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If not Kyle Lowry, then who? Sixers have some intriguing potential targets on the NBA trade market | David Murphy

If, as expected, Kyle Lowry remains with the Raptors, the Sixers should turn their attention to a group of playmaking guards: Will Barton, Patty Mills, Delon Wright and George Hill.

Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) shoots over Detroit Pistons guard Dennis Smith Jr. (0) during the second half of a game on March 3 in Tampa, Fla.
Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) shoots over Detroit Pistons guard Dennis Smith Jr. (0) during the second half of a game on March 3 in Tampa, Fla.Read moreChris O'Meara / AP

Nobody seems to know what’s percolating down in the Great White South. The Raptors are mired in a season of flux. They’re playing their home games in Tampa instead of Toronto. They are 17-19 and barely in the Eastern Conference playoff mix. For a team that is attempting to rebuild on the fly, this would seem to be a logical year to prioritize the future over the present. At least, that’s what the Sixers are hoping as they continue to monitor the trade availability of veteran point guard Kyle Lowry.

Problem is, the Raptors are not nearly as bad of a basketball team as their record indicates. As recently as a couple of weeks ago, they were riding a 14-7 stretch that culminated in a win over the Sixers. Even after losing four out of five to close out the first half, the Raptors are 15-11 in their last 26 games. That’s a 47-win pace over the course of a typical 82-game season. So even if they do not anticipate re-signing Lowry when he becomes a free agent after the season, they hardly have an incentive to give him away for nothing.

Cue your exasperated Allen Iverson voice: We’re talkin’ ‘bout incentives. The most recent round of reports suggests that the Raptors are highly likely to hang onto their still-formidable star, at least through the end of the season. This follows a previous round of reports that suggested Toronto was open to trading him away if Lowry preferred that they do so. As for Lowry, the Philly native recently shot down the notion that he would prefer to move on. But he also acknowledged the elephant in the room, and did so without slamming shut the elephant-sized door.

» READ MORE: How the Sixers match up against the Eastern Conference’s best in the season’s second half

“What I would like to see is to finish this season out as strong as possible,” Lowry told reporters, according to “At the end of the day, myself, my agent, the organization, everyone has to do what’s best for them, right? Everyone has to do what’s best for them, and that situation. Who knows what that is, right? Who knows what that’s going to be, who knows what that time is going to tell? For me, I know I’m still playing at a good enough level where I can help a team, I can help us, and get better.”

A lot of people seem to be interpreting Lowry’s comments as evidence that he is unlikely to be traded, but it certainly sounds to me like he had a chance to say something that he did not say. Which brings us to the notion of incentives. Right now, it seems like the Sixers’ odds of acquiring a player who could potentially be their Missing Piece are entirely dependent on their willingness to make Toronto an offer that it cannot refuse. The only variables we do not know are the only two that ever matter in negotiations. What is the Sixers’ willingness? And what is the Raptors’ price?

If you really wanted to take a dive down the rabbit hole, you could interpret these recent puffs of smoke as evidence that the fire is very much alive. While the Raptors assume the public posture of a team that is not looking to deal, the Sixers assume the public posture of a team that has plenty of other options. One recent report had them inquiring on Nuggets guard Will Barton, a player who would make a huge impact on their offensive playmaking ability. Other names that have been connected to the Sixers -- and that would make a lot of sense -- are the Pistons’ Delon Wright and the Thunder’s George Hill. Question is, if we assume the validity of the reports in question, are these the machinations of a team that has resigned itself to acquiring something less than Lowry, or of a team that desperately wants to the Raptors to lower their asking price?

The simple truth is we will not know for sure until the NBA trade deadline arrives on March 25. Daryl Morey is too talented a dealmaker to let any of us know what, exactly, he is thinking. While Lowry is the exact sort of two-way player the Sixers need to add to their perimeter, the market could feature a handful of alternatives.

Wright is a decent defender who can run the point and who shoots 38 percent from three-point range. He averaged 21.5 minutes per game for the Raptors in the postseason in 2017-18 while shooting 9 of 21 from three-point range. In his career, 71.5 percent of his two-point shots have been unassisted. For comparison, Simmons’ career mark is 59.5. Wright is also 27 years old and under contract for a reasonable $8.5 million next season.

Barton is playmaker who has a history of making things happen off the bench. He, too, is a 38 percent shooter from three. But he plays for a playoff team in Denver, and I’m not sure what incentive the Nuggets would have to move him. One intriguing alternative would be the Spurs’ Patty Mills, should San Antonio be willing to move him. But that’s pure conjecture on my part. A more attainable target might be Hill, who is biding his time in Oklahoma City. But Hill has also been sidelined for much of the year with a thumb injury, and it remains to be seen whether he is back on the court before March 25.

» READ MORE: The numbers say Embiid, Simmons and the Sixers are the best they’ve been ... since their first year together | David Murphy

Each of those players would make the Sixers better. None of them would come close to making them the co-favorites in the East. Lowry would do that, and if the Sixers don’t anticipate a player like Zach LaVine or Bradley Beal becoming available over the next year, they’ll need to think awfully hard about making the Raptors an offer that they can’t help but accept.