This is the 41st edition of the weekly 76ers mailbag. Each week, Inquirer.com followers may submit questions to be answered.
Missed out on the party this week? No worries. Submit questions for next time by following me on Twitter @PompeyOnSixers and tweeting your inquiry with the hashtag #PompeysMailbagFlow.
Question: Who honestly believes the Rockets would ever trade Harden to Daryl Morey? They know that Morey fleeces people and that if he agrees to a deal, it’s for his betterment, not his trade partners’. Did the Rockets play Philly against the Nets to get Brooklyn’s best deal? — @BugDoll614
Answer: Thanks for the question. I see that you were skeptical from the start. Well, there were some who thought Houston would make a deal with the Sixers because the Rockets made it clear they wanted a young cornerstone player and multiple draft picks. Regardless of how much the Rockets didn’t want to deal with the Sixers, Ben Simmons was the best available young cornerstone player.
After analyzing the information surrounding the Harden trade, yes, the Rockets did play the Sixers.
Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta did not want to make a deal with the Sixers due to Morey leaving Houston to become the Sixers president of basketball operations, as reported. And if he made a deal, Fertitta was only going to make it for Simmons, Matisse Thybulle, Tyrese Maxey and two draft picks, according to sources. However, a source close to the Sixers denied that Maxey was part of the deal.
Another league source said the Rockets never called the Sixers back for a counteroffer before making the four-team blockbuster deal that sent Harden to Brooklyn.
Let’s be honest, Simmons and Houston point guard John Wall wouldn’t be a great fit. They both need the ball. The Rockets had to know that wouldn’t work.
But the Sixers thought they had a deal for Harden done, according to sources. The team won’t come out and say it, but Morey pushed hard to reunite with the 2018 MVP. Simmons and Thybulle were even informed by their agents on Wednesday of an expected trade.
Q: Help Ben Simmons from being the next Andre Iguodala in the minds of fans. Just because we are told he is a star and he makes a lot of money, he is still worth it right? Can the Sixers win with him? — @MrPugliese
A: Thanks for the questions, Mike. The answer to your question has to do with what Simmons wants to do. I’ll get into that later.
Let’s first address his salary. The Sixers had to pay him. If not, he would have gotten paid as a free agent. Not only was he the first-overall pick, Simmons’ resume includes NBA Rookie of the Year, a two-time All-Star, All-Defensive team, third-team All-NBA and steals champion.
As an All-NBA selection, his salary this season was raised to 28% of the Sixers’ salary cap from the 25% he was scheduled to make on his supermax extension. So he earned his money.
Now Philadelphia comes added expectations. To Simmons’ credit, he talked about a desire to expand his game. We assumed it, because of the videos his camp put out of his shooting jumpers and three-pointers in the offseason. But he always said that his job was distributing the basketball and playing defense.
The problem is the expectations are higher in his fourth season. Fans are no longer celebrating his 10-point, 10-rebound and 12-assist triple-doubles like the one had Thursday night against Miami. They want to see him hone his offense. They want to see him take more shots. They want to see him get out of his comfort zone.
Can the Sixers win with Simmons? It’s up to him. If he expands his game, the Sixers will be tough to beat. I’ve said this multiple times: Simmons would surpass Joel Embiid as the team’s best player if he utilized his jumper and three-point shot. He doesn’t have to make them. Just taking them would open the floor for him and his teammates.
Until that happens, teams will continue to sag off him in the postseason. Meanwhile, the watercooler and barbershop talk will continue to be centered around him not showing any offensive improvement since being drafted.
Watching him in pregame workouts, I know that his offensive skills have improved. He just needs to show them to avoid being in the same category as Iguodala to Sixers fans.
Q: After the Nets have brought in Harden to the East, how much more important is getting a third star such as Bradley Beal or Zack Levine to coexist with Ben and Jo? — @iconXhander
A: What’s poppin’, Xhander? Maybe I’m in the minority, but Tobias Harris is showing he could become the third star. However, it’s not guaranteed that Simmons wouldn’t be shipped out to bring in a standout perimeter player.
The Sixers have a better chance of persuading Allen Iverson and Dr. J to come out of retirement than convincing the Wizards to trade Bradley Beal. Think about it: Washington chose Beal over Wall, who the organization traded to the Rockets, would be foolish to trade him, especially considering his league-best average of 34.9 points.
I know the Wizards (3-8) are one of the league’s worst teams, but they can’t make that deal. Levine is averaging 27.7 points and has been mentioned as a possible candidate. He would be a solid fit for the Sixers, but the Bulls would probably want Simmons.
You are right – this team needs another player, especially after Harden went to Brooklyn. The Nets are now the favorites to win the Eastern Conference. Teams including the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks are also ahead of the Sixers on paper for conference supremacy.
I know the Sixers are 9-4, but they were exposed during their blowout loss to an undermanned Nets squad on Jan. 7. This team definitely needs a roster upgrade to compete against the conference’s elite squad.