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The Sixers should target Damian Lillard in a Ben Simmons trade | Keith Pompey

Lillard would be an upgrade from Simmons, and the six-time All-Star’s presence would catapult the Sixers back into the NBA title-contender conversation.

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard passing the ball against the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of a first-round NBA playoff series in May.
Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard passing the ball against the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of a first-round NBA playoff series in May.Read moreJack Dempsey / AP

The 76ers will have a lot of holes to fill if Ben Simmons is traded.

Sharpshooter Seth Curry proved he’s a starting guard in the NBA. However, he also proved this postseason that defense remains a glaring weakness.

Soon to be a free agent, Danny Green probably won’t be a Sixer moving forward. The team’s go-to players are MVP runner-up Joel Embiid and All-Star snub Tobias Harris. The Sixers will also have role players in Matisse Thybulle, Tyrese Maxey and Shake Milton.

But, at this time of their careers, the three reserve guards aren’t the difference-makers needed to make a deep postseason run. Nor is George Hill, who is also currently under contract for next season.

Yet Simmons could be on his way out of Philadelphia.

The best landing spot for him would be the Los Angeles Lakers. That would enable Simmons to play alongside close friend and mentor LeBron James. Simmons would have less pressure to score while playing alongside perennial All-Stars James and Anthony Davis. But James, who will be 37 in December, is getting older. So Simmons could take over for him as the face of the Lakers in a couple of seasons.

The best trade scenario for the Sixers would be acquiring Damian Lillard from the Portland Trail Blazers.

» READ MORE: ‘It is a pretty rough time for him right now’: Ben Simmons to skip the Olympics

Lillard, apparently unhappy in Portland, would be perfect for the Sixers.

He’s an elite point guard and a closer the team desperately needs to pair with Embiid. With Curry as a floor spacer and Harris as the third option, the Sixers would be tough to beat with Lillard and Embiid as the cornerstones.

The Sixers are in a win-now mode. The best way to do that would be to get Lillard, who’s an upgrade from Simmons. The six-time All-Star’s presence would catapult the Sixers back into the NBA title contender conversation.

Simmons’ agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, recently met with the Sixers to see if it made sense to work together to find a trade before the start of the 2021-22 season. While no trade request was made, the sides are expected to resume conversations ahead of the July 29 NBA draft and August free-agency period.

Publicly, the Sixers are saying they’re committed to keeping Simmons as a central piece of their franchise. They’re invested in working on his shooting woes this offseason.

Simmons, however, has regressed with this postseason being his worst of three.

Even if he does show improvement this summer and during next season, the true test won’t come until the 2022 postseason. That’s when the game takes on more of a half-court setting, and opposing coaches look to Simmons’ weaknesses.

But the Sixers will have a lot of holes to fill by getting rid of Simmons.

In addition to being the point guard, Simmons is a two-time NBA all-defensive player, a small-ball center and reserve power forward. So one can argue that, for all Simmons does, the Sixers may be better off keeping him. That’s because, with his dwindling stock, it may be hard to get equal value in return.

Simmons will make $33 million next season. They could try to trade for power forward Kristaps Porzingis, who will make $31.6 million, from the Dallas Mavaricks. He would be a solid frontcourt pairing with Embiid. Porzingis can slide to the perimeter to stretch the floor. He can also play center when Embiid is on the bench.

However, Porzingis has not met expectations since Dallas acquired him via a trade from the New York Knicks in 2019. He averaged 20.1 points and 8.9 rebounds this regular season but struggled in the postseason.

His averages dropped to 13.3 points and 5.4 rebounds in the Mavs’ first-round series loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. He was also a defensive liability who has been injury prone. He may be available due to reported tension with Mavs franchise player Luka Doncic. But, as ball-dominant players, Simmons and Doncic may not be a good pairing.

Trading Simmons to the Golden State Warriors for Andrew Wiggins and a young player or lottery pick would be an option.

Wiggins ($31.5 million) may not be enough to get the deal done for Simmons even though he had a career-best season.

