With a “Big Three” of elite players at the top of NBA Draft and the Philadelphia 76ers having the third and tenth overall picks, the Sixers’ draft leverage looked enviable until Joel Embiid’s foot injury was disclosed to all concerned. Embiid’s stress fracture in his foot causes some evaluators to stop viewing him as being a possible Hakeem Olajuwon and start seeing him as a potential Greg Oden or Bill Walton. While Embiid’s physical gifts cannot be downplayed, foot problems for a big man can be a career killer. The Sixers’ presumed leverage in the draft revolved around three elite players being available at the top. With only two top guns, the 76ers could be odd man out instead of the lynchpin for the draft.
Recent speculation centered on trade talks between the Sixers and Cleveland Cavaliers in which the Philadelphia team executives offered the third overall pick and Forward Thaddeus Young in exchange for the first overall pick. The scuttlebutt went a step further by reporting the Cavs were holding out for the 10th pick as well, which the Sixers reportedly refused to surrender as part of the deal.
The Cavs’ calculus would have been that the third pick is still one of the Big Three; therefore, they could trade out of the first slot and still draft the last available among Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, yet still obtain another good young player and the pick at no. 10. If the Philadelphia 76ers truly want to assure themselves of drafting Andrew Wiggins, who seems to be their target, then the decreased draft leverage arising through the Joel Embiid injury could require additional assets beyond the two first rounders and Young in order to consummate the trade. The deal could still work if Cleveland values second round picks, the Sixers have an unheard of seven pick treasure trove in the second round.
Although most second round picks do not become rotation players or even stay long in the NBA at the back of the roster, the picks can have great value. The Cavaliers potentially have cap space to capitalize on the long-term value of a second round pick. Many second round picks are signed for a year or two at the minimum salary. For teams with some cap room and a second round draft pick they think will be valuable, the team can sign them for a longer term and lock the player up for potentially four years. The Sixers possess a pick at 39, coincidentally acquired from the Cavs, which could have some value to the Cleveland team.
Although the Philadelphia 76ers appear to have decreased leverage to pull off a trade prior to the NBA Draft due to the Joel Embiid injury, they do have the assets available to sweeten the deal if they are smitten enough with Wiggins. The decision-making process is more difficult with the Embiid injury thrown into the mix. Standing pat may not give them the potential transformative talent they covet, yet moving forward to trade into the first slot probably has a higher cost now.
Commentary by William Costolo