Patience Pays Off For Sixers In Deal With Kings

by Max Rappaport
Sixers.com Writer
@MaxRappaport

Over the past two seasons, the Sixers have committed themselves unequivocally to the long game, setting their sights on championship contention and avoiding at all costs the frequent temptation to take shortcuts. In a way, their willingness to trade moderate success in the short term in exchange the potential for great triumph in the future has made them an attractive trade partner with the league’s more presently focused franchises.

On Thursday, Philadelphia completed a trade that sent the rights to Arturas Gudaitis and Luka Mitrovic, drafted 47th- and 60th-overall in this year’s draft respectively, to the Kings in exchange for sophomore shooting guard Nik Stauskas, veteran big men Carl Landry and Jason Thompson, Sacramento’s 2018 first-round pick, and the right to swap firsts with Sacramento in both 2016 and 2017.

For the Kings, the move cleared the cap space necessary to reportedly extend offers to Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli, and Kosta Koufos, and for Philadelphia, it allowed the team to acquire a 2014 lottery pick in Stauskas, two experienced frontcourt players on manageable contracts in Landry and Thompson, and a handful of valuable future draft considerations all for the cost of rented cap space and essentially two second-round picks.

The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement consists of over 500 pages of dry legalese that describes in tedious detail each type of transaction that is and is not allowed. Still, trades between teams always come down to a fairly simple, zero-sum formula: two franchises determine that each has something the other wants, they negotiate until reaching a compromise about what they both will surrender, and they complete the deal.

When we talk about the nuts and bolts of a trade, typically we mean players, future draft picks, perhaps the NBA rights to young prospects currently playing abroad. But during Sam Hinkie’s two years as President of Basketball Operations and General Manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, he has introduced a new variable, one that breaks the zero-sum equation altogether… patience.

By taking the long view, the Sixers have allowed themselves to act as a benevolent lender of sorts for teams eager to get over the hump in the immediate future. As has always been the case in the NBA and in business, people are willing to pay for expediency, and that’s where Hinkie and the Sixers step in, offering immediate relief in return for future considerations, with interest of course.

The Anatomy Of The Deal

Tracing this trade back to its roots, it really began on February 20, 2014, when the Sixers parted ways with Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen, both of whom were to expire that summer, in exchange for Danny Granger (waived as part of the deal) and Golden State’s 2015 second-round pick (which became Mitrovic). On that same day, the Sixers sent a conditional 2014 second-round pick (which was never conveyed) to Wizards in exchange for New Orleans’ 2015 second-round pick (which became Gudaitis) and Denver’s 2016 second-round pick.

But in reality, the two second-round picks sent to Sacramento were not the prize of the trade for the Kings. Instead, that came in the way of the roughly $16 million the deal shaved off their books this summer, allowing them to become players in free agency and build around budding superstar center DeMarcus Cousins.

It’s not the first time the Sixers have used their cap flexibility to acquire future assets. During Sam Hinkie’s tenure (including Thursday’s trade, the team has acquired two first-round picks, seven second-round picks, and pick-swapping rights in the first round of two drafts using its cap flexibility to assist other teams.

But in this case, the incoming value came not only in the form of draft considerations, but also by way of the three players acquired in the deal.

What Stauskas, Thompson, and Landry Bring To The Table

To this point in his NBA career, Nik Stauskas is known more for the infamous closed-captioning gaffe that gave birth to his nickname, Sauce Castillo, than he is for his on-court contributions. But at just 21 years old, the rising sophomore shooting guard shouldn’t be overlooked as a major piece in this trade.

Playing under three different head coaches in his first NBA season, the Canadian-born Stauskas struggled to find stable minutes or a consistent role. In 73 games, he averaged 15.3 minutes per game, but often times weeklong stretches of him playing 15-20 minutes per game would be broken up by DNPs and relegation to garbage time.

In 50 games before the All-Star Break, the 6’6” sharpshooter averaged just 3.4 points per game and shot 26.1% from beyond the arc. But after George Karl was hired as the team’s head coach on February 12, Stauskas settled into a role that better suited his skill set, spacing the floor for big man DeMarcus Cousins.

After the break, Stauskas averaged 6.6 points in 19.4 minutes per game and shot 42.1% from beyond the arc; his effective field goal percentage jumped from 39.7% to 51.6% during that stretch. In those games, Cousins averaged 29.9 points per 36 minutes on 54.0% shooting in the paint with Stauskas on the floor versus 26.0 points per 36 on 48.2% shooting in the paint with the rookie on the bench.

With the Sixers, he’ll be given an opportunity to earn big minutes in a young guard rotation, and with a frontcourt that features Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, and Joel Embiid, his ability to space the floor could be similarly useful in Philadelphia.

