Should Dejounte Murray be one of the Sixers’ top trade deadline targets?

Should Dejounte Murray be one of the Sixers’ top trade deadline targets?

By virtually all accounts, the Sixers do not plan to pursue either Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine or Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam ahead of the Feb. 8 NBA trade deadline. The same can’t necessarily be said about Atlanta Hawks guard Dejounte Murray, though.

Turner Sports’ Chris Haynes said last Friday that the Sixers and Los Angeles Lakers were among the teams that have reached out “to check on the availability” of Murray. Haynes later clarified that he didn’t believe Murray was the Sixers’ “No. 1 target, but he is a player of interest.” He also said Murray would “likely be traded by the deadline”—whether to the Sixers or elsewhere—which he added was his opinion after “talking to a bunch of different executives.”

Haynes didn’t specify what the Hawks might be seeking for Murray, whom they signed to a four-year, $114 million contract extension this past summer. But Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports reported this past Friday that the Hawks have made Murray “widely available,” along with nearly everyone else on their roster. He also explained what the Hawks might be trying to accomplish at the trade deadline.

“Atlanta owes its 2025 first-round selection to San Antonio as part of the haul that landed Murray, so there’s plenty of sense for the Hawks, currently 14-19, to weigh selling some of its veteran contributors, incorporating a lottery pick alongside Young and Johnson, then stepping back toward Atlanta’s bigger goal of competing in the playoffs under head coach Quin Snyder next season,” Fischer wrote. “Atlanta has been one of the more active teams on the phones across the league.”

Unlike the Raptors, who appear fixated on remaining competitive after trading OG Anunoby, the Hawks seem willing to intentionally take a step back. Since the Sixers mainly have draft picks and expiring contracts to offer, the Hawks are a far more logical trade partner than the Raptors.

So, should Murray be the Sixers’ big splash at the trade deadline? That depends on your evaluation of Murray, the Sixers’ biggest needs and what the alternatives might be.

During his final season with the San Antonio Spurs in 2021-22, Murray averaged a career-high 21.1 points, 9.2 assists, 8.3 rebounds and a league-leading 2.0 steals in only 34.8 minutes per game. The Atlanta Hawks traded for him during the 2022 offseason, but his partnership with Trae Young hasn’t materialized quite as envisioned.

This season, Murray is averaging 20.9 points, 5.0 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 34.6 minutes per night. He’s also launching a career-high 6.0 three-point attempts per game and is knocking them down at a 38.4 percent clip. That’s a marked improvement over the 34.4 percent that he shot from deep in 2022-23 or the 32.7 percent he did in 2021-22.

If you believe in Murray to sustain that level of three-point shooting moving forward, it’s easy to envision his fit alongside Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey. He could be a complementary scorer and a secondary playmaker who runs the bench unit when Maxey is taking a breather. Murray would essentially be an upgrade over De’Anthony Melton, although he’s somehow been even less effective in transition this year than Melton has.

The real question is Murray’s defense. He used to be one of the better backcourt defenders in the league—he ranked in the 80th percentile or above in Dunks and Threes’ defensive estimated plus/minus in three of his first four seasons—but that has slipped since his arrival in Atlanta. Playing next to the defensive sieve that is Trae Young likely isn’t helping matters, but the Sixers would need to be confident in his ability to bounce back as a high-end defender alongside Embiid.

If they were, Murray would fit the archetype that team president Daryl Morey said he was pursuing earlier this season.

“I would say first off, they need to be pretty solid on both ends,” he said during an appearance on the Rights to Ricky Sanchez podcast. “As you get into the playoffs, it gets very hard for your top guys to be elite one way. It has worked, it’s very rare, though. The other thing would be, we probably need them to have a bit of playmaking, connector, ball-movement aspects. We are a little short on that, and it becomes more important in the playoffs.”

Morey made those comments early in the season, before he had a few months to witness Maxey’s rise to All-Star contention and before Patrick Beverley established a firm grip on the backup point guard job. He also hadn’t seen much from Nicolas Batum, Robert Covington and Marcus Morris Sr., all of whom he acquired when he traded James Harden and P.J. Tucker to the Los Angeles Clippers on Halloween.

Having now spent the past few months watching this iteration of the Sixers, perhaps Morey has different needs that he’s looking to fill. Then again, good luck finding a team at this time of year that isn’t searching for additional playmaking and another two-way player.

Murray’s contract could make him especially appealing to the Sixers. He’s earning only $17.7 million this year, which means the Sixers could easily match salaries for him in a trade. They could flip Marcus Morris’ $17.1 million expiring contract straight up for him, or they could combine Robert Covington ($11.7 million) and Furkan Korkmaz ($5.4 million) to open up an additional roster spot. Beyond that, they have as many as three first-round picks and six second-round picks that they can offer, as well as expendable young players such as Jaden Springer and KJ Martin.

Murray also signed a four-year, $114.1 million extension with the Hawks this past offseason, which means he’s under contract through at least 2026-27. (He has a $30.8 million player option in 2027-28.) Over each of the next three seasons, he’s projected to take up only 17-18 percent of the salary cap, per Spotrac.

With Embiid already on a 35 percent max and Maxey appears headed for a 25 percent max this offseason—or a 30 percent one if he makes an All-NBA team—the Sixers will soon have a majority of their cap space tied up in their two stars. While they technically could add a third max deal via free agency or trade, the league’s new collective bargaining agreement makes it prohibitively difficult to build around three players on max contracts unless you have a draft pick war chest like the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Locking in two stars on max deals and a third fringe All-Star on a well-below-max deal could be the better play for the Sixers and most other teams. Murray might not be the right on-court fit in that regard, but his contract should give him positive value under the new CBA. That’s arguably what the Sixers should be targeting via trade, not a third player on a max deal unless it’s an absolute no-brainer.

It’s impossible to say whether Murray should be the Sixers’ top target at the trade deadline without knowing what the Hawks would want in return for him and what other options might be available. The security of having him locked in long-term at a well-below-max rate could give him particular appeal to the Sixers, who’ve reportedly been protective of their ability to carve out significant cap space this summer.

“What I will say about the Philadelphia 76ers: They’re going to be patient,” Haynes said. “They’re not going to rush and do anything. This offseason, they have the opportunity to have ample cap space to try to bring in another star. They’re not gonna be rushed by any means.”

In other words: Even if the Sixers do trade for Murray, don’t expect them to overpay. And for what it’s worth, a source described a Murray-to-the-Sixers deal as “unlikely” to Austin Krell of 97.3 ESPN, highlighting his questionable fit next to Maxey.

Unless otherwise noted, all stats via NBA.com, PBPStats, Cleaning the Glass or Basketball Reference. All salary information via Spotrac or RealGM.

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