The Boston Celtics have been one of the best teams in the NBA since Nov. 26, posting a 25-9 record over that span to climb to third place in the Eastern Conference, with just the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors in between the C’s and the top spot.
But Boston might have a problem after Wednesday morning’s blockbuster trade between the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Clippers.
Philadelphia reportedly acquired forward Tobias Harris, center Boban Marjonovic and forward Mike Scott in exchange for Landry Shamet, Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala and four draft picks.
The immediate impact of the trade is clear: the 76ers now have the best starting five in the Eastern Conference.
By adding Harris, who’s averaging 20.9 points per game this season while shooting 43.9 percent from 3-point range, to the core of Jimmy Butler, Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and J.J. Redick, the 76ers, who currently sit in fifth place in the East, have given themselves a lineup that in theory should be more potent than any five the Celtics, Bucks or Raptors can put on the floor.
In fact, the only team in the NBA who can put out a more talented starting five is the two-time defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
Philly’s immediate problem now is their depth. In two consecutive trades for restricted free agents, the 76ers have purged their depth to put together a Big Four (Butler-Embiid-Simmons-Harris) they hope to keep together for quite some time, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
The 76ers’ bench now contains Scott, Marjanovic, T.J. McConnell, Furkan Korkmaz and the injured Markelle Fultz and Zhaire Smith. That’s not great. Barring Fultz becoming a functional NBA player this season, Philadelphia will be sure to hit the buyout market hard, with players like Wesley Matthews, J.R. Smith, Jeremy Lin and DeAndre Jordan potentially becoming available in the coming weeks.
The new-look 76ers now create another roadblock for the surging Celtics in the Eastern Conference. The conference now is four teams deep, and Philadelphia looks to be the best of the bunch on paper.
Boston has owned Philly of late, winning five of the last six regular-season matchups and making quick work of the Sixers in last year’s Eastern Conference semifinal battle, eliminating Embiid, Simmons and Co. in five games. But things could be different this time around in the playoffs.
The additions of Harris and Butler now give Philadelphia three of the four best players in any potential series with the Celtics and four of the best six, depending on your feelings on Simmons and Jayson Tatum, and has four players capable of putting up big numbers on any given night. Harris gives the 76ers a shooter who can stretch the floor when Simmons or Butler run the show and a scorer who can create his own shot if working with the bench unit.
Philadelphia’s move for Harris also might hurt the Celtics in their ultimate pursuit of Anthony Davis and impact Boston’s draft status.
After acquiring Philadelphia’s 2020 first-round pick and the Miami Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick in the Harris trade, the Clippers now could have the draft assets necessary to tempt the New Orleans Pelicans into making a Davis trade. The star forward reportedly would sign a long-term deal with the Clippers if dealt there, and LA now can offer the two picks acquired in the Harris deal and two of their own along with contracts and a young player to land the franchise star Boston covets and can’t trade for until after July 1.
LA trading Harris also signals they’ll be dropping out of the playoff race and thus will be keeping their 2019 first-round draft pick, which would be Boston’s if it was outside of the lottery. If the Clippers miss the playoffs next year as well, then Boston will receive two second-round draft picks from LA to complete a 2016 draft day trade.
The 76ers swung for the fences in acquiring Harris, a deal that could shift the balance of power in the Eastern Conference this year and beyond.
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