Since being named general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers in September 2018, Elton Brand has made 10 trades and a couple dozen signings, reshaping a roster that finished the previous season with a 52-30 record under GM Bryan Colangelo into one that is currently on pace to win, well, 52 games.
So, what if Brand had done absolutely nothing? It is a question The Ringer’s Bill Simmons and Chris Ryan posed on a recent podcast, one in which they focused primarily on the giveaway of former No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz this past summer, but it got me thinking. I had to see what this looked like in print.
There is no way the Sixers could have named Franklin the Dog their GM and be better off. Right?
Right off the bat, you can cross off all 10 of Brand’s training camp invites over the past two years. As expected, Emeka Okafor, Matt Farrell, D.J. Hogg, Cory Jefferson, Darin Johnson, Julian Washburn, Xavier Munford, Shizz Alston Jr., Terry Harris and Jared Brownridge never played a minute for Philly.
Brand made three midseason signings last season. He gave 10-day contracts to Haywood Highsmith and Corey Brewer, who combined for a 0.1 win score before being waived. And Brand added Greg Monroe to finish out the season. Monroe played a total of 90 minutes over 10 playoff games, mostly garbage time, although he did start once for the ailing Joel Embiid in a victory over the Brooklyn Nets.
We will get to Brand’s free-agent signings this past summer, but let us commence with the trades.
• Nov. 12, 2018: Brand dealt Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and a 2022 second-round draft pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Jimmy Butler and Justin Patton. The Sixers waived Patton prior to the playoffs, and Butler helped lead Philadelphia to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Butler walked in free agency, but Brand salvaged Josh Richardson in a sign-and-trade.
• Trade deadline 2019: Brand traded Landry Shamet, Mike Muscala, Wilson Chandler, a top-14 protected 2020 first-round pick, a 2021 first-round pick from Miami and two future second-rounders from Detroit for impending free agents Tobias Harris, Mike Scott and Boban Marjanovic. He signed Harris for $180 million over five years and Scott to two years and $9.8 million, letting Boban walk.
• Trade deadline 2019: Brand paid cash to the Toronto Raptors for their 2022 second-round pick, Malachi Richardson, and the rights to Emir Preldžić. Richardson was waived the next day, and Preldžić is a 31-year-old European journeyman drafted in 2009 and will almost certainly never play in the NBA.
• Trade deadline 2019: Brand traded Fultz, with two years left on his rookie contract, to the Orlando Magic for Jonathon Simmons, a 2019 second-round pick from Cleveland and a top-20 protected 2020 first-round pick from Oklahoma City that will likely convert to two second-rounders in 2022 and 2023.
• Trade deadline 2019: Brand acquired James Ennis from Houston for a second-round pick swap.
• Draft day 2019: Brand traded the Nos. 24 and 33 picks to the Boston Celtics for the right to draft Matisse Thybulle at No. 20. Boston sent the 24th pick to the Phoenix Suns, who selected Ty Jerome, and the Celtics drafted Carsen Edwards with the 33rd pick. Thybulle has been a vital rotational piece.
• Draft day 2019: Brand traded Jonathon Simmons and the No. 42 pick (Admiral Schofield) for cash.
• Draft day 2019: Brand agreed to trade the No. 34 pick (Bruno Fernando) for two future second-round picks and the No. 57 pick (Jordan Bone), which he then flipped for another future second-round pick.
• July 6, 2019: Brand completed the sign-and-trade of Butler for Richardson.
When the dust settled, Brand turned Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Markelle Fultz, Mike Muscala and Wilson Chandler into Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson, Matisse Thybulle, Mike Scott and James Ennis. It cost him two first-round picks, four second-rounders and a second-round swap.
The Sixers entered this past June’s draft with a first-round pick and four second-rounders. They left with Thybulle, Marial Shayok (currently on a two-way contract) and three future second-round picks.
Following the draft, Brand got to work on free agency, plucking 33-year-old Al Horford from the Celtics for four years and $109 million. He also re-signed Harris to a max deal and gave Ben Simmons a $170 million max extension on his rookie contract. Of the three, only Simmons holds real value as a trade asset.
Brand signed undrafted rookie Norvel Pelle to a two-way deal and Trey Burke, Kyle O’Quinn and Raul Neto for the minimum. He also re-signed Scott, Ennis, Furkan Korkmaz and Shake Milton for cheap.
If you are still following, this is the 12-man roster the 76ers now generally go to war with: Joel Embiid, Simmons, Harris, Horford, Richardson, Korkmaz, Scott, Ennis, Thybulle, Burke, Neto and O’Quinn.
The Sixers’ mascot may have offered Simmons a max deal, but he could have stood by and matched whatever offer the All-Star would have received as a restricted free agent in July — or dare agent Rich Paul to persuade Simmons to play for the qualifying offer and enter unrestricted free agency in 2021. But I digress.
Harris and Horford are now owed a combined $64.1 million in 2022-23.
You could make an argument that Philly’s current roster is as good as the Sixers were going to get, however they worked the margins. The fit with Embiid and Simmons is awkward regardless, and they are still 24-14 — a game out of a home playoff seed and 3.5 back from second place with 44 to play. Embiid is a matchup nightmare for the East elite, and their defense is capable of stopping anyone.
Still, you wonder.
The rotation had Brand stayed put: Embiid, Simmons, Covington, Saric, Shamet and Fultz.
There is no Harris-level third option, but there are shooters surrounding Embiid and Simmons, with Fultz as a playmaker off the bench. (Need we remind you Fultz scored 25 points for the Orlando Magic on Tuesday?) This is the same starting five that reached the 2018 conference semifinals, only more experienced, with Shamet replacing J.J. Redick as a slightly less effective shooter but better defender.
The Sixers still could have retained Korkmaz, still could have made the move for Thybulle in the draft and still could have signed Scott, Ennis or whichever other free agents they signed using salary-cap exceptions and minimum contracts. Although, they might need more than Franklin the Dog to do that.
More importantly, the Sixers would have had max cap space to chase big-name free agents, when more than half the league was available. Heck, they could have used it to sign Tobias Harris. Or Jimmy Butler. Or Al Horford. Or Malcolm Brogdon. Or Bojan Bogdanovic and Marcus Morris. Or whomever.
Franklin would have options. He would have assets, too. The Sixers would have all their own first-round picks, Miami’s unprotected 2021 pick and a pair of mid-range salaries (Covington and Fultz) to make the math work in any potential trade. As it stands, Richardson is currently the only Sixer making between $4.8 million and $27.5 million, save for Simmons, whose salary will spike to $29 million next season.
Per The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, the list of potential quick fixes for Philly’s current chemistry woes includes Davis Bertans — a superior version of Saric and one of the more coveted mid-tier options — only the Sixers lack assets to attain him. They are also reportedly interested in reacquiring Covington, without a workable trade to get him. Maybe they never should have dealt him in the first place.
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