Sixers should still trade Thad Young for Bennett

Sixers should still trade Thad Young for Bennett
August 7, 2014, 11:30 am
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One reason to do the trade: age. Thaddeus Young is 26; Anthony Bennett is 21. (USA Today Images)

Early Thursday morning, Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Timberwolves and Cavaliers have a “firm agreement” in place to send Kevin Love to Cleveland in exchange for Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a protected 2015 first-rounder. According to Wojnarowski, the deal includes a promise that Love will opt out of his current deal and re-sign with the Cavs for five years and $120 million.

But here’s the part you’ll care about: “No third team is involved in the Cavaliers-Timberwolves trade agreement.”

It doesn’t mean a third team won’t eventually be involved in the deal. That could still happen since the trade can’t actually be executed until Aug. 23. (League rules prohibit Wiggins from being moved until one month after he signed his rookie contract.) That leaves 16 more days between now and then for the Sixers to get involved.

If that doesn’t happen and the trade goes down without the Sixers (which seems likely given the way Woj phrased the story), they could still move Thaddeus Young for Anthony Bennett in a separate deal with Minnesota. What this latest Woj bomb means is that the Sixers probably have to talk with the Wolves directly now and come to an independent arrangement. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst was the first to report the trade and the possibility that the Sixers and Wolves would end up doing a different swap on the side. Windhorst said draft picks would be involved, but that’s where the report got a bit hazy. He didn’t outline which picks would be sent to which teams.

Given the current information, it appears the Sixers' involvement in a three-team trade is dead, but their chances of getting Bennett and bidding goodbye to Young remain alive. That means the central issue still stands.

For the purposes of simplicity, let’s forget about the potential draft picks and boil the question down to its essence: Is Anthony Bennett enough for the Sixers to surrender Thad Young? The answer is yes — not because I’m terribly excited or confident in Bennett, but because Bennett probably represents the high side of what the market would yield for a player of Young’s caliber/situation/contract.

We’ll start with Young before moving to Bennett and his much-maligned (and deservedly so) rookie year. Young just turned 26. Last season, Young averaged career highs in points (17.9), assists (2.3) and three-pointers. His usage rate was higher than it’s ever been, which helps explain why — despite the uptick in counting stats — his PER and TS percentage dipped last season. On the whole, it was a good year for him. He showed versatility at both ends, and he comported himself as a professional during some tough times.

But that doesn’t mean he’s worth a lot on the trade market. Despite his age, skill set and temperament, Young is on a player-friendly contract. He has a cap hit of $9.4 million this year. Next season, he has a player option that would increase his cap hit to just shy of $10 million.

He’s a nice player, but is Young worth that much when Lance Stephenson just signed a two-year deal with the Hornets for $18 million (with a club option)? Stephenson won’t turn 24 until September. He was clearly gambling on signing a monster contract with his next deal when the salary cap is expected to make a big jump in 2016-17. Maybe that cap increase will also boost Young’s next contract, but right now he’s getting paid at the upper end of his value.

The actual money isn’t really the issue, though. The issue is how the new CBA altered the trade market. Under the old system, fewer teams had cap space, which increased the value of players on expiring contracts. Swapping those players for first-round picks wasn’t unusual.

Under the new system, more teams than ever carry extra cap space or have a way to find it when needed. Which is why unloading veterans on soon-to-lapse contracts is tougher now — and it’s definitely tougher to trade those veterans for draft picks of real value. If Young’s age and ability would have once made him worth something in the range of a mid-first round pick, the new CBA has changed that. If the Sixers traded Young for a pick today, they might be lucky to get something in the mid-20s in return.

Which brings us to Bennett. As you already know, Bennett had a terrible rookie year. As Derek Bodner pointed out, Bennett was historically bad, posting the worst win shares, PER and TS percentage of any first overall pick. Not good. He was injured, out of shape, and averaged just 12.8 minutes in 52 games. Also not good.

So why would he be enough to trade Young? Bennett is only 21. He has reportedly dropped 20 pounds, and he looked pretty good in summer league. Yes, it was just summer league, but if we’re going to give Nerlens Noel credit for this play, then Bennett deserves applause for this one.

Bennett shot just 35.6 percent from the field and 24.5 percent from three last year, but he hit 37.5 percent from three at UNLV (2.7 attempts per game). He has a diverse skill set, even though it failed him last season. During summer league, his shot looked better and he showed some range. He still has an obvious fondness for jacking just about any shot that affords him even a sliver of space between him and the defender, but his summer league performance reminded everyone why he was projected as a top-five pick in the 2013 draft (before the Cavs reached for him at No. 1).

Young is better than Bennett today. He’ll be better than Bennett tomorrow and next month and next year. He might be better than Bennett forever. Or Bennett might finally realize some of his outsized potential. But that’s only a part of the equation. After the season, Young said he wasn’t sure he wanted to stick around for the Sixers’ rebuild. And he has that troublesome player option for next year. He could very easily walk and the Sixers would get nothing for him. Bennett, while still a big unknown, has a $5.5 million cap hit this year, and he’s controlled by team options for two more years after that.

The underpinnings of the rebuild are about minimizing risk while maximizing potential reward. If Young doesn’t want to stay in Philly, if he’ll probably leave, it makes sense to get what you can for him. Maybe you can flip him for the hypothetical late-first-round pick. Maybe. And maybe that player would develop into a nice piece. Or maybe not. The other scenario: You take the former first overall pick and his team-friendly contract and see if he can develop in Brett Brown’s stat-inflating system.

There’s not much risk with Bennett, but there is some possible reward. It’s probably the best the Sixers can do. Better to move on from Young before he moves on from them.

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