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December 21, 2018

Sixers mailbag: Would you trade Joel Embiid for Anthony Davis?

I'm sure that headline got your attention. To be clear: I did not ask for that hypothetical, I don't think trading Joel Embiid for just about anyone is wise, and the odds that he would ever be traded for Anthony Davis are slim to none. I want to make sure that is clear from the jump because lord knows I do not need people suggesting I am itching to trade the best and most beloved Sixers player since Allen Iverson.

However, the Sixers mailbag is a product of the people, and this is one of the many questions you folks had for me this week. Since I am a man of the people, and since that is easily the splashiest question I received, that's where we will start off this week.

So strap in and let's go on an adventure.

As a general rule, throwing Embiid into any trade scenario is a non-starter for me. The guy is a transcendent talent, a force of personality, and a leader in ways people do not always see. He is the tone-setter for this franchise, period.

But a swap for Anthony Davis is interesting for several reasons. At the top of the list? A better potential fit with Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler on offense. Davis has much less of a need to camp out on the block and can be featured more prominently as a roll man, a jump-shooter, and an all-around weapon. Simmons' lack of a jumper would still hurt in pick-and-rolls, but less so when you're throwing lobs to Elastic Man.

There's also the health variable to weigh. Davis has a reputation in some corners as being a bit frail, but that ultimately manifests in short stints on the sideline. Compare that to Embiid, who has missed multiple seasons due to major injuries and had another cut short with a knee issue. Davis is also only about a year older than Embiid, despite the gap in experience between them.

My fundamental problem with this exercise is that the justification for the trade is to cater to Simmons, who is not as good at basketball as Mr. Embiid. His fit problems are not going to go away completely no matter who you acquire. That's especially true if you're swapping Embiid for another big man, who like it or not will need to do a lot of his work around the basket, even if it's not in the same manner as Embiid.

Just as you shouldn't discount Embiid's health history, I would not discount the love he has for this city as they stood by him during the tumultuous start to his career. I know Philadelphians think this city can be the end-all, be-all of the universe — and I've lived here my whole life, I love Philly to death — but there's a reason it doesn't tend to get mentioned as a big destination for NBA stars unless there are already major pieces in place. There is an abundance of basketball history, but a shortage of major free agent hauls.

Trading away Embiid, a guy who has fully embraced this city in every possible way, does not seem like a move that will work out for the Sixers in almost any scenario. As much as I hate Lakers exceptionalism, the Sixers aren't the Lakers. This team doesn't have the same gravitas that they can just bank on pulling another star out of thin air if things go to hell. So the guys who are elite talents that fully embrace what this city is about are worth their weight in gold. 

If you were looking to make a swap of one of the stars for another star, I think it should be Simmons. I'm not saying you trade him either, and I think ultimately the Sixers have to bet on the combined talent of their young stars to overcome any potential fit hurdles. The downside of moving one is just too great.

But talk to me again in a year or two, and let's see where these guys are at. Could be a different conversation.

Now let's get to some questions that are less concerned with fantasy scenarios...

I don't think that will be the case, provided they win at a reasonable clip during the time between now and the trade deadline. The front office already made a statement of intent with the Jimmy Butler trade, and I don't think that's the sort of thing Simmons or Embiid would just forget because they have a bunch of limited role players on the team.

The relationship and respect between Elton Brand and his star players was a draw when hiring him in the first place. Back when he was promoted in late Augustbefore ultimately becoming GM of the team — I was told Brand was attractive to the Sixers as a sort of "big brother" to their players, a role he'd served when he was brought back as a player at the end of his career. He has a level of cache as a recent ex-player many general managers do not have.

So if anything, I think Brand is the sort of GM who has the trust of his top guys, at least for now. Maybe that's a misread and a guy like Embiid gets impatient because of the holes they have on the roster, but I don't think unrest is close.

I think this has already started. It gets mentioned pretty much every time Korkmaz has a nice performance, so the decision isn't exactly flying under the radar.

I get questions about Brett Brown's job security fairly frequently. Let me put it like this — I don't think he's under any real risk at the moment, and I think any changes to that would be dependent on context.

For example, let's say the Sixers get the No. 4 seed and play Toronto in the second round. Rather than lose in a five-game "gentleman's sweep" as they did to the Celtics last season, the Sixers compete hard and push the Raptors to seven games, bowing out in a hard fought game on the road. The problem, as it has been all year, remains a lack of reliable depth.

In that scenario, it's hard to see Brown being shown the door. Ownership and the front office can easily explain away the loss as one they'll overcome with smart work in the offseason, and after a big spending spree in free agency they'll return with the same group ready to rock.

