Philadelphia 76ers: Harrison Barnes is the key to a Buddy Hield trade

Harrison Barnes may be key to the Philadelphia 76ers landing Buddy Hield.

Buddy Hield; at this point, what more is there to say about Buddy Hield?

Since some poor, depressive blogger initially suggested the Philadelphia 76ers flip Al Horford to the Sacramento Kings for the Bahamian by way of the Oklahoma sharpshooter, there hasn’t been a more mocked player in the NBA.

And in quite possibly the weirdest twist of all, these hypothetical pairings are not just Sixers fans screaming into the void – no, Hield has decidedly made this dialogue a two-way street.

Since said idea was initially floated, either by yours truly or one of the internet’s scores of other NBA opinionists, Hield has seemingly taken kindly to the concept of playing two guard next to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, going so far as to like many a suggestion of the arranged marriage. He’s even gone so far as to like non-trade-related Sixers content, such as the ESPN announcement naming Doc Rivers as the team’s new head coach.

Only, there’s an elephant in the room that just can’t be avoided: Al Horford for Buddy Hield straight up is not a viable trade.

Okay, technically it is a viable trade financially, but even if Hield really is no longer speaking with Sacramento’s brass, I doubt the Kings’ front office is going to give away one of the league’s best pure shooters for a 34-year-old center with $81 million left on his contract.

Is Horford still a solid fit on the Kings? Oh, you’d best believe it, he’s the perfect veteran big to take De’Aaron Fox’s game up a notch and supplement Marvin Bagley‘s defensive shortcomings, but his contract alone makes any trade a tough one to justify.

With that in mind, if a team were to have a similarly overpriced player that they’d like off their books, then maybe a deal becomes a whole lot easier to envision.

On the Kings, that player is Harrison Barnes.

Measuring in at 6-foot-8, 225 pounds, Barnes is a one-time NBA champion whose play has been consistently good enough to earn starting roles and lucrative contracts on playoff-bound teams but has never quite good enough to remain a long term building block in any club’s long term plans.

Harsh? Maybe so, but also true.

Despite being the highest-drafted homegrown player on the 2014-16 Golden State Warriors, Barnes was at best the sixth-best player on those historically successful squads, lagging behind everyone from the team’s homegrown Big 3 to a mid-30s Andre Igoudala and even Australian-born center Andrew Bogut. Barnes averaged 10.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game before being allowed to walk in free agency in favor of some guy named Kevin Durant.

Fun fact: Barnes was a favorite of Bryan Colangelo’s father Jerry, who opted to add him to the Olympic team in a move that many an astute observer believed could influence a free agency move to the City of Brotherly Love. That ultimately didn’t happen, but man, you gotta give it up to the Colangelos – they are always on some sort of hustle.

Barnes then signed a max-level contract with the post-Steve Nash, pre-Luka Doncic Dallas Mavericks, where he averaged a career-high 18.7 points per game before being traded away in the middle of his third season with the club for Justin Jackson and a promptly-waived Zach Randolph. Like the Warriors, the Mavericks liked Barnes well enough, but prioritized cap flexibility over an above-average 3-and-D combo forward, so once again, the UNC product was looking for a new home – this time as a member of the Sacramento Kings.

Thus far, the results have been rather mixed.

Barnes stretched out his streak in the starting lineup to four consecutive seasons, but watched his points per game total drop to 14.5 while maintaining virtually the same rebounds, steals, blocks, and turnover averages that he’s pretty much maintained since joining the league in 2012. The then-27-year-old did make headlines for a bold declaration that he’d keep a beard going until the Kings got back over .500, but that personal bet ended up lasting over eight-months and was never accomplished.

So, why exactly would the Philadelphia 76ers want to trade for a 28-year-old forward who plays like a B- Tobias Harris, hits 3s at an only-slight-above-average clip, and is set to enter the second year of a four-year, $85 million deal?

Because in the NBA, you have to match salaries on the vast majority of deals, and including Barnes in any Buddy Hield deal opens the doors for Josh Richardson‘s inclusion in any potential deal with the Kings.

There’s no doubt about it; Hield is the best player involved in any deal between the Kings and Sixers not named Simmons, Embiid, or Fox. He’s a wickedly effective 3 point shooter who at least (usually) tries on the defensive end. While Hield isn’t going to give you much as a passer, as a rebounder, or even as a defender – I lied, he’s actually pretty bad – he’s more than capable of putting up 9.6 3s a game and draining 40 percent of ‘um.

On a team like the Sixers with two dominant post players, having a 27-year-old J.J. Redick is about as good as gold.

Regardless of how often Hield chit chats with Luke Walton about the Grateful Dead, or that one time he appeared on the long-running soap opera ‘Young and Restless‘, whoever the Kings decide to replace Vladi Divac with is going to demand a pretty penny for the Oklahoma product’s services – even if we all collectively know he wants to be a King about as much as Boogie Cousins in 2017.

Huh, Hield, the lone remaining piece on the Kings from the Cousins trade, has also soured on playing for Lady Bird’s hometown? I wonder why that could be?

While Richardson isn’t the shooter Hield has proven to be over the last four seasons, he’s far and away a more complete player who could considerably lift up a team on both ends of the court. Richardson is a solid passer, a good guard rebounder, and a stout defender 1-3. Whether tasked with playing next to Fox or on the wings as an undersized small forward next to Bagley, a Kings starting five filled out with Richardson, Horford at the five, and 2019-20 breakout star Bogdan Bogdanovic is a notable improvement over the lineup Walton trotted out down the stretch pre and mid-bubble.

Remember, the 76ers traded Jimmy Butler for Richardson straight up some six months after Miami said they wouldn’t consider such a deal with the Timberwolves. Even if that deal looks laughable now, Richardson is still one of the more intriguing shooting guards in the NBA on a really good contract coming off a great showing in the NBA Bubble. What better way for the Kings to get the most out of their young, ascending players like Fox, Bogdanovic, and Magley than to pair them up with veteran professionals capable of getting things done on both ends of the court?

Is such a trade possible? Would the Sixers have to throw in some additional draft compensation, or another shooter, like, say Furkan Korkmaz? Maybe so, but personally, I’d much rather see the 76ers trot out a lineup with Simmons at the one, Buddy Love at the two, Barnes, and Harris manning the two forward spots interchangeably, and Embiid at the five than any sort of lineup frankensteined together with two, three or even four separate moves that disrupts half the team.

Even if Harrison Barnes is at best the fifth-best player in the starting five, he’s a head and shoulders better fit with the Philadelphia 76ers than Al Horford regardless of how useful he is as a backup center. In Los Angeles, Doc Rivers found a ton of success pairing up similarly-skilled forwards in a roster with a defensive-minded distributor at the point, a knockdown shooter at the two (we miss you Landry Shamet), and a big-bodied center in the paint. Even if Barnes is nothing more than a B+ Danilo Gallinari, taking on his contract alongside Buddy Hield is the highest-ceiling move of the 2020 offseason, even if it means saying goodbye to Josh Richardson in the process.