Philadelphia 76ers: Swapping out Evan Fournier for Josh Richardson is a choice

Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

The Philadelphia 76ers‘ decision to trade Jimmy Butler for Josh Richardson gets a bad rep.

Now granted, is that like trading a Pat’s Whiz wit for a “Philly Steak & Cheese” Hot Pocket? Most definitely. Butler is better than Richardson in every possible way sans contract value, but in the weird and potentially wonderful world of the sign-and-trade, where players dictate their desired landing spot and the teams involved have to exchange something of value to facilitate a move, things aren’t that simple.

Sidebar: Nestle’s Philly Steak & Cheese Hot Pocket is comprised of “reduced-fat mozzarella cheese, peppers, onion, & sauce in a seasoned crust. That’s… a choice.

For the Sixers, the choice was simple: Either trade Butler and receive a player like Richardson back in return or allow Mr. Buckets to walk for nothing and sign a big deal with, say, the New York Knicks for nothing.

In that context, the choice is rather obvious.

Should the Sixers have maybe identified a different one of the Heats’ comparable assets? Maybe, maybe not. If I recall correctly, Justise Winslow was a pretty hot name when the idea of a Butler sign-and-trade looked like a possibility but he would have been an even stranger fit next to Ben Simmons and has since watched his career tail off as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies. But outside of attempting to secure Duncan Robinson, so wasn’t yet the player he is now, Richardson kinda, sorta was the best player available for what the Sixers needed at the time, ie a good defensive guard who could take up secondary ballhandling duties next to Simmons.

So why, you may ask, are you 300 words into reading an article about Josh Richardson in 2021? Well, because the Boston Celtics saw the Philadelphia 76ers’ ill-fated 2019 offseason headlined by the additions of Al Horford and Richardson and said yeah, lemme have some of that, even if it comes at the expense of 2021 trade deadline addition Evan Fournier.

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Josh Richardson is like an A- version of Evan Fournier.

He’s a slightly less effective scorer, a slightly less effective shooter, and even on the defensive end of the court, his “better” side of the ball, he isn’t going to make anyone about future teammate Marcus Smart any time soon.

According to FiveThirtyEight, Fournier offers his team a WAR rating of 2.0 with a +1.8 Offensive RAPTOR rating versus Richardson’s 0.6 WAR without a positive offensive or defensive RAPTOR rating.

Paired up on the wings, Richardson and Fournier could form a fairly competent one-two punch, especially if paired up with a plus distributor at the point guard position, but in a “one or the other”-type situation, you’d be hard-pressed to find a team who values the former over the latter if the money is close.

… then again, the Dallas Mavericks sort of did make that choice when they traded Seth Curry to the Sixers for Richardson and a second-round pick, but considering that trade is now viewed as one of the worst in recent NBA memory, I wouldn’t use that as a benchmark.

So why is Boston making this into an unnecessary choice? They initially acquired Fournier from the Orlando Magic at the 2021 NBA Trade Deadline along with his Bird Rights using part of the Gordon Hayward Trade Exception and thus could exceed the cap to sign him moving forward. Why act like acquiring Richardson using the rest of that same Exception suddenly makes Fournier expendable?

Honestly, your guess is as good as mine.

As things presently stand, the Celtics’ starting lineup projects to be Marcus Smart, Josh Richardson, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Al Horford.

That lineup is very switchable, has very good defensive bones, and could excess in the slow-paced, bully-ball style of basketball that dominated the game about two decades ago. But it also boosts zero players who average more than five assists per game, zero traditional lead ball handlers, and zero players who shoot better than 40 percent from 3 point range.

Does Fournier ultimately fix that issue? No. He’s only a 37.9 percent shooter from beyond the arc and has never averaged more than 3.8 assists per game over a full NBA season, but he was the Celtics’ best bomber last season (46.3 percent), albeit on only 95 attempts during the regular season, and that ain’t nothin’ on a team that made 37.4 percent of their 2,618 attempts over the 72 game regular season.

With Smarts’ contract set to expire at the end of the season, there might just be a market to swap him out for a viable point guard heading into the regular season, which would thus make Fournier an even more important piece for the Celtics moving forward, as he’d be responsible for more offensive opportunities as an off-ball gunner.

Don’t get me wrong, I want the Celtics to be bad just as much as you do, I am a Sixers fan after all, but the decision to trade for Richardson and allow Fournier to walk in free agency just doesn’t make a ton of sense.

Next. Grading the Philadelphia 76ers’ 2021 NBA Draft class. dark

In the NBA, cap space is a tangible asset. If you’re capped out, the ways to further build a contender are minimal, and thus the ways of securing qualities veteran players outside of a trade become few and far between. Because Gordon Hayward was technically sign-and-traded to the Charlotte Hornets, the Boston Celtics were afforded a massive Trade Exception capable of adding money to their books without having to surrender matching contracts. That’s how they initially landed Evan Fournier and just secured Josh Richardson’s services at the end of July. So, riddle me this Philadelphia 76ers fans, why would new GM Brad Stevens receive such an interesting option to exceed the cap and secure a quality player only to… let one of them walk out the door to save their ownership group money. Oh… that’s probably it, isn’t it?