However, it’s unlikely the Sixers bring in a star player come Thursday. The past two trade deadlines, Hinkie has gutted the roster in favor of future compensation. Even finessing through his lack of power that dissipated when the new regime came in, Hinkie looks to have a major play in what Philadelphia does during the trade deadline.

This is two paradigms clashing to seize the personnel moves of one organization. The NBA trade deadline might be the power play for either side in the timeline of “The Process.” Philadelphia, unsurprisingly, has been featured, tepidly, in trade buzz over the past week.

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Blake Griffin, whose off-court shenanigans and broken hand has derailed his once untouchable appeal, has been reportedly shopped around the league by the Los Angeles Clippers. When the Sixers were brought into the equation as a potential suitor for the former No. 1 pick, it seemed to be a far-fetched destination for a team loaded with frontcourt talent.

Recently, the Clippers reportedly offered Griffin and the declining Lance Stephenson to Denver for four of their main pieces on the roster. Last year, the deal could have been lopsided — in favor of Denver — but Griffin has red flags and was making things difficult on the Clippers’ front to get solid value.

With Griffin set to miss extended time recovering from the infamous off-court incident that led to a fractured hand and dealing with a previous quad injury, he wouldn’t significantly derail the team’s chances of drastically ascending the standings. However, it looks like the Clippers will assess what they have with Griffin before making a bold move.

Even if the Sixers are willing to listen to offers for their two most valuable players, there could be ramifications dealing either Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor. The tandem has been a double-edged sword of sorts, needing major sharpening in order to become effective as a duo.

The frontcourt pairing’s cohesion issues have been one of the team’s primary and consistent themes throughout the 2015-16 season. Noel’s progress in his sophomore campaign has arguably been stunted, having to switch between the power forward and center positions. Per nbawowy!, Noel is shooting 55.7 percent when he doesn’t share the floor with Okafor — compared to 50 percent when the rookie is encompassing the paint.

However, with Brett Brown inserting Okafor back into the starting lineup and switching Noel to defending the 5, the results have been ideal for Philadelphia. In his last nine games, Noel is averaging 11.2 PPG on a ridiculous 66.2 percent shooting clip. He’s become more efficient with Okafor back in the starting lineup and is getting at it on the defensive end, averaging 2.0 SPG and 1.9 BPG during the aforementioned span.

Noel recently talked about his developing rapport with Okafor on the floor with Basketball Insiders.

"“I think me and Jah are so young, where we’re still figuring out a lot of things about the NBA game. We’re still growing our game and developing. As the season grows, we’ll get more comfortable in building certain parts of our game that will make it easier to play together. So I think it’s just a matter of time.”"

Okafor also looks to have had a breakthrough playing as a pair with Noel. In his last three games, has been a transformed low post entity willing to bang on the boards. The rookie’s issue hasn’t been the lax defensive approach he displayed at Duke last season. Hauling in consistent rebounds was arguably Okafor’s biggest flaw when paired with Noel.

Recently becoming a double-double machine (20.6 PPG, 12.0 RPG in last three games), both Okafor and Noel can be expected to become valuable contributors on both ends of the floor. Okafor may not be the adept shot blocker that Noel is, but he can prevent teams from getting second opportunities on the offensive end.

Their newfound cohesion is a positive that can be carried over into next season, but dealing either big for immediate or long-term help would cut deeply into their long-term potential as a tandem. Colangelo and Hinkie also have to factor in their “other” big in trade discussions.

As Noel and Okafor are evidently starting to mesh, Joel Embiid has to be considered when dealing a big for a potential star. The Sixers have no viable information as to whether Embiid can play effectively next to either Noel or Okafor.

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Currently rehabbing from foot surgery, which could sideline him for the entirety of the 2015-16 season, Embiid could be a dynamic fit. With the ability to block shots, space the floor and handle either the 4 or 5 spots on defense, he is the two-way big with sky-high upside the Sixers have tried to find in the draft.

It all comes down to his health. Waiting for Embiid to be cleared physically over the summer, the Sixers wouldn’t have to be pigeonholed into trading one of their predominate centers. They can wait until he is cleared and then monitor the situation with the Noel-Okafor pairing.

Philadelphia is in no rush to trade any of their core players. While the pairing hasn’t worked to optimal levels yet, Noel has plenty of time for growth playing next to Okafor and vice versa. While management previously wanted the fans to have patience, it might be twofold come Thursday.