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Sixers mailbag: Ben Simmons’ trade market, Tobias Harris’ true value and more reader questions

The Inquirer's Keith Pompey fields question from readers, touching on the trade deadline, the Sixers' place in the East and the Simmons situation.

Sixers forward Tobias Harris celebrates with teammate Ben Simmons during Game 7 of the NBA Eastern Conference semifinals on Sunday, June 20, 2021 in Philadelphia.
Sixers forward Tobias Harris celebrates with teammate Ben Simmons during Game 7 of the NBA Eastern Conference semifinals on Sunday, June 20, 2021 in Philadelphia.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Happy holidays, peeps. It’s great to chat this week about the 76ers.

There’s a lot to talk about, with Ben Simmons still on the roster and the Sixers struggling through what has been a disappointing season. We’ve also watched COVID-19 completely alter the landscape of the league, and the Sixers weren’t exempt from that. I’m pretty sure we’ll have more to talk about following the Sixers’ next three games. They are scheduled to host the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday before road games against the Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors.

So each week, followers may submit questions to be answered.

Missed out on the party this week? No worries. Submit question(s) for next time by following me on Twitter @PompeyOnSixers and tweeting your inquiry with the hashtag #PompeysMailbagFlow.

Question: What do you think is the true ceiling of this roster as of right now? — @Outsiderthib

Answer: Thanks for the question. I know several Sixers fans are extreme optimists. But this roster, as it currently stands, will have a tough time getting out of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Let’s face it, this team has a lot of holes due to Simmons not playing while requesting a trade. Even if Simmons returns, his weaknesses could prevent them from making a deep postseason run.

Right now, the Sixers are a team that relies too much on Joel Embiid. They don’t have a true second scorer or a true point guard. They needed Embiid to score 17 of his game-high 41 points in the fourth quarter to beat Boston 108-103 Monday night at TD Garden. But it was a game in which both teams were decimated by COVID-19 and injuries. The Celtics will point out that starting post players Al Horford and Rob Williams III and key reserve post player Grant Williams were all sidelined.

Before that victory, the Sixers played subpar and experienced competitive lapses while losing three consecutive games. A season ago at this time, the Sixers were among one of the league’s best teams and atop the conference standings. However, they now sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference and on pace to play in the play-in tournament just to make the playoffs.

Let’s think about that.

Last season’s team headed into the playoffs as the conference’s No. 1 seed and still failed to advance out of the second round. This season’s squad doesn’t have Simmons or a trade replacement for him. Their record through 31 games is the worst since they went 14-17 in 2017-18. They’re 1-6 against Atlantic Division foes and have a 3-8 record against teams currently with a winning record. If that holds up and the Sixers remain seventh, they would win the their opening-round play-in series to retain the No. 7 seed. Then the Sixers would lose home-court advantage and face the conference’s third seed in an opening-round playoff series. That would make it tough to avoid a second first-round exit in three seasons.

Question: Should the primary target in a Simmons trade be a point guard, a scoring wing or just the best player available? — @DaveGGeyer

Answer: Great question, Dave. The primary target should be a guard or wing with the ability to handle the ball. Now, it would be better if that person was a point guard. However, the Sixers would be foolish to say, ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ if Washington shooting guard Bradley Beal became available.

More than anything, they need a perimeter player who creates his own shot and closes out games, which would be a perfect pairing with Embiid. The Sixers haven’t had a true second scorer since Jimmy Butler during the 2018-19 season.

Of the realistic options, I still think Portland combo guard CJ McCollum would be the best fit.

» READ MORE: Despite thrilling win over Golden State, the Sixers won’t go far without a consistent second option behind Joel Embiid

Question: I hear people say Tobias Harris is overpaid. I disagree and say that good fours are limited in the NBA, and that a team needs to pay that position. Other than [Atlanta’s John] Collins, who is a better four in the East than Tobias? Does he deserve the money? I say pay him. — @JSquared1901

Answer: So you’re going to put me on the spot, I see. Only kidding, JSquared. Great question. In regard to the conference’s elite power forwards, I would have to say Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Domantas Sabonis, and Pascal Siakam are better.

That’s not a knock on Harris. Antetokounmpo and Durant are former MVPs and future Hall of Famers. Sabonis is a two-time All-Star and Siakam has made one All-Star game. With that said, Harris should have made last season’s All-Star game. However, when healthy, Siakam has had a bigger impact on his team’s success than Harris has had on his.

There are a lot of opinions on Harris’ contract, especially after games in which he struggles. The thing is, the Sixers were forced to pay his five-year, $180 million contract during the 2019 free-agency period. As one of the top free agents, Harris had several four-year, $141 million maximum salary deals on the table. The Sixers were the only team able to offer a fifth year because they held his Bird rights.

» READ MORE: While more players are now trade-eligible, the Sixers still don’t have a swift solution to the Ben Simmons saga

They gave up a lot of assets to acquire him from the Los Angeles Clippers in the Feb. 6, 2019 trade. It would have looked bad for the organization to trade that much for him just to let him walk a couple of months later. So folks had to know Harris was set to get paid the moment the trade was finalized.

Plus, I think his play will improve if the Sixers can acquire a traditional point guard. He needs someone capable of getting him the ball in the right spots. But without a true point guard, Harris looks out of rhythm in some moments and spends a lot of time initiating the offense because he is arguably the team’s best ballhandler. He’s also been hampered by the aftereffects of COVID.

But no one complained about his salary when he signed the contract or last season while he played with Simmons.

Question: How is the Simmons trade market affected by COVID? — @Johnquinn83

Answer: What’s up, boss? Solid question. I would be shocked if the coronavirus had any impact on Simmons’ trade market. That’s because teams were reluctant to entertain the Sixers’ lofty trade demands long before the latest NBA COVID-19 outbreak.

Now, I do understand your question due to all the roster uncertainties because of the outbreak and injuries around the league. However, the Sixers are adamant about not settling, asking for an All-Star who will be a difference maker and other assets in exchange for Simmons. They’re also prepared to hold onto him as long as it takes to get what they want.

» READ MORE: Sixers’ Doc Rivers on Ben Simmons’ absence: ‘You see the glaring holes that he leaves us’

Question: How many days until the trade deadline? — @RegularBAG1123

Answer: This is a popular question in Philly based on the Simmons saga, The trade deadline is Feb. 10 at 3 p.m. That’s 10 days before the All-Star game in Cleveland.