By: Jon Balant
Vlade Divac continues to raise eyebrows among the NBA world with another questionable move in Sacramento, pulling the trigger on a trade sending DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans. While there are plausible arguments both for and against this deal, just about every Sixers fan, including loyal Sam Hinkie supporters, are rejoicing at the impact the trade has on the 76ers future outlook and stockpile of assets. The move virtually guarantees the Kings will fall into the bottom 5 of the NBA lottery, retain their top 10 protected pick that is otherwise forfeited to Chicago, and could very likely allow the Sixers to exercise their first round pick swap rights. It also makes the rights to the Kings’ 2019 first round pick look like a gold mine.
The Sixers possess their own pick and the Lakers first round pick this year (top 3 protected) or next year with no protection, the pick swap rights with the Kings, and the aforementioned 2019 first rounder. In light of this and their plethora of cap room, the 76ers should consider moving some of these assets and tap into their logjam of frontcourt players to obtain a proven NBA talent at the trade deadline. The Sixers can push to win as many games as possible the remainder of the season without harming their position in the upcoming NBA draft.
The last time the 76ers had a truly explosive player at the guard position, I was a freshman in college crying over Allen Iverson being traded to the Denver Nuggets. That was in 2006…..
While many expect the sixers to be primarily quiet at the deadline, aside from a last minute push to get Jahlil Okafor off their hands, there is a player out west who is quietly having a great season and could very well be shopped by his current team.
Eric Bledsoe is 27 years old. He is having an All-Star caliber season, averaging career bests of 21.6 points and 6.2 assists per game, as well as 4.9 rebounds per game. A short but very strong 6’1” 205 pounds, Bledsoe is an explosive combo guard who can score in a variety of ways. He has been held back by multiple knee surgeries but has recently come into his own, and is believed to be just entering his prime. Suns GM Ryan McDonough and sources close to the team have cited his growth this season, but have also noted that his outside shooting and defense have taken a step back due to his high volume and having to create from the point on most possessions.
Bledsoe would thrive as a combo guard alongside Ben Simmons, being able to play off the ball more and create from the wing. He’s regarded as one of the best on ball defenders in the league, and would be able to smother opposing point guards while still allowing Simmons to guard an opposing forward and facilitate on the offensive end.
The Suns have a log jam at the guard position, with 2nd year shooting guard and fellow Kentucky alum Devin Booker, as well as Brandon Knight. They will also likely be drafting in the top 3 in this year’s extremely guard heavy draft, and don’t appear to be on a clear cut path out of the Western Conference basement any time soon. It would be prudent for McDonough to consider selling high on Bledsoe and acquire assets in return.
From a financial standpoint, the trade makes a ton of sense for the 76ers. The Suns were able to lock Bledsoe in at what now looks like a bargain at roughly $15 million a year before the massive spike in the NBA salary cap. He is under contract for the next 2 seasons with no options before becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2019. He would present a low risk/high reward scenario for the Sixers, being able to work an extension or cut bait quickly if he were to get injured or not work in this system. He is making less than what a lot of stars are currently or will make over the next few years. For example, Mike Conley (currently the highest paid player in NBA history) is making roughly $30-$34 million a year over each of the next 4 seasons. However, he is producing slightly less at 19.3 points and 3.5 rebounds per game, and producing the same at 6.2 assists. The NBA salary cap continues to rise, therefore making players like Bledsoe, Paul George, and Jimmy Butler, who were locked into multi-year deals prior to the spike in NBA salary cap, appear to be attractive trade bargains.
The Suns frontcourt leaves quite a bit to be desired, with aging veteran Tyson Chandler currently starting at center. They will work to develop prospects Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, but neither have produced much this season and originated in what is clearly very weak 2016 draft class outside of Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram.
Some potential packages the Sixers could consider offering include Jahlil Okafor, the rights to the Lakers first rounder pick, and our 2018 first round pick. Nerlens Noel could replace Okafor in this deal if the Suns prefer him at center for defense and transition, and they could also consider selling high on Ersan Ilyasova to clear up their log jam up front.
Bryan Colangelo has history with Phoenix, serving as their GM previously. Whether or not that would yield synergy in a potential trade scenario would be speculative, however Colangelo is known for spending money on veteran players.
McDonough has been quoted that they want to build around Bledsoe and Booker, however if offered the right package of assets and players, he would certainly have to at least listen given the Suns’ current situation. The deadline will likely remain quiet for the 76ers, however given the circumstances Bryan Colangelo should at least be making some phone calls over the next few days as the NBA trade deadline approaches.