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March 10, 2021

Mailbag: Kyle Lowry trade proposals, buyout options, and biggest deadline needs

Coming out of the All-Star break, the Sixers sit first in the Eastern Conference, boast an MVP candidate at center, and they appear to have dodged two COVID-sized bullets for the time being. Life is good, which means it's time for a mailbag while we wait for the games to begin again.

As always, feel free to send me your questions through your platform of choice, be it email, tweets, or carrier pigeons. 

The answer to this question ultimately has to be, "Whichever one gets you the best player for the cheapest price." That's a boring answer, but the Sixers have more than this year to worry about, and if they're not getting a guy who shifts their title odds in a significant way, you figure out who's out there for a decent price and choose the best deal.

If we're assuming all things are equal, a perimeter combo guard is an easy choice for me. That sort of player could juice up their starting lineup, spread out their talent among bench groups, create more open looks for their role players, and ease the burden on guys who are already productive but need a bit of extra help (e.g. Shake Milton). A high-level guard could be transformative for this lineup/team in a way no other type of player would be, short of swinging a monster trade for a dominant two-way wing. Without trading one of their best players, that sort of deal just ain't happening.

A stretch four, even in a best-case scenario, is a shot in the arm for your bench with the impact likely limited to the regular season. A playable wing would be great, but most guys who are going to be available are available for a reason, and their limitations as spacers or defenders will leave them boxed into a smaller role in Philly, some notable exceptions aside. The guard market's high end is good, and even the more bargain-centric options should give them a lift.

We had a related question from another reader:

The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor recently reported that some expect Porter Jr. could be a buyout guy. That would tilt this conversation in his direction slightly — you're getting a player who makes you deeper without needing to take anything away that has made you good in the first place, which is the ideal scenario. But let's just throw that part out for a second.

While I think there's a good case for Tucker here, Hill would be my pick. He checks so many boxes as a player that it would be hard for a trade not to work unless you overpaid by an insane amount. He's a great catch-and-shoot guy, a solid playmaker, a solid defender, and a player you can drop into almost any team and any lineup without messing things up. The only concern is that he's coming off of a hand injury, and while I don't expect he'll forget how to shoot before he gets on the floor, it's something to monitor for sure.

On the Tucker front, you'd have to weigh whether his dip in form is the product of a bad situation or exposing him for what he actually is without James Harden around to do the heavy offensive lifting in Houston. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid should create plenty of open threes for him, but ultimately he's not a guy likely to fit into a closing lineup. Tucker would give them small-ball options and some toughness off of the bench, but he's a pure frontcourt guy at this stage, and they shouldn't be moving Tobias Harris around to shoehorn him in. 

I have touched on this in the past, but trading Kyle Lowry signals one clear thing if you're asking me — the Raptors are planning for the long-term. There's basically no outcome where they trade Lowry and then legitimately compete in the playoffs this season, barring one of the wildest trades in recent NBA history falling out of the sky.

So to me, the offers start with at least a first-round pick and a young player, most likely Tyrese Maxey. Why Maxey over, say, Matisse Thybulle? Thybulle would need a dramatic transformation to be anything more than a defensive specialist long-term, and while he could be a great one of those — Embiid said recently he thinks Thybulle could win DPOY one day — he's the sort of player who is more valuable to a team that already has pieces in place, not one in search of players to jumpstart their next era of basketball. If the Raptors decide to move on from Lowry, it stands to reason they're not in need of immediately impactful role players, especially when you consider how well they've produced those over the years.

MORE: Should Sixers pursue a trade for Raptors guard Kyle Lowry?

Maxey offers something different, a young creator with some ballhandling juice and the makings of an in-between game, and he feels like a good bet to blossom in the Toronto development program (or any number of programs that have minutes to offer him and time to wait on his development). Add on the required salary components to get to a deal, and that feels like the most straightforward path to a Lowry trade for Philly.

Really, the biggest hurdle is whether Lowry wants out in the first place/whether the Raptors want to just hang onto one of the icons in their franchise's short history, especially as they've turned things around after a brutal start to the season. Lowry actually went out of his way to fire shots at recent rumors on his Instagram story on Tuesday, so he might just be staying put. Stay tuned.

There have definitely been instances where the Sixers are going after different players than other contenders, so I don't think it's doom-and-gloom on the level of, "They'll never sign an impact buyout guy!" But players tend to go where they think they have the cleanest shot at a ring, and the Sixers have proven little to suggest they're on the no-doubt contender list yet. Embiid having an MVP-caliber season doesn't mean aging vets are going to view him as a guy to latch onto in order to chase a title.

