Philadelphia 76ers: Why wasn’t Torrey Craig an option at the deadline?

(Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

No matter how the final game(s) of the 2021 NBA Finals shake out, Torrey Craig will leave the court an NBA champion… or, at least the proud owner of a championship ring.

You see, in a true twist of NBA irony, Craig began his season as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks, where he signed a $1.7 million contract after a three-year tenure with the Denver Nuggets. While he wasn’t bad with the team per se, as his per 36 numbers weren’t too dissimilar to his time in Denver, when the Bucks opted to execute a trade with the Houston Rockets to procure P.J. Tucker at the deadline, his contract was shipped out to Phoenix in a separate deal for cash considerations in the hopes of freeing up a roster spot for buyout candidates.

That, ultimately, proved to be a mistake.

Since arriving in Arizona, Craig has lucked into the best season of his career, where he’s averaging the most points, assists, rebounds, steals, and blocks of his career. To make matters all the more impressive, Craig is averaging said career-best stats on similarly record-setting shooting numbers in roughly the same number of minutes he played on average over his three-year tenure in Colorado.

*sigh* do you know who could have used a viable two-way combo forward with a decent outside shot? Yeah, that’d have been the Philadelphia 76ers, who had all the assets needed – including cash – to outbid Phoenix for Torrey Craig’s services.

The Philadelphia 76ers need to fortify their bench with Torrey Craig-type players.

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The 2021 NBA Trade deadline was a weird day for the Philadelphia 76ers.

With his phone presumably ringing off the hook – including in a back and forth dialog with Masai Ujiri about Kyle LowryDaryl Morey landed George Hill in a three-team deal that plucked three players off the bench before closing out the day sans a second deal to fill said roster spots.

Was that intentional? Eh, kind of. Most expected that Morey would eventually sign G-League superstar Paul Reed to a standard NBA contract of some sort, so leaving one spot open made sense but the other? That one was much more up in the air.

Now, in theory, many a fan of the Sixers expected the team to walk away from the deadline with at least two new players, and for good reason. Much like how the Boston Celtics were able to acquire Evan Fournier for nothing more than draft picks, Morey and Elton Brand were equipped with a trade exception worth a little over $8 million from which to acquire any player they’d like without surrendering matching salary.

While there were quality pieces to be had in that salary range for a team willing to surrender draft compensation, players like Avery Bradley, D.J. Augustin, and Danuel House all could have been had from the Rockets alone, the Sixers clearly opted to roll the dice on a 2018-esque situation and hope that they’d land a viable contributor on the buyout market for nothing but a vet minimum contract.

That, unfortunately, didn’t happen.

In seasons past, the buy-out market was a great way for teams to pick up much-needed veteran talent who proved too expensive to acquire under the NBA’s salary-matching rules. Plenty of non-playoff teams would cut bait on older players to give younger options an expansive role and the former’s collective agents would find them new homes on teams with championship aspirations.

Though 2021’s market wasn’t quite as robust as usual, as the presence of the pre-playoff buy-in games kept more teams in contention than in seasons passed, it still featured quality players like LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, and Gorgui Dieng, all of whom either signed with the Brooklyn Nets or, funny enough, the San Antonio Spurs.

And what were the Sixers left with? Anthony Tolliver, a quality veteran combo forward who seemed pretty popular among his teammates but only logged two minutes of action during Philly’s postseason run.

Had, instead, the Sixers simply offered to ship a draft pick – even the worst draft pick in their entire portfolio – to the Bucks for the rights to Torrey Craig, they’d have had a guaranteed player in their fray with the optionality to still make moves as they see fit if a quality player would have become available via a buyout.

You know what they say, a Craig in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Granted, maybe Morey did offer said pick to the Bucks for Craig and his intraconference rivals simply said no. While trades between rivals happen in the NBA a little more often than, say, the NFL, it’s never a great idea to ship a rotational player to a potential playoff foe to help fill a massive deficiency.

But honestly, I kind of doubt it. Maybe Morey thought Reed would ride his G-League success to the NBA or that a player like Otto Porter would have been bought out of his contract with the Orlando Magic but clearly, whatever assumption he made proved incorrect, as the Sixers entered the playoffs without a viable backup swing forward and only so many ways to mask that with lineup composition.

And that’s not even to say Craig has been a particularly effective player for the Suns this postseason. Despite having a ton of regular season success in 32 games of action, Craig has only recorded 20-plus minutes of action once so far this postseason and is hovering right around the 12.8 mark in average minutes of action per game. His 4.5 points per game would have averaged 11th on the Sixers and while his 3 point shooting percentage of 41.2 would have ranked fourth, even Matisse Thybulle averaged more 3 point attempts per game, which says a lot.

To call Craig “Just A Guy” may be a bit too harsh, as he’s certainly earned a nice little pay bump heading into free agency this summer, but statistically speaking, he sort of is. If you check out Craig’s RAPTOR ratings on FiveThirtyEight, he falls almost dead center in every discernable category, and it’s hard to find many “Torrey Craig games” when you go back through his game logs from Pheonix, Milwaukee, and Denver.

The Sixers, unfortunately, didn’t even have “Just A Guy” that Doc Rivers felt comfortable playing meaningful minutes at the power forward spot during the playoffs, ergo why they had so many problems when the Atlanta Hawks opted to go big with Danilo Gallinari, John Collins, Clint Capela, and either Kevin Huerter or Bogdan Bogdanovic playing alongside Trae Young.

Next. De’Aaron Fox and Joel Embiid could form a dynamic duo. dark

So, what is the lesson here? Well, for one, maybe a head coach and chief executive should be on the same page when it comes to roster composition. If Doc Rivers felt as confident about Paul Reed’s ability to step up in the playoffs as Daryl Morey, maybe the Philadelphia 76ers wouldn’t have needed to pray a player like Otto Porter worked his way out of his contract. Furthermore, because the Sixers technically had an additional roster spot available because of Reed’s two-way status, they should have been a bit more bullish on landing another contributor even if it ultimately muddied up Reed’s immediate future. And most importantly of all, when you trade for a complimentary player like George Hill at 12:46 on deadline day, maybe make sure you know what the next step in the roster-retooling is before ending the day without another move in place.