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December 10, 2021

Mailbag: Should Sixers consider Tyrese Maxey when making Ben Simmons trade?

Plus, what's the latest on the trade market as Dec. 15 rapidly approaches? And would dealing Tobias Harris along with Simmons make sense?

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The Sixers have almost all of their lineup healthy, their long stint on the road is basically at its end, and it still feels like we know very little about this group despite it being mid-December. Or maybe we do, and it should be accepted that this is a middling group desparate for a Ben Simmons trade to bring everything together, a team whose 8-2 start was a mirage of hot shooting and weak scheduling.

Whatever the case is, you have questions, so let's get to them in this week's mailbag.

Two separate situations with two sets of variables. Damian Lillard is the one in the news right now with management turning over in Portland, and it's hard to figure where things are headed one way or another, mostly because no one knows who will eventually take control of the franchise and what they'll ultimately decide to do.

Paul Allen, the former Blazers owner and Microsoft co-founder who passed away in 2018, was at least sort of easy to understand on the surface. He cared deeply about the team and wanted to win at all costs, staying involved in the franchise's day-to-day operations, let alone the big-picture planning. Jody Allen, who took over control of the team once Allen passed (or more accurately, oversees the org as part of a charitable trust), is not cut from that same cloth. Her motivations in the short-term might end up being purely financial, keeping the team in a state to sell to somebody else down the road. And until there's a new front office leader in place, you'd have to assume things will stay in limbo.

If I were guessing, I would say Lillard doesn't move until at least the summer, if at all. The pathway is cleared for a CJ McCollum centric trade now — though McCollum's lung collapsing this week complicates matters, obviously — and the Blazers might see what they can do with a new secondary star and cast around Lillard before doing anything. For his part, Lillard has been clear that he is committed to Portland, so long as you think public comments are the end-all, be-all of someone's thinking.

Bradley Beal has been a little more inconsistent with his public positions, and he made comments this week that suggest he might even test free agency if it gets to that point without a contract extension being agreed on. The difference between the situations is that Beal has always seemed relatively content with whatever happens on the team success front, happy to just be a lead guy on a team with few expectations. The Wizards have fallen back to earth after a great start to the year, and nobody has really cared one way or another. That has been his life as the top guy in Washington, and maybe he just likes the idea of that compared to being in a pressure-packed market. He has not been very good to start the year, and that would be under the microscope in a big way if he played for a team with expectations in a market that mattered more than D.C.

I am firmly in "I'll believe it when I see it" mode on the trade front. December 15th is not the day something is guaranteed to happen, it's just a day that will kick off a new round of calls ramping up to the deadline.

I don't take Lillard to be that sort of guy. I do think he wants to be paid handsomely, considering his level of talent and commitment to the franchise over the last decade, and I think he imagines himself pairing nicely with a guy like Ben Simmons, who brings skills to the table he needs. If those things put pressure on the front office to make things happen for or around him, I imagine he appreciates that, but I don't think he's doing those things specifically to lean on the organization.

Frankly, I think it's a lot simpler than all that — I don't think Lillard wants to be the bad guy, and he's trying to have his cake and eat it too. He has said over and over again throughout his career that he's "built different" so to speak and doesn't want to join a super team, and now he's at a moment in his career where he's staring down the consequences of his choices. Even as he has risen to a level few basketball players have ever reached on offense, the Blazers have ultimately been an unserious team losing to real contenders in the playoffs. Being the small-market king who doesn't "sell out" for a ring has its perks, but he wants to win like any other guy. Either the Blazers find a way to build around him and also pay him a gigantic piece of the salary cap to keep him around, or he has to go against everything he has said and claims to stand for over the last nine years.

And yeah, I think there's parts of him on both sides of the fence, regardless of what he says in public. Anybody who puts in the time and energy he has to be that good at their craft is going to be hugely disappointed with their ceiling being capped professionally because of factors outside of their control. And he is a guy who would love to be able to win a title on his terms to justify his loyalty and commitment even as people tell him a better situation can be found elsewhere. This much is true — Lillard ultimately controls what happens here, so I'm fascinated to see how it turns out regardless of whether it brings him to Philly or not.

It makes sense on some level, both because they badly need some size and athleticism to beef up this team and because good wings are harder to get than good guards (we'll refer to that as "height privilege"). But if the idea is to build a contending team as soon as possible, and I imagine that's the plan with Joel Embiid in his physical prime, I do not think you can make the franchise's most consequential trade since the Jimmy Butler deal and hinge it around what Tyrese Maxey is or is not. You might be the sort of person who believes that Maxey's flash in November is proof that he could be a star one day, but there are a lot of guys who flash in momentary runs and never capture that form on a consistent enough basis to be stars or close to stars on contenders.

In Maxey's case, he does have some things working against him, namely his size. He is always going to be a little guard working in a bigger man's league, and while that wouldn't be a huge deal if he was a lights-out shooter who could keep defenses guessing, he's simply not there, even with the strides he has taken this season. I love seeing him pull up from three when defenses sag off of him, make or miss, but teams are ultimately going to sag off of him until he proves that's a routine, in-the-bag shot for him. Right now, it's a game-to-game question, with Maxey showing hesitance while open and sometimes stepping out of clean-ish looks from three to take a one or two dribble pull up inside the arc.