Individual accolades are nice, and Embiid and Simmons have a bunch between them, but they'll find it easier to lure ring chasers if they prove capable of carrying a team to the promised land. And with all due respect to Philadelphia, a city I love and have lived around my whole life, it's pretty tough to compete with two high-level L.A. teams and a player-driven juggernaut in Brooklyn, even if the Sixers did have the best sales pitch for winning.

Related to this question...

I don't think there's a great chance of this happening, but as with any outcome, you have to prepare for the possibility. I just think if we look at Daryl Morey's track record of furious activity, the urgency Embiid's MVP-level play creates, the general incentive to not waste seasons where you're top of the conference after half of the season...look, there's a lot to suggest they're going to do something. It may end up feeling uninspiring compared to what fans may be dreaming of right now, but they have floated "title or bust" type messaging, and I don't think they'll sit things out completely.

Actively pursuing Victor Oladipo would be a massive heat check for Daryl Morey after a smooth start in charge of the Sixers. Everything he has done has made perfect sense on paper — Al Horford out in exchange for a three-and-D guy who has been a constant winner, Josh Richardson out for an elite spot-up shooter and secondary handler, pick No. 21 used on the kid who was mocked considerably higher and fell into their laps. Those are all moves that were easy to justify then and look even smarter with hindsight.

Oladipo is a much bigger risk and I'm not sure it's one Morey would be willing to take. He's not someone you could just plop onto the roster and expect to settle into a no-doubt role right away. Multi-talented though he may be, he's an iffy-to-average shooter who needs the ball a decent amount to thrive, putting him in different territory than, for example, Lowry. Oladipo is a decent, but unspectacular playmaker, so you need to get a lot of value from his on-ball scoring, and I don't think this ecosystem really supports that version of Oladipo. It's going to be a challenge to integrate any big piece in the middle of this particular season — the Sixers are going to be short on practice time from now through the end of the year — but Oladipo feels especially tricky for this team to absorb.

As far as price goes, I think the logic is theoretically the same as in a Lowry trade but with the difference being that the Sixers would (likely) be paying a sort of "Houston tax" that we discussed some when they were in talks for Harden. Houston owner Tilman Fertitta would not exactly be excited at the prospect of actively helping Morey's new team get better, so I would expect a demand of an extra pick or two if they're dealing with the Rockets right now. 

Bjelica is probably the most logical candidate right now, if only because he's one of the guys that seems like a near certainty to be bought out. Some of the other names on the hit list feel less certain to get buyouts from their teams either because they have value/roles on their current teams or obvious trade value to capitalize on. 

For one, Howard is a lot bigger and stronger. Reed has looked terrific against lesser competition in the G-League, but it's easier for him to get by with his developing frame against players who are often in the G-League because they're too small, lacking elite burst, etc. I don't think Howard is hyperaware by any stretch of the imagination — you've seen the same infuriating fouls I have on both ends — but we're still talking about a guy with 16 years of NBA experience compared to a rookie. That's going to show up one way or another on the floor, often through blown assignments or overzealous attempts to block shots. 

Guys who were already as good as Embiid was prior to this year do not get in the conversation for such awards. It's a young, developing player award, not an award given to guys who were already at an All-NBA level leaping to MVP territory.

Here's my group:

  1. Joel Embiid — Will keep things light even if he's not especially helpful
  2. Tobias Harris — Sharp enough to help us get out of the room, team-oriented enough to use the group's collective wisdom to drive things forward
  3. Danny Green — Gotta have some #VeteranPresence and he's a guy who #FindsWaysToWin 
  4. Tyrese Maxey — A rookie for everyone to blame if things go wrong, with an easygoing enough personality to take it in stride

Good case to have Simmons in the group, who I could at least talk to about video games if things went south.

Arthur Morgan is the boring answer but I think he's the right answer. I was skeptical of making him the emotional center of Red Dead 2, and I won't spoil why and how he wins you over as a sympathetic figure over time, but I give my highest recommendation of that game as long as you are willing to fight through the early slog. 

There may not be a better time than this for the Bulls to capitalize on LaVine's value, so never say never. But on Philly's end, I would categorize it as a tough deal to make at this juncture. While I think LaVine is a terrific scorer, you might be overpaying on the strength of a best-ever run as a shooter that we have no idea if he can recreate long term. Shooting over 43 percent from three with his combination of high volume and shot selection is not exactly a lock. He's not only valuable because of his outside shooting, of course, with his dynamism off the dribble presenting major value for this team specifically, but it is a point of separation from past seasons.

The Bulls will be looking for a monster package to let him go, and I don't know if he's the guy the Sixers would feel comfortable moving basically all of their future assets for even if the Bulls decided it was go time. 

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