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January 10, 2019

Sixers Mailbag: Will Philly make a big move before the trade deadline?

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Just over halfway through the season, the Sixers are sitting in a good spot. At 27-15, they're in the top half of the East and on track to win 50+ games for the second consecutive season. If they can pull it off, it will be the first time they've won 50+ games in consecutive seasons since the mid-1980s.

That's worth keeping in mind as your brain drifts toward the trade deadline that awaits us in early February. In the eyes of many fans, the Sixers have felt like a disappointment this year. No jumper for Ben Simmons? Problems in the locker room with Jimmy Butler? Joel Embiid publicly bristling at the offense? Not things that make it more fun or less stressful to follow the team.

And with the bench in the state its in, it's easy to see this team's mortality. So let's start with what might change between now and February 7, the date when trades will officially become prohibited for the rest of the year.

I think the Sixers will make a move of some kind, yes. I have my doubts it will be one of any consequence unless some things change between now and February. Philadelphia's problem is that they don't have a ton of trade chips they can afford to give up without hurting the present-day roster. Really, the two guys you need to watch are Markelle Fultz and Jimmy Butler, for wildly different reasons.

I don't think Butler is at any risk of being moved between now and the deadline as things stand. They want this partnership to work. I do think there is a universe where the front office sees/hears everything that goes on behind the scenes leading into the deadline and decides they just want to move on sooner than later. In that case, it would probably be more prudent to keep him around and walk into the summer with gobs of cap space to use.

Fultz is more of a wild card. The team has been tight-lipped about Markelle since he retreated from view to see an army of specialists, but his contract looms large in their free-agency plans this summer. Do they move him for an expiring player who can reliably offer them something this season, and then use that money to splash the cash this summer? Maybe. I don't think there is total alignment on him internally; some have invested more of their equity in Fultz than others.

When the dust settles, I think you see a move for a wing of some kind, but I don't know how many are out there that will make a real difference. The Sixers do have some valuable second rounders they can use (Chicago's is a particularly valuable chip with how terrible the Bulls are), and I find it hard to believe they'd stand pat.

Let's put it this way — if you're in a position where you need to move a 30-year-old guard with a history of spectacular flameouts in the first year of a $190 million contract, you're going to be hard-pressed to get good value back.

Yes. We are on the same page here. Leaks don't typically make it out for no reason, particularly from closed-door sessions like that one. I wrote about this on the day the report dropped and in the week that has followed, and you always have to question the things you know and why you know them on this beat.

This could very well be a speed bump in a successful partnership. Or it could be a bad omen, and things could go off the rails. Only time will tell.

I've said this a few times, but I just don't see the value in trading Simmons unless you are getting equivalent value back, and that is really, really hard to find. As tough as his limitations make it to build perfectly around Embiid, the Sixers would likely take some sort of hit in any deal they'd make to chase a better fit. Most of the better-fitting players around the league approaching Simmons' talent level are worse defenders, and that's an area where the Sixers already can't afford to get worse.

If I'm going to pick one that will actually matter to people, and not just a road win somewhere like Indiana, I'll say they beat the Warriors. I think Golden State is unstable enough that they are beatable during the regular season, even though they'll add another All-Star to the lineup next week in Demarcus Cousins.

Would the Sixers beating them in the regular season matter all that much for their playoff chances? I don't think so. But it would give them (or at least the fans) a psychological boost, and it's one that's attainable for this group if they show up ready to play.

I'll go with no, with the caveat that I think someone needs to take Chandler's spot in the starting lineup before the season ends. Bolden has looked good next to Embiid in a small sample, but I remain skeptical of the fit there unless his shooting starts to improve. Chandler may not be a knockdown shooter, but he is nowhere near the bricklayer Bolden has been since joining the lineup.

Teams treat Chandler like a credible shooter, even if he's not a great one. At the rate Bolden is going, teams are going to ignore him on the perimeter like they do Simmons or Fultz, and the Sixers can't keep putting players like that out there in big roles.

The Sixers are going to need Bolden at some point, though, some Brown needs to find ways to keep him involved. You need athletes and defenders in the playoffs.

This is a more compelling case for Bolden, IMO. If the Sixers can't get guys who can defend into the rotation on the wing, they can try to make up for it with some more shot blocking equity on the back end. The only problem here is Bolden is still a little overzealous for a primary rim protector. Good/veteran teams will get him to bite on fakes, and then you're losing the supposed value he brings.

(Still worth a shot, in any case.)

I'm sad to report that Brett Brown has yet to win a game as an NBA coach. Hope he can get off the schneid before the year ends.

No, I don't think so. Is there a coach out there who will get more out of this group than he is? That's certainly possible. But that's a different question, and I think the sort of coach who is going to cause the Sixers to make a big leap at this point is going to be hard to find.

I can't stress this enough: Philadelphia's pieces do not fit great together. Embiid would fit best in a slow-paced, grind-it-out offense, Simmons would fit best in a fast-paced, run-and-gun offense. Butler loves pick-and-rolls but plays with a center who is not the best lob target in the world and a player who won't shoot the ball beyond 12 feet or so. They clash stylistically before we even get to how difficult it is to deal with their respective egos.

And they're still on pace for 52+ wins with one of the worst benches in the league. Their starting group is the second-best lineup in the league among high minutes groups, outscoring opponents by 15.3 points per 100 possessions. As far as the important indicators go, they're doing okay.

The biggest thing holding them back is their depth. It doesn't all fit great, but the high-end talent is exceptional, and Brown has found ways to help them all shine.

Seems like it, EK.

Got a bunch of Patton questions this week. I have yet to see him do anything other than wear basketball shoes and walk around the Wells Fargo Center, so can't offer much beyond that except to see he seems like a nice kid. He could still help this group if he gets healthy — the Sixers are dying for more defensive depth up front.

Listen man, as much as people like to make jokes about how loony this situation with Fultz has been, I'm going to bet on the kid who has spent much more of his life playing basketball than I have. Call me crazy, but I think that matters, even with as jacked up as his shot has been.

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