Those concerns are far from unforgivable if you build the roster out as if his long-term spot is uncertain. But if you start limiting your market to a hyper-specific player instead of simply making the best deal and/or getting the best player you can get in return for Ben Simmons, you're going down the wrong path. For example, let's say you could get an All-Star guard of roughly the same caliber as another All-Star wing, and both players are roughly as good a fit as the other is next to Joel Embiid specifically. If the team offering the wing is asking you to pay an extra two first-round picks in the deal, are you still making it just because it takes Maxey's development into greater consideration? Of course not.

If I'm being honest, I think fans should try not to get attached to almost anyone on this team, sans Embiid. It's not because I think Daryl Morey is itching to trade one guy specifically, but his M.O. has not been locking into one iteration of a team and then just leaving it be. He uprooted the Rockets many times over in pursuit of what he viewed as improved odds to win titles. And Maxey is simply not good enough, consistent enough, and frankly old enough yet where a franchise can bank their title hopes and direct a massive, franchise-altering trade based on a 21-year-old's uptick in performance during a nine-game stretch without their best player. When the Ben Simmons trade eventually gets made, assuming it happens before the heat death of the planet, he's going to shoot for the best possible player he can get, at any position that isn't center. If that works best for Maxey too, great, but they have to keep every option on the table.

While we're on the Maxey subject...

A lot of this just boils down to Embiid being back in the lineup. Without the big guy on the floor, Maxey had a lot of freedom to run the offense however he saw fit, and that was doubly true during the games where Tobias Harris was out of the lineup. Maxey had the opportunity to run a lot of pick-and-rolls and to call his own number, and he's just further down the pecking order now. That means if he starts the game out cold, opportunities to shoot himself out of it aren't always going to be there, so the second-half flurries we've often seen from him are harder to come by with a full-strength lineup.

At this stage, Maxey is not a hand-in-glove fit in an offense built around Embiid, and time will tell if he can ever get there. There should be more designed opportunities for him to attack and play with Embiid in pick-and-rolls, where the big guy has been more effective over the last week or so, but Maxey has to help himself out by taking the shots that are there. As Danny Green has pointed out, Maxey puts in as much work on his shooting as anybody on the team, and he has to trust that will pay off under the bright lights.

I think it's a bad contract and not the way a team aiming to build a contender around Joel Embiid should spend their money, but dampening the value in a Simmons return because you don't want to be locked into a Harris deal is hustling backward. And getting off of the contract for the sake of doing so doesn't really do a lot for the team unless the money opened up allows them to functionally change the team with the saved money. 

In the example here, Barnes and Hield combine to make basically the same money Harris does in 2022-23, with only Barnes' money coming off of the books in time for what looks to be a loaded free-agent class. That leaves you a long way off from the actual payoff unless Barnes and Hield make you noticeably better in the meantime. Maybe that's the case, but that's more about the basketball merit of the deal than it is the contractual situation.

For all his faults, Simmons still has intrigue on the trade market to a number of teams in a wide variety of situations, ranging from contenders to rebuilding franchises. If the Sixers want to make a Harris deal, they would/should just make one, rather than limiting their options to use the deal as a salary-washing mechanism.

Illegal? Surely not. But there should definitely be some sort of rule limiting the number of dribbles on any given possession. Anything over three should be a small fine, maybe a docking of Green's per diem when they're on the road. 

Here is my criteria for a Christmas movie: 

  1. A Christmas movie is a movie you would only feel compelled to watch between the period from Thanksgiving until the end of December
  2. A Christmas movie has to be about Christmas thematically, not just set around the time period of the holidays 

For example, you would have to be a complete maniac to want to watch "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" in August, and that is a movie strictly about the Christmas holiday. The same goes for "How The Grinch Stole Christmas," which I would have people thrown in jail for watching if I saw it on a TV before the end of November. If you were to alter the holiday in question for either movie, you would be making an entirely different movie. 

"Die Hard," on the other hand, is a movie that you could catch on cable at any time of the year and think to yourself, "Hey, I kind of feel like watching the last 45 minutes of this." And while Christmas is undoubtedly part of the backdrop, you could change the holiday party to basically any other occasion and change almost nothing about the spine of the movie. At its core, "Die Hard" is an action movie, it just so happens to use the holidays as a backdrop, and real movie buffs know that the Christmas setting was actually a late alteration to the script by the movie's screenwriter. 

(Frankly, I think there are movies that are more on the borderline than "Die Hard." "Gremlins" is another 80s classic whose starting point is a father searching for a Christmas gift for his son, and there is even Santa-related PTSD for one of the characters midway through the movie. You would have to make some pretty significant alterations in order to set it during another period of the year, though it could definitely be done, since it's mostly a movie about little monsters destroying a small town.)

"Die Hard" is undoubtedly superior to almost all of the trash people convince themselves to watch this time of year, and I am grateful to have that option available this time of year, but it is not a Christmas movie.

RELATED: The 12 Days of Netflix Christmas Movies: Reviewing a dozen streaming holiday films

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