The NBA rumor mill suggests the Philadelphia 76ers could fill the void left behind by James Harden with an All-Star replacement.
That may not be the best move they can make, though.
The Harden-less Sixers might already be set on stars thanks to the reigning MVP Joel Embiid and skyrocketing star Tyrese Maxey. They’ll still examine those options, of course, as Michael Scotto of HoopsHype reported Philly plans to “keep an eye on” Zach LaVine and OG Anunoby, plus “monitor” Donovan Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanović.
If Philly tiered these players by name recognition alone, Bogdanović would easily bring up the rear. Flip the conversation to fit and trade costs, though, and the veteran swingman might be just what the Sixers need.
Regardless how the Sixers handled Harden this season, nothing was going to mean more to their success than the development and maturation of Maxey.
The 23-year-old had turned heads in the past, but a leap to full-fledged stardom loomed as a possible fortune-changer for Philadelphia. So far, that’s exactly what the Sixers have seen. The fourth-year guard has spiked his production across the board, resulting in a wholly dominant per-game stat line of 26.2 points, 6.6 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 3.2 three-pointers, plus a sparkling 48.9/47.1/93.1 slash line.
Making matters even more exciting for Philly, the Sixers aren’t convinced this is all Maxey has to offer.
“He’s got to not get into those modes where he’s not being aggressive,” Sixers head coach Nick Nurse told reporters. “I’m not criticizing him. I’m just trying to keep imploring that (he) needs to be more aggressive.”
The Sixers are smartly trying to foster Maxey’s growth, so adding someone like LaVine or Mitchell wouldn’t make sense. They’d need a ton of touches, meaning Maxey wouldn’t get as many to expand his game, and they could expose this backcourt on the defensive end, since it’d be manned be two offense-first players lacking great size.
If you built the ideal player to add to this team, you might end up creating someone who looks an awful lot like Anunoby.
The 6’7″ swingman is perfectly suited to support stars around him. He makes the short list of the league’s best defenders. He can consistently and capably shoot the three-ball. He can add offensive value without dominating the basketball, but he has enough off-the-dribble verve to go get a bucket when it’s badly needed.
Yet, all of the above is also the reason he’s unlikely to land in Philadelphia. They’re all good arguments for the Toronto Raptors to simply keep him around and try like heck to re-sign him next summer. They’re also reasons why rival suitors might be inclined to part with a package the Sixers can’t match should he become available.
Three first-round picks weren’t enough to get Anunoby last season. Maybe that means Toronto just has no intention to move him. If not, though, it probably means the Raptors would seek more than the Sixers can offer.
If the Sixers took a massive swing on someone like Mitchell, LaVine or Anunoby, that would probably be the only chance they get to add an impact player. All three would require a substantial amount of trade assets to send out, and they’d all clog up the cap moving forward—Mitchell and LaVine for what they already make, Anunoby for what he’d fetch next summer.
You could argue this team is close enough to contention to justify making an all-in deal, but it has to be for the right player. And again, it’s hard to picture either Mitchell or LaVine as the missing piece, just like it’s tough to imagine the Sixers having enough to land Anunoby.
That’s why a more sensible swap for Bogdanović could be the move to make. Assuming the calf strain that’s sidelined him so far doesn’t linger, he’d be a plug-and-play source of support scoring, steady shot-making and a pinch of playmaking. Last season, he not only pumped in a career-high 21.6 points, he did so while flirting with a 50/40/90 slash (48.8/41.1/88.4).
He won’t cost a fortune, as a 34-year-old non-star on a rebuilding team, and he wouldn’t eat into much of Philly’s 2024 cap space unless the Sixers wanted him to, as only $2 million of his $19 million salary for 2024-25 is guaranteed, per Spotrac. So, Philly could get the instant gratification of an impact addition without much in the way of long-term costs. That sure sounds like good basketball business to us.