Start time - 6:00 p.m. (CT)
Broadcaster - Bally Sports Oklahoma
All of the dust from the trade deadline has now settled and tonight’s game is the first fixture in the long run to the end of the season. Oklahoma City did not do all that much business, to everyone’s surprise. Their opponents swung a huge deal to bring a former MVP to Philadelphia.
Oklahoma City was expected to be one of the prime movers on trade deadline day. The Thunder had acres of cap space and there were quite a few teams looking to dump contracts. Tim Hardaway Jr, Serge Ibaka and Tobias Harris were all players likely to end up in OKC as part of a salary dump.
Those predictions did not come true. Dallas retained THJ, Ibaka went to Milwaukee in a four team transaction while Tobias Harris emerged from the trade deadline as a Sixer. Harris was not shifted to make room for Harden and should feature in their plans going forward.
The only move of note involved acquiring KZ Okpala from the Miami Heat for a 2026 second round pick. On the face of it, it is a strange transaction. Okpala is a defensive-minded forward who has barely featured in Coach Spolestra’s rotation. KZ can shoot the ball somewhat but he has a limited offensive game. He is not an immediate trade target.
The details when put into context tell the full story. Miami are a contending team who want to win now. Winning now requires assets that can be easily dealt such as picks. Miami already owed the Thunder their pick in 2023 as part of the three-way swap arrangement. The pick was protected in such a way that Miami’s liquidity was locked up.
The Stepien Rule prevents teams from dealing picks in two consecutive years which limited the Heat’s flexibility. Until the Okpala trade was made, Miami could only trade their 2028 first round pick.
As part of the Okpala trade, the Thunder agreed for the 2023 protected first to be replaced by a loosely protected 2025 Miami first round pick. The new pick is lottery protected in 2025 and will become unprotected in 2026.
Miami will have an old team in three or four years time. Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry and PJ Tucker will all be in their twilight years. While Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro will be in their theoretical primes, there is no guarantee that there is a smooth transition between eras. It is highly possible that the 2025 pick becomes a valuable bargaining chip.
While the Thunder were making moves around the edges, the 76ers made wholesale changes to their roster. Ben Simmons, Andre Drummond, Seth Curry and two firsts were sent to Brooklyn for James Harden and Paul Millsap.
For months, Ben Simmons loomed over the Sixers like an albatrosss. He was dead money on the cap sheet, unable to play and with all bridges burned. It would have been easy for Daryl Morey to cave to the pressure of winning now with Embiid and trading Simmons for pennies on the dollar.
Morey had made that mistake with Russell Westbrook in Houston and that trade backfired massively. He refused to make the same mistake twice and was steadfast in his conviction that Simmons would lead to a reunion with James Harden.
Harden is the superstar who Morey built an excellent Rockets’ team around and there were always rumblings that Philly was his preferred destination. Joel Embiid has been vocal in his desire to play with Harden and form one of the best dynamic duos in the NBA.
It is a team where Harden is supported from his teammates to ownership. Michael Rubin, part owner of the 76ers, is a close friend of Harden. The allure of playing in Philly for Morey was undeniable when his own championship prospects were going down the pan with Brooklyn.
Durant’s injuries and Kyrie’s refusal to get the vaccine shot any chance of winning it all in the foot. For a player like Harden, every season is crucial at this point in his career. Winning now is imperative.
The Harden addition changes Philly’s talent level but not for tonight’s game. Harden has not yet joined the team and will not play. Personally, I think he’s scared of matching up with Lu Dort but I suppose Dort has that effect on people.
The Thunder are going to have a difficult time stopping Embiid which is why it is highly important that the Thunder neutralise Philly’s other scoring options. Tobias Harris should be encouraged to isolate with the ball and jack up mid-range jumpers.
Tyrese Maxey is a live-wire point guard who is getting better each and every game. Maxey likes to drive and collapse the defense with his penetration. Philadelphia generally generate good catch and shoot looks whenever Maxey is attacking inside.
Luguentz Dort must get physical with Tyrese and make it difficult for Maxey to drive towards the basket. Philadelphia’s offense will suffer if they start to play sideways passing, desperately looking for an opening. The Thunder need to drag the possession out and force Philly into low-shot clock situations.