Tobias Harris, Boban, and the 76ers "Blockbuster" Trade

It has become common for me to be late with the notes to the Boxscore Geeks show. And sadly, they'll be late again as a 3 am trade means I decided I'd write about Boban instead of the show. Shocker! Here we go.

Another big trade deadline trade goes down that doesn't involve Anthony Davis! Let's examine how the 76ers made a trade reminiscent of a different era.

Details and Resource

The Clippers get:

  • Landry Shamet, age 21, year one of a 1st round rookie-scale contract (roughly $10 mill over four seasons, if options exercised)
  • Wilson Chandler, age 31, expiring deal, Bird Rights Retained
  • Mike Muscala, age 27, expiring deal, no Bird Rights
  • Philadelphia's 2020 first-round pick (meh)
  • Miami's 2021 first-round pick (unprotected)
  • Two second round picks

The 76ers get:

  • Tobias Harris, age 26, expiring deal, Bird Rights retained.
  • Boban Marjonovic, age 30, expiring deal, no Bird Rights
  • Mike Scott, age 30, expiring deal, no Bird Rights.

Also, for further analysis in the piece, RealGM's Draft Pick page is a must.
We also use our Comparison Engine for the tables below.

Meme Take

Trade grades can be silly, so let's use a more serious scale. Memes! Here's how I grade the two teams. First, the 76ers:


And now the Clippers:


In short, I think this is a pretty good trade for the 76ers and a questionable trade for the Clippers. There are several ways to analyze this trade, so let's try as many as possible:

The Players

Here are the players the 76ers acquired:

  Boban Marjanovic Mike Scott Tobias Harris Average WING Average BIG
Position C (5.0) SF (3.0) PF (4.0) GF (2.5) FC (4.5)
Minutes 376.0 724.0 1867.0 - -
ADJP48 .567 .209 .314 .206 .354
POP48 7.2 0.0 -.7 0 0
Wins Produced 2.6 1.5 3.0 - -

Let's start with our favorite: Boban is a perpetually underutilized big. Per-minute he's been one of the best players in the NBA. Admittedly with Marcin Gortat and Montrezl Harrel, the Clippers were a bit bloated at the frontcourt. That said, we think this is an excellent problem to have. For the 76ers if he's a reasonable backup for Embiid that can also make sure Embiid gets rest, he's a great addition.

The "key" piece of this trade is Tobias Harris. Admittedly, we think Tobias is a bit below average ... kind of. In this week's Boxscore Geeks show we talk a mistake we might have made to our recipe a few years back. Namely, combining bigs (PF-C) was wrong given modern NBA strategy. So Tobias might be a bit better than he appears, especially if you think he's splitting forward duties with Danilo. Also, Tobias is a versatile player that might be better suited for the Small Forward position. As he's likely replacing Wilson Chandler, who was also played out of position, that's unlikely. Regardless, he's a significant upgrade over Wilson Chandler, and an excellent outside scorer, something the 76ers starting five need. He might not be worth the contract he'll demand, but we'll get to that soon.

Mike Scott is meh, he's a "downgrade" from Mike Muscala, but hopefully, he was just here to make the contracts work.

Player wise: the 76ers got the best player in the deal (The Jeff Van Gundy method of deciding a trade winner, which we agree with), an upgrade to one of their starters, and an upgrade to a "Brian Bin of Productivity" they were hurting in (outside scoring). We call this a win. Onto the Clippers.

  Landry Shamet Wilson Chandler Mike Muscala Average WING Average BIG
Position SG (2.8) PF (4.0) PF (4.2) GF (2.5) FC (4.5)
Minutes 1074.0 951.0 1009.0 - -
ADJP48 .192 .256 .244 .206 .354
WP48 .082 .020 .007 .099 .099
POP48 -.5 -2.5
Wins Produced 1.8 .4 .2 - -

Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala are "established veterans" that haven't shown much. At this point, I don't think Wilson Chandler is a productive NBA player, especially at the four. Landry Shamet in an above average rookie with some scoring skills, he might turn out alright, it's too early to see.

