Could (or should) the Sixers get in on the Kevin Love trade?

Could (or should) the Sixers get in on the Kevin Love trade?
July 23, 2014, 2:00 pm
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The Sixers have been hanging around the periphery of this year's free agency and trade market, butting their heads in to a number of seemingly heated discussions to help facilitate a blockbuster deal, poaching some assets in the process. Nothing has come of their reported desire to be the third team in such a deal, leaving Sam Hinkie with a whole lot of cap space, but not many players worth spending it on, with time starting to run out on NBA's Silly Season.

Today, however, rumors have placed the Sixers back inside perhaps the biggest trade deal of all this summer: Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Love deal has been whispered about in some form or another since LeBron James declared he was heading back to Northeast Ohio earlier this month, and talks have really intensified in the past week, with the Cavs now supposedly offering #1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins (as well as last year's #1 overall pick Anthony Bennett - good to have these things just lying around as expendable assets) as part of the package to Minnesota for their All-NBA power forward.

It's a tricky deal for Cleveland to make, though. They're already at the cap limit, which means not only that they need to give back close to equal value in player salary in any deal that adds Love, but that it's virtually impossible for them to take on extra bad Minnesota contracts, which Minny wants to make a prerequisite for any deal that rids them of their superstar. To make that happen, the two teams would likely need to bring in a third team with cap space as a potential dumping ground.

Enter Our Dark Lord Sam Hinkie, with a creepily enthusiastic YOU RAAAAAANG? expression on his face. The Sixers still have all the cap space in the world to work with, a moveable veteran in Thaddeus Young, and a willingness to take the long view on roster construction, making them an ideal third team in any such deal.

So what would the Sixers get in such a deal? Well, the rumors today have connected them to Cavs shooting guard Dion Waiters, a promising but difficult prospect selected fourth overall by the Cavs in the first round three drafts ago. Waiters has had an OK first two seasons in Cleveland, averaging 15.9 points a game last year, but has clashed with team management (and star backcourt mate Kyrie Irving), and his ball-dominant ways makes him an especially superfluous fit with that dude LeBron James coming to town.

To get Waiters, the Sixers would likely have to also take one of the Wolves' undesirable contracts - possibly backup combo guard J.J. Barea, in the last year of a deal paying him 4.5 million - and would possibly gave up Thad, who Sean Deveney of Sporting News says the Sixers "would like to facilitate a trade by including," seemingly regardless of return. Additional considerations would probably be included on both sides.

Does Hinkie actually want Waiters that badly? It's hard to say. Common sense would say probably not, because Waiters' desire to have the ball in his hands - think Evan Turner, with a little better shooting range - makes him something of an awkward fit alongside Michael Carter-Williams. His usage percentage of 26.9% in Cleveland last year would've been second-highest on the Sixers last year, behind just backup point Tony Wroten.

What's more, Waiters' shot selection has been notoriously spotty. Like ET, he loves pulling up in isolation, and though his shot chart efficiency is a little less ghastly than Evan's, he is worryingly infatuated with the long two, a range from which he took a staggering 29% of his shots last season. (Even Evan only hoisted 19% of his shots from there in Philly last season.) Doug Collins might've loved that about Waiters, the more analytics-minded Hinkie and coach Brett Brown, probably not so much.

Also something of a liability on the other side of the ball, Waiters' ultimate NBA destiny might be to come off the bench as a Jamal Crawford-type for a good team, which certainly has value as a role. But the Sixers aren't a good team and won't be for a little time to come still, and a future sixth man is a luxury that most teams wouldn't spend four million in cap space (closer to nine if you count Barea) and a good vet like Thad to get.

On the flip side, though, prospects like Waiters don't often come around very often still this early in their careers, and at his best, Dion has shown signs of being absolutely electric. The Sixers are badly in need of a shooting guard, and Waiters has improved as a three-point shooter, hitting on 37% of his triples last year after shooting just 31% from deep (on lesser volume) the year before. He can also get to the rim and get off his own shot, two premium skills for perimeter players in the NBA.

Waiters could be an interesting buy-low candidate for the Sixers, one who the team could hope to rescue from a previously chaotic situation in Cleveland--with Dion facing too-high expectations playing in a non-ideal basketball situation, for two different coaches in two seasons--to one with a little more stability and long-term vision. Hinkie and Brown could try to mold Waiters in their image, and have another high-lottery talent to build around, at a position at which they are currently extremely shallow.

Ultimately, I'm not sure that I see it. Even if the Cavs are forced to give up Waiters in the Love deal--and Cleveland's bizarre cap construction almost certainly means they'll have to give up either Waiters or fellow #4 pick Tristan Thompson to make the salaries match, with Thompson unlikely to go thanks to having the same management as LeBron--I can't imagine he's been the prize that Our Dark Lord's really been waiting to pounce on.

Hinkie and Brown saw firsthand last season how far a high-usage, low-efficiency scorer gets you as a primary option, and Waiters just doesn't seem like the sort of player they'd want to build around. The Sixers are all about taking flyers on upside, sure, but giving up Thad, a valued veteran and character guy, to get a potential disruptor like Waiters when we're not even sure we want what he's giving seems a little much. (Yes, we might end up trading Thad anyway, but remember that we only get to trade him once. If we spend him in pursuit of Waiters, that's our best--really, only--veteran trade chip to use this season, when a more appealing deal could come along closer to the deadline.)

That's not to say that the Sixers won't still try to get in on the Love deal. They could just serve as a safe haven for all the unwanted pieces jettisoned by both sides in the deal, earning a future pick of some value for their facilitating efforts. They could probably earn themselves a nice asset or two by taking veteran two-guard Kevin Martin's contract off Minny's hands, giving the Sixers the best shooter they've had in ages in the process--though the fact that Martin has three years left on his contract (at about $7 mil per) might make that a deal-breaker for Hinkie.

In the end, though, maybe we should learn not to overreact to any rumors that mention the Sixers as likely participants in an upcoming trade. In every big personnel move the Sixers have made since Hinkie came on board--the Jrue trade, the Evan trade, even last draft's Payton-for-Saric swap--there were no indications of the Sixers plotting any such deals until the minutes before they were consummated, and sometimes not until they were announced straight-up.

If the Sixers are being mentioned as a team involved ahead of time, maybe that's as sure a sign as any that they aren't actually that interested. After all, the Sixers were supposedly trying to get Dion Waiters once before already, and clearly nothing came of that. Maybe best to just wait this one out--as pretty much the entire NBA is doing, without much else really going on at the moment--and see how it unfolds for real, without paying too much attention to the whispers.