Now, if the Sixers lose in the first round in a 4-5 battle with a team like Indiana, maybe that's a different conversation. If they get blown off the floor by a Toronto or a Boston or a Milwaukee in the second round, maybe that's a different conversation. I think the Sixers will be hard-pressed to advanced past the secound round as currently constructed, but there will be plenty of new evidence to judge Brown on by mid-May.

I wouldn't trade you for Jabari Parker. I think he stinks, and I'm not adding a guy who is notorious for not giving a damn on defense.

Hopefully when pigs fly. Sixers reps have gone out of their way to shoot down any Carmelo Anthony rumors when they surface, and while things can always change, it just doesn't seem like a path they want to go down.

Brown suggested the other night he'd like to see them bring in some wing defense. I'll let you be the judge of whether Melo has played any of that in the last half-decade.

As with the Brown question above, this all depends on context. Are you getting a long-term piece that you believe helps you win a championship? In that case, you absolutely make the move. If Bradley Beal falls out of the sky, you call that trade in and don't think twice.

But as I laid out the other day, I just don't think the Sixers have the right ammo to make an impactful move this season unless they are willing to put someone like Embiid or Simmons on the table. And since that isn't happening, I think they're going to need to nail their buyout moves again to have a real shot in the East.

I still think you lean toward getting another impact player if you can get one, but the way this season has unfolded has made me question that a bit. The Sixers simply need more competent players, because their top-end talent is really, really good.

Part of the reason you chase after Middleton or Harris, though, is for the stable production you expect from higher-level players. The difference between role players and stars is not that the former never have any good games, but the inconsistency with which they string them together. Stars can shrug off a bad Game 1 in a playoff series and drop 25 in Game 2; role players might just disappear for an entire series with no explanation.

Are there enough touches to go around if the Sixers pay another big free agent after this year? That's a worthwhile question, and one the Sixers will have to feel out over the coming months. Embiid is already grumbling about his usage, which you don't just throw out, obviously.

Since I'm basically playing fantasy GM here, I go with the bigger talent. Brand will have a lot more information and a lot more to consider when he hits his first free agency next summer.

I'm not sure what you're talking about, Nick. Find a new slant.

I think the defensive half of this equation is a legit concern. Redick was already at a disadvantage against teams like the Celtics and Raptors, who could hunt him at will, and he has taken a small step back on defense this season. It's not one he could afford to take and his margin for error remains tiny on that end.

The reason you're not hearing as much about Redick on offense is because he has produced long enough and strong enough to earn benefit of the doubt. His inability to hit threes from the right corner will probably not last. His catch-and-shoot numbers will probably pick up. He has been deadly from mid-range this season, and I'd bet on some regression there as his three-point shooting stabilizes over time.

I think Landry Shamet's emergence has also made it a bit easier to tuck this concern away. When you have a rookie bench player shooting over 41 percent from three on 4.5 attempts per game, and doing so as basically the bench mirror of Redick, it's a little easier to ignore Redick's downturn.

They need just about anybody who can defend, either to step into the starting lineup or join the bench mob. I'm not sure if that means trading for Patrick Beverly on an expiring contract or looking for a wing upgrade, but defense is priority No. 1, 2, and 3 for this team right now.

If they can somehow get Justin Patton and Zhaire Smith back, maybe they can help on that end by offering a different dimension. But I think that's an exceedingly unlikely proposition. Betting on a rookie who went through a serious health issue this fall and a young big who has played a total of one NBA game is not wise, especially when you're asking them to save your defense. Those two even getting into the rotation this year would be a bonus, in my opinion.

Let's revisit this one closer to the deadline. Everything I've heard suggests the Sixers are not even close to satisfied with the offers/discussions surrounding Fultz. Still, the Sixers are unlikely to tell local reporters otherwise, and I do believe there is a split internally on the best way to go forward here.

If the Sixers begin to gel between now and the deadline, and it doesn't look like they need any major help, I could see them holding onto him and deciding to solve this problem in the summer. But if it looks like they're still far off the pace of their Eastern Conference peers, that extra nine million in cap space could quickly become a priority.

If I absolutely had to guess, I say he gets dealt. But it's a pure guess at this point.

This will probably generate a few "LOLs" from the audience, but I think Simmons' trade value is up there with almost anyone in the league right now, because you still have him on a rookie contract through next season. His shooting will remain an issue wherever he goes, but if he was on a team that was built strictly around his talents, I think the discussion would be a lot different.

Whether his trade value in practice is the same as in theory is impossible to know. Regardless, you don't even think about trading him unless you're getting a legitimate All-Star in return, and as I said above, I would still bet on the talent in the hopes these guys figure it out eventually.

And since we're now entertaining trades for two of the best players the Sixers have had in two decades, it's time to wrap this up. Have a good weekend everyone, and get ready for that Raptors battle on Saturday night.

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