But Stauskas isn’t simply a spot-up shooter. In his sophomore season at Michigan, he played a major role as a facilitator within head coach John Beilein’s offense. That year, he averaged 17.5 points (47.0 FG%, 44.2 3P%), 3.3 assists, and 2.9 rebounds per game, earning Big Ten Player of the Year honors.

His talent was great enough to compel the Kings to use the eighth-overall pick in last year’s draft to select him, and at times his potential shone through. In his lone start as a rookie, Stauskas scored 14 points on 5-of-9 from the field and 3-of-4 from deep and also contributed five assists, five rebounds, and two steals with one turnover.

The two other players acquired in the deal, Jason Thompson (28) and Carl Landry (31), can provide a veteran presence on a young Sixers team and help bolster the team’s frontcourt depth. Last season, Thompson, a native of Camden, New Jersey, appeared in 81 games (63 starts) and averaged 6.1 points (47.0 FG%) and 6.5 rebounds in 24.6 minutes per game. Landry, going into his ninth NBA season, averaged 7.2 points (51.5 FG%) and 3.8 rebounds in 17.0 minutes per game in 2014-15. Both are under contract through the conclusion of the 2016-17 season.

How The Pick (And The Potential Pick Swaps) Could Play Out

In the deal, the Sixers not only acquired a future first-round pick from the Kings but also the right to swap first-rounders with Sacramento in both 2016 and 2017 should Philadelphia choose to do so. Here are the particulars of all three draft considerations, as reported:

The Kings owe their 2016 first-rounder to the Chicago Bulls. That pick is top-10 protected next year, and if it doesn’t convey then it will be top-10 protected in 2017 as well. Should the pick still not convey by then, it will become a second-round pick. The Sixers will receive Sacramento’s first-round pick either two years after the Kings’ first-round debt to the Bulls is paid or in 2018 if the pick owed to Chicago becomes two seconds.

The pick owed to Philadelphia is reportedly protected for picks 1-10 for one year before becoming unprotected. Trading picks with the potential to become unprotected is fairly uncommon in today’s NBA, so the fact that the Sixers hold not only this pick from Sacramento but also the Lakers’ lightly-protected first-rounder (top-3 in 2016 and 2017 and unprotected in 2018) is noteworthy.

The picks swaps are a bit more complicated, as they depend partially upon the Kings’ debt to Chicago. The Sixers have the right to swap first-rounders with Sacramento in both 2016 and 2017, but their ability to do so may go away in one of those seasons if the Kings select outside the top-10 and thus convey their pick to the Bulls. It should be noted that the right to swap comes after the Draft Lottery is conducted, meaning that if the Kings were to finish with a better record (and therefore a less favorable pick) than the Sixers, they could still jump ahead of Philadelphia via the lottery. In that case, Philadelphia would choose to swap picks with Sacramento.

What this means is that if the Kings miss the playoffs in either of the next two seasons, Philadelphia will essentially receive Sacramento’s ping pong balls going into the lottery. There is no protection on the swap, making it incredibly valuable depending upon Sacramento’s record in 2016 and 2017.

Taking Stock Of The Sixers’ Collection Of Draft Picks

Earlier this offseason, we broke down the impressive job Sam Hinkie and the Sixers have done of restocking the team’s stable of future draft considerations. With this deal, Philadelphia now possesses the rights to nine first-round picks and 10 second-round picks over the next five years as well as a handful of swaps. Here’s how it breaks down:

2016:

PHI 1st (right to swap w/ SAC, protected 11-30)

LAL 1st (top-3 protected)

MIA 1st (top-10 protected)

OKC 1st (top-15 protected)

DEN 2nd

2017:

PHI 1st (right to swap w/ SAC, protected 11-30)

PHI 2nd

2018:

PHI 1st

SAC 1st (top-10 protected)

PHI 2nd

BKN or CLE 2nd (more favorable)

LAC or NYK 2nd (more favorable)

2019:

PHI 1st

PHI 2nd

NYK 2nd

MIL or SAC 2nd (more favorable)

2020:

PHI 1st

PHI 2nd

BKN 2nd

NYK 2nd

Final Thoughts

Throughout the entirety of their rebuild, the Sixers have been consistent, that their goal is to do whatever they can to put themselves in a position to one day compete for a championship. And while trades like this one may appear inconsequential in the short term, they are the types that have the potential for great payoff down the line.

For the cost of cap space and two second-round picks, the Sixers acquired a valued prospect in Nik Stauskas, two veteran big men, a future first-rounder that has the potential to become unprotected, and pick swaps that may go unused but also give the team a greater chance at landing a top pick in each of the next two drafts. 

These are the types of incremental, low-risk, high-upside moves that successful and lasting teams are built upon. We’ll see in the coming years just how good this trade turns out for the Sixers. 

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