Philadelphia 76ers: Washington got better after trading a max player

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

Fans of the Philadelphia 76ers aren’t particularly happy with Tobias Harris at the moment.

The double crown jewel of Elton Brand‘s reign as general manager, Harris has increasingly proven to be a poor fit in an offense built around Tyrese Maxey and Joel Embiid and, despite his previous success under Doc Rivers, it would appear his on-court fit questions are becoming harder and harder to ignore.

Sure, Harris can score points in bunches, pick up rebounds, and somehow rank the third on the team in assists per game – which is a big issue for multiple reasons – but the owner of the second-biggest contract in franchise history has a bad habit of passing up open 3s for ugly twos, setting up his teammates for more challenging looks, and a general inability to not waste a quarter of the shot clock on any given offensive possession before passing out of a self-generated double-look.

But what are the Philadelphia 76ers to do? Surely there aren’t many teams who would actively want Harris (and his contract) at this point and formulating a deal that realistically makes sense for both parties might be even harder than securing a Ben Simmons trade that pleases Daryl Morey. Is there any recent example of a team “cashing out” on a max contract player? Why yes, in fact, there is, and the team that did so just so happens to be the team’s next opponent.

Washington’s handling of Russell Westbrook could give the Philadelphia 76ers food for thought.

The Washington Wizards pretty much reached their ceiling with John Wall and Bradley Beal as their two best players.

Now granted, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the franchise that once employed Michael Jordan as both a player and general manager made the playoffs in four of the eight seasons the duo were teammates, and the team has twice as many 40 win seasons as they had ones with losing records during the Wall-Beal-era.

Had Wall not suffered through a series of unfortunate events including but not limited to a post-surgery infection and a torn Achilles tendon, maybe he’d still be a member of the team formerly known as the Bullets to this day, but instead, GM Tommy Sheppard opted to trade one of the faces of his franchise alongside a lottery-protected first-round pick to the Houston Rockets for Russell Westbrook, who didn’t quite work out re-paired up with James Harden.

With a new-look backcourt of Westbrook and Beal, the Wizards were still decent enough to land the eighth seed in the East but ultimately lost to your friendly neighborhood Philadelphia 76ers in five in the first round.

Needless to say, Sheppard was at another impasse. He could surely continue to hold tight with the Westbrook-Beal pairing, win a few more games than he loses, give or take, and generate some extra revenue for the ownership group via a playoff series, but would the team ever actually be able to outgun the Sixers, Milwaukee Bucks, or Brooklyn Nets?

He came to the answer “no” and opted to cash out on Westbrook before he got too comfortable, exchanging the Jordan-endorsed point guard and his $44 million cap hit to the Los Angeles Lakers for a package that ultimately landed Washington Spencer Dinwiddie, Aaron Holiday, Isaiah Todd, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, and Kyle Kuzma, with the latter specifically coming from Jeanie Buss’ franchise.

Now sure, are any of those players individually better than Westbrook? No. For all of his idiosyncrasies, Brodie is still a darn good player, especially in the regular season, but Sheppard was able to swap out his second-best scorer in 2020-21 to land his second, third, and fourth-best scorers in 2021-22.

As counterintuitive as it may sound in the modern-day, star-driven NBA, the plan worked out fairly well for Washington.

Though the sample size is admittedly small, and the advanced stats have some potentially concerning trends, Washington has a better win percentage so far this season and has largely pushed aside their uber-fast with no defense approach for a more balanced attack centered around Beal and a deep bench.

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So what can the Philadelphia 76ers learn from this story? Well, for one thing, having max contract players is all well, but only if they are playing up to their contract status. If that player isn’t and some team is willing to swap out a few solid-if-not-spectacular rotational players for their service, doing so can not only keep a team competitive but do so with the added bonus of having trade optionality with multiple moveable contracts now on the books. Does this apply to the 2021-22 iteration of Doc Rivers/Daryl Morey’s team? I guess that depends on your perspective.