The Warriors would probably have to throw in the seventh overall pick of the upcoming NBA draft or a future pick to get the deal done. Instead of a pick, Golden State could try to include rookie center James Wiseman ($9.1 million) or another young player into a package.

Simmons likely would flourish in Golden State, playing alongside “Splash Brothers” Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. As a Warrior, he wouldn’t have the pressure to score.

The question the Warriors would have to ask themselves is whether Simmons and Draymond Green have too much in common to play together. Both are pass-first players and solid defenders who need to improve their shooting.

As a result, some will argue that Green ($24 million) may be a better trade option than Wiggins. But, if you’re the Sixers, you almost have to take Wiggins because of the salary.

There is a report about the Minnesota Timberwolves “badly” wanting to trade for Simmons. But they would probably have to get a third team involved due to not having much to offer.

Sure, they have standout rookie Anthony Edwards ($10.2 million). He has the potential to be better than Simmons. He’s just not there yet. So it would be a huge gamble to trade Simmons for him. Plus, the Timberwolves would need to add salary to that deal.

Minnesota point guard D’Angelo Russell ($30 million) and Curry would not be a good guard tandem. Nor would he be a good fit for the Sixers.

» READ MORE: ‘It is a pretty rough time for him right now’: Ben Simmons to skip the Olympics

Another option would be acquiring Kyle Lowry via a sign-and-trade with the Toronto Raptors. That would make a lot of sense, considering the Sixers tried to trade for Lowry before this season’s March 25 trade deadline. Acquiring Lowry, 35, would mean the Sixers are going all in to win an NBA title in the next two seasons. But the North Philly native, about to be a free agent, would have to agree to the sign-and-trade.

That brings us back to the Lakers and Blazers.

Simmons could be the second coming of Magic Johnson in Los Angeles. But what do the Lakers have to give up? They’re definitely going to have to give up something to acquire Simmons.

Right now, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope ($13 million), Kyle Kuzma ($13 million), and Montrezl Harrell ($9.7 million) are the best returning players not named James and Davis, two untouchables. While the three are solid role players, they’re not on Simmons’ level.

Portland shooting guard C.J. McCollum ($30.8 million) has been mentioned in a couple of reports. McCollum is a better version of Curry. It would be ideal to bring in someone who would complement Curry. The Sixers would also struggle defensively.

That deal, however, would be great for the Blazers, with Simmons being a defensive upgrade. Simmons’ presence would also enable the Blazers to take Lillard ($39.3 million) off the ball at times.

The Sixers need to monitor Lillard’s relationship with the Blazers closely. Lillard, 30, has four years and $176.5 million left on his deal.

Portland hired Chauncey Billups as head coach on Sunday. That came one day after Yahoo Sports reported the coaching search and the franchise’s inability to build a title-contending roster could push Lillard to force a trade. But ESPN reported on Tuesday that Lillard isn’t seriously considering a trade demand. A league source denied the ESPN report.

That’s why the Sixers need to pay close attention to Lillard’s situation. They would most likely have to add something along with Simmons to get Lillard.

But the Sixers need a guy to consistently get a bucket. They need someone who can finish isolation plays by taking opponents off the dribble or burying step-back three-pointers. They need someone who can strike fear in defenders while making things easier for Embiid.

They tried to get that in James Harden this season before the Houston Rockets traded him to the Brooklyn Nets. If available, they could try to fill that major need with Lillard.

» READ MORE: Marc Zumoff, the voice of the Sixers, is leaving NBC Sports Philadelphia

If he’s not available, acquiring Wiggins and a lottery pick would be their best bet. Wiggins could slide into the starting small forward position. Maybe the Sixers could then draft a point guard or pick one up in free agency.

The one thing they can’t afford to do is make a less-than-ideal trade just because the fans turned on Simmons. It has to be a deal that makes sense, one in which the Sixers will get equal or close-to-equal value and better fits the team.

Looking at their roster, Simmons is one of their better defenders and a multifaceted player. The Sixers will definitely have a lot of holes to fill by trading him.