The Short Term

Here's an interesting aspect of this trade, outside of Landry Shamet, all of these players are on the final year of their contract. Tobias Harris is the only real player worth re-signing. So it's possible to view this as a "what does this do for me this year" trade. In that regard, the Clippers made themselves worse in the midst of a playoff push, while the 76ers strengthened themselves while trying to secure a top spot in the playoffs. If you've followed us for a while, you know which plan we're more behind. But let's get onto the long term

The Long Term: Draft Picks are Meaningless

Let's hit the first big topic. A sticking point I saw was how expensive this trade was for the 76ers, and the reason was they gave up two first round picks, one of which is "unprotected" in 2021. They also gave up two second-round picks. I view draft picks a lot like cars. As soon as they're off the lot, they drop in value by half. The Lakers spent years in the top of the draft, acquired a young core, and when it came time to cash them in, they found out the market value wasn't that hot. What's more the 76ers are a team that showed by merely making small trades it was easy to rack up second-round draft picks.

A few more points on draft picks - you are allowed to trade for draft picks, which can be a smarter plan. A top draft pick's value varies a lot by year. Smart teams have found ways to trade up to the player they want (see the Spurs with Kawhi Leonard). You are also allowed to buy draft picks outright (look at the Warriors with Jordan Bell).

Finally, the value of draft picks as assets is nebulous. People are saying the Miami Heat's draft pick in two years could be a fantastic commodity. That said, we have no idea. And the 76ers found Robert Covington, who was undrafted, and his value rose enough to be adequate compensation for a star player.

I don't like holding onto draft picks hoping for a better future if you can improve your team now. The 76ers have done that.

But what about?

Let's run down some common points I saw on Twitter about this trade. I'll play the part of both asker and answerer. Fun, right?

What about Tobias Harris' next contract? Do the 76ers really want to pay that? I saw this note and it's a valid point. As a Power Forward, we question if Tobias Harris is worth a hefty contract (alternative plan, play him as a forward, sign a cheap power forward, everyone wins). That said, the Clippers are in the playoff hunt this season. Even if they decided to let Tobias walk, we're not fans of letting him go. Basically, one season of the playoffs is worth a lot.

What about Boston? Missing the playoffs hurts their trade chances for AD! This was among the most convoluted points I saw about this trade but let's discuss it. Boston has the Clippers first round pick, BUT it's lottery protected. So if the Clippers make the playoffs, the Celtics have another pick to offer the Pelicans in exchange for Anthony Davis. However, if the Clippers miss the playoffs, they keep their pick, so they have one more pick to offer for Anthony Davis. Again, see our point on worthless draft picks. It's possible the Clippers luck into a Kyrie Irving situation and win a top pick, but more likely they have a mid-tier pick. Again, see the Lakers for teams overvaluing the trade value of draft picks.

What about Shamet? He looks great! A valid point. He's above average for a rookie, and his shooting numbers are fantastic. That said, the 76ers have a great backcourt already with Simmons, McConnel, and Butler. Upgrading a position they are weak at trumps a young player that might never be good.

What about Miami's pick, it's unprotected! In two years the Clippers have a shot at a player that might be good in a few years after he's picked. We're worried about right now.

A running theme you might notice is that it's tough to plan that far ahead. I'm aware I'm not the norm, but my philosophy as a General Manager is always to make the playoffs and maximize your title shot by making sound moves. If you win your trades and do that, you're in good shape. The 76ers did that here.

Not all bad for the Clippers

Let's point out the following, in terms of players the Clippers were oversaturated. They have Danilo Gallinari, who is playing great, at the position and role we think Tobias Harris should be. They have Montrezl Harrel, who we think should start at Boban's role. And, Tobias was going to command a raise, so they did turn him into assets. This is similar to what the Knicks did with Kristaps Porzingis; they traded a player that was going to ask for more than he was worth for picks. The difference here is the Knicks traded a player out for the season, and they had no shot at the playoffs. The Clippers traded two players that were helping them in the midst of a playoff push. And they got back players that will be worse in the short run.

I understand the motivation for this move. That said, I feel the underlying philosophy is wrong. Often in the NBA people say things like:

  • We'll sacrifice today so we can be better in the future! 
  • We'll tank this season for top draft picks.
  • We'll trade established players for prospects that will be good.
  • We'll get rid of productive players to free up cap space for stars!

And so many of those things are far less likely than teams realize. The expression "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" is one I think more NBA teams should take heed of. Now, it's possible Landry Shamet turns into a star, and the Clippers trade their picks for Anthony Davis, and Kevin Durant signs with them. And then I'll look silly for bashing this trade. I'm just saying they traded a decent shot at the playoffs for a longshot, and more often than not, that doesn't pan out.