Ersan Ilyasova Makes the Team Better, But at What Cost?

In a surprising move, the Philadelphia 76ers acquired Ersan Ilyasova and a conditional future pick in exchange for Jerami Grant — what are the consequences moving forward?

In what is the team’s first mid-season transaction under Bryan Colangelo’s guidance, the Philadelphia 76ers swung a deal to acquire Ersan Ilyasova and a conditional future pick from the Oklahoma City Thunder, shipping away the likes of Jerami Grant in the process. Marc Stein has reported that the Sixers have the intention of keeping Ilyasova.

While this deal is certainly a head-scratcher to some, it shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise given the theme of Colangelo’s tenure as the team’s president thus far. Their free agency period was highlighted by the acquisitions of veterans who helped fill key holes in their somewhat lackluster rotation, and Ilyasova fits right in as a stretch four who can aid in spacing the court for the likes of Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor.

The Sixers have been somewhat driven towards making substantial improvements, even if it means shedding a bit of their youth, and this move was another example of just that.

With that said, there are some positives and negatives that have to analyzed — starting with just how much is Jerami Grant really worth. The debate from throughout the NBA universe could be relatively lengthy here, as his high upside has always been in some ways countered by a noticeable lack of polish as an NBA prospect. His rangy defensive versatility at the forward spots in something a lot of teams, would love to add, but his lack of consistent offensive production could be what made Colangelo so willing to ship him elsewhere.

Philadelphia has lacked spacing in virtually every capacity for the past few seasons, so shedding an iffy shooter for a viable stretch four who has proven himself a legitimate producer at the NBA level makes sense. Ilyasova is capable of stepping in as the team’s starting power forward –something I wouldn’t be too shocked to see — and will likely give them more relevant production than Grant this year, it’s just a matter of risking the loss of long term output.

Along with the fact that he’s not a long term solution by any standard, Ilyasova also fills the role that many envisioned Dario Saric carrying this season. He’s a smooth shooter from deep who, albeit not with the same mobility, can make the smart pass from time to time and function as the catalyst for opening up lanes for the likes of Sergio Rodriguez and Joel Embiid in the pick-and-roll or in post-up scenarios.

While there’s certainly more versatility to Saric’s game than that of Ilyasova, the notion that the Sixers “wanted a stretch four” to help with Embiid and Okafor shows that they weren’t necessarily enamored with the rookie’s performance thus far.

With Ilyasova now likely to take on a sizable role, and Ben Simmons set to make a return at some point this season barring any setbacks, this likely means Saric will have far less of an opportunity to break out as a key contributor than many thought he would. Okafor is set to spend some time on the court with Embiid as well in the near future, which only decreases the opportunities Saric will have to crack the rotation on a steady basis.

He hasn’t really looked the part of an NBA-ready contributor thus far, and likely has some more development and acclimation to do before he’s able to work his way back into the forefront of the rotation next season.

Ilyasova, all-in-all, clearly makes the team better. He’s someone who has been well-tested as a stretch four in the league, and although he has been more of a journeyman as of late, he has still found himself starting on just about every team he has been a part of. He’s a solid volume shooter from deep when set up with good looks, something he’ll get plenty of with Rodriguez and Embiid spearheading the offense, and gives Brett Brown somebody who is more capable of filling that Saric role at a high level to kick off the year.

It’s worth noting, however, that Ilyasova will almost certainly be reduced to the backup role once Ben Simmons’ body is ready to sustain starting minutes. If Saric does end up keeping the starting role over Ilyasova for now, his production — being that this is the final year of his contract — could be a bit underwhelming from fans’ perspectives.

There are also the financial ties and the conditional draft pick that are worth being noted. Ilyasova brings the Sixers $8 million closer closer to the cap floor, while a future first rounder does give them the possibility of adding another quality young talent down the road.

In what was essentially trading away long term upside for an immediate solution, there are some clear positives and negatives that need to be weighed when analyzing this move. Philadelphia is going to be a better team from a talent standpoint, without question, and Ilyasova is another quality veteran voice to throw into the mix with a sizable amount of young talent.

And while it may be somewhat unreasonable to do so, a lot of the merit for who wins or loses this trade is going to based heavily off of how well Grant performs with Russell Westbrook and company in OKC. There is some legitimate long term upside that Colangelo is giving up here, and Dario Saric’s role is likely going to take a substantial hit to some extent moving forward. With that said, the perks of having a veteran floor spacer alongside their core big men and the financial gains that come alongside them could make this deal worthwhile in 2016-17.

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