Should San Antonio Spurs Explore Trade for Okafor or Noel?

Jan 24, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) and center Jahlil Okafor (8) react after a score against the Boston Celtics during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 24, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) and center Jahlil Okafor (8) react after a score against the Boston Celtics during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

With the San Antonio Spurs looking as though they might need to replace Tim Duncan at center, two intriguing players have been unleashed onto the trade block.

According to league sources, the Philadelphia 76ers have decide to explore trades involving their young interior players Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel.

They’re said to be looking for either a high draft pick or veteran talent that can be packaged in a deal for one of these players.

With how successful the Spurs always are in the regular season, they don’t have any high draft picks to offer, so if they were to try to entice the 76ers, it would have to be with veteran talent.

The Spurs have 7 players under contract currently: Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker, Danny Green, Boris Diaw, Patty Mills, and Kyle Anderson.

Leonard and Aldridge are untouchables. Anderson is too inexperienced to draw any major interest from the 76ers. Diaw is a 34 year old reserve without the production to really wow the 76ers as a main component of a trade. That leaves Parker, Green, and Mills as the more likely options to be centerpieces of a potential trade.

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Parker’s play is significantly declining, but he’s the type of veteran leader the 76ers would love to bring aboard to help guide their younger players. His statistical dip may scare them away from a deal involving him as the main selling point, though.

Mills will be 28 at the start of next season, and he’s proven to be a terrific scorer off the bench thanks to a great perimeter shot. He’s undersized, however, and doesn’t play much defense.

Green is probably the strongest asset the Spurs would have to offer in a trade. He’s an elite perimeter defender, and although he had a poor season shooting the ball last year, his career numbers show him to be one of the best 3-point shooters in the NBA.

The best deal the Spurs would have to offer is a package of some combination of Parker, Green, and Mills, but that’s unlikely to be better than other packages that teams with high draft picks or veterans with gaudier numbers to offer.

The 76ers are on the hook for just slightly over $33 million next season, and have huge cap flexibility to take on extra contracts that teams send them. A trade with San Antonio involving the 3 players mentioned above is feasible from a logistics standpoint, but whether Philadelphia would say yes to it is dubious at best.

Okafor and Noel are both intriguing players, albeit in different ways. Okafor is a great interior scorer with not much else to show, and Noel is still raw offensively, but is a great defender, rebounder, and shot blocker.

Both would represent about the same cap hit, and a trade would free up salary space for the Spurs, as Parker makes about $14.4 million, Green makes $10 million, and Mills makes about $3.6 million. Mills would have to be packaged with one of the other two guys for San Antonio to get cap room, assuming that only Noel or Okafor were sent to San Antonio.

Noel seems like a more interesting option to fit in with San Antonio’s defensive identity. He’s a solid defender and fantastic rim protector, and his offensive game can be polished with the Spurs’ impressive player development staff.

Hypothetical trades always seem too good to be true, because it’s non-consensual swapping of players. In reality, Green and Mills, or even Green, Mills, and Parker, probably wouldn’t be enough for Philadelphia to give away either of their former high picks so young into their careers.

They’ll test the market for each player, and while the jury is still out on whether both of their games mesh properly, if one of them gets traded, it will probably be to a team with higher draft picks to offer, or veteran talent that doesn’t factor into their current team’s long term vision.

If the Spurs were to pull this off, they could address their need at center while not using up any cap space to sign a star point guard like Mike Conley.

Of course they’d end up having a hole at shooting guard if Green were the main package in a Philadelphia deal, and the shooting guard free agent market comes with some questionable alternatives.

The Spurs should do their due diligence to explore every option possible to improving their team, but this doesn’t seem either convincingly smart or plausible. The Spurs have a nice nucleus right now, and it would be a shame to give away assets to fill a need that can possibly be addressed in free agency with their cap room.

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Okafor is an exciting player, and Noel probably even more so, but the Spurs should steer clear of this. It’s just as well, because the 76ers most likely wouldn’t say yes to the trade anyway.