The 76ers are in desperate need of a roster upgrade.
Monday night’s drubbing by the Memphis Grizzlies was the latest example of the Sixers’ struggles to find a second scorer and prove they can compete without adding more support for Joel Embiid. The four-time All-Star missed the game with rib soreness and the Sixers looked lost in the 35-point road setback, tying their largest margin of defeat this season. Embiid also missed their 35-point loss to the Utah Jazz on Nov. 16.
Based on their results without Embiid, one could argue the Sixers would have been better off trading disgruntled point guard Ben Simmons, who has yet to play this season, for a difference-maker during the draft in July.
Wednesday marks the first day that this summer’s newly signed free agents can be traded. This provides a bigger pool of potential trade partners. The problem is that there are not a lot of available difference-makers in that group. So basically all Wednesday can do for the Sixers is add pieces that could help salaries match up in a potential Simmons trade.
Chicago Bulls swingman DeMar DeRozan, Miami Heat point guard Kyle Lowry, and Los Angeles Clippers small forward Kawhi Leonard are three of this summer’s biggest free-agency signees. And it’s unlikely that they’ll be on the move.
So is there any realistic deal available that can transform this 15-13 squad into an NBA title contender?
We all know that Damian Lillard is atop the Sixers’ wish list. But his acquisition an actual possibility? The Portland Trail Blazers point guard has publicly denied reports on multiple occasions that he wants to be traded. Lillard, who is in the first year of a four-year, $176 million deal, reportedly wants a two-year, $107 million extension in July. With that, the 31-year-old would average $53.5 million per season when the extension kicks in during the 2025-26 season.
It’s also something that top-level Blazers candidates to replace recently fired general manager Neil Olshey are reportedly not enthusiastic about. However, Portland is unwilling to part with Lillard, regarded as the second-best player in franchise history behind Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler.
But could Lillard ultimately ask to be moved if the Blazers are not willing to give in to his reported extension request?
Trading Lillard would be a major move for an interim GM to make. It would also be a big first move that could backfire on a new GM.
Assuming CJ McCollum’s recovery from a collapsed lung doesn’t take long, Lillard’s backcourt mate is the more realistic option to acquire for Simmons. It makes a lot of sense for the Blazers and Sixers.
And unlike in Lillard’s case, moving McCollum wouldn’t be a bad deal. In fact, some might ask what took the Blazers so long. While he and Lillard are exciting to watch offensively, they both struggle on defense and haven’t been able to advance deep in the playoffs.
So moving McCollum for Simmons would bolster the Blazers’ defensive shortcomings. It would also give a Sixers a much-needed second scorer and closer.
What other players make sense? The New Orleans Pelicans’ Brandon Ingram and Sacramento Kings’ De’Aaron Fox could be realistic options. Meanwhile, the Houston Rockets’ John Wall and Los Angeles Lakers’ Russell Westbrook are intriguing ones.
Ingram was a better fit to play alongside Embiid when the Sixers drafted Simmons first overall during the 2016 draft. Ingram, who was extremely thin at the time, went second to the Lakers. NBA teams had concerns about how his body would hold up in the NBA.
But the 6-foot-8 forward can play on the perimeter and shoot from the outside. He’s also long, with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and can create his own shot and close out games. However, Simmons wouldn’t be a fit with New Orleans power forward Zion Williamson. Both players do a lot of their scoring near the basket. And even though Simmons is listed as a point guard, his best position is power forward, so that would be a problem in New Orleans.
Fox would help the Sixers. He’s a point guard who can get in the lane and possesses elite quickness. He’s not a great shooter, but he is willing to take and can make big shots. But Fox might not be the top-level player the Sixers are coveting. In the past, the Kings were unwilling to include Fox in a trade for Simmons. Does that change now that the Kings are 11-17?
Wall would help the Sixers with his athleticism and improved shooting. He can also score and pass the ball. The problem is that he is making $44.3 million this season and has a player option for $47.3 million next season. Wall, who has injury problems, has yet to play this season as the Rockets seek to trade him.
The Sixers would also be rolling the dice by going after Westbrook.
He would give the them a lot of the intangibles. He raises the level of other players. The point guard plays with unmatched intensity. However, the Sixers would have to live with the bad shot selection and turnovers. He also needs the ball in his hands at all times to be effective.
He hasn’t had the ball in his hands all the time in Los Angeles while playing with LeBron James. As a result, Westbrook lost some of his effectiveness. His contract is similar to Wall’s, as he makes $44.2 million this season and has a player option for $47 million next season.
So while they may be realistic options, Wall and Westbrook appear to be less-than-ideal acquisitions in a Simmons trade.
The Sixers have recently ramped up discussions with potential trade partners. Teams have been posturing and putting feelers out there.
Trade talks around the league are expected to increase and circle back with face-to-face discussions when team officials head to Las Vegas later this week for the NBA G League Showcase that runs from Dec. 19-22 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.