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July 16, 2021

The Sixers should give up whatever it takes to land Damian Lillard (well, almost)

Obviously, Joel Embiid is untouchable, but beyond that?

Sixers NBA

In the next week or so, the NBA Finals will come to an end and a champion will be crowned. For the 38th straight season, that team will not be the Philadelphia 76ers, who once again saw their season end earlier than anticipated despite finishing the regular season with the best record in the East and the conference's No. 1 seed. 

They seem to have a Ben Simmons problem, and after another second-round flameout, more and more people — including the team's head coach — are questioning whether or not any team, even one with an MVP runner-up anchoring the front court, can win a title with Simmons as the starting point guard. It was tough to watch him disappear in the second half of games against the Hawks, and at times actually become a liability both because of his poor free throw shooting and his unwillingness to attack. It's why the majority of the offseason to this point has been spent dreaming up ways to ship Simmons out of town and put better, more complementary pieces around Joel Embiid. 

Unfortunately, most of the rumors surrounding Simmons' suitors involve teams that don't quite have the pieces to offer up the type of return Daryl Morey and Co. are reportedly seeking. 

But there are a few whales out there. The types of players that would put the Sixers on the other end of the negotiating table, where they would be the ones giving up multiple pieces along with Simmons in order to get a deal done. 

And one of those whales surfaced on Friday.

According to Henry Abbott of TrueHoop, Blazers guard Damian Lillard is expected to ask for a trade in the coming days — and according to Yahoo! Sports' Chris Haynes, Lillard will discuss his future and the Abbott report following Friday's Team USA practice in Las Vegas.

While we don't yet know what he'll say, it might not matter all that much. Even if Lillard publicly expresses his desire to return, that doesn't mean that's what's being said behind the scenes or what's being relayed to the team on his behalf. Beyond that, if he does truly want out, he'd be better served by not saying that publicly and therefore hurting Portland's leverage in trade negotiations.

[UPDATE: Speaking late Friday afternoon, Lillard denied the Abbott report that he is planning on asking for a trade, and also said the politically correct thing in that he expects to be in a Blazers uniform next season. He also confirmed that he plans on meeting with new head coach Chauncey Billups and GM Neil Olshey on Friday. All that aside, Lillard did present some concerns about the direction of the franchise and the lack of urgency he's seen out of them in recent years. Ultimately, Lillard said, he wants to retire a Blazer, but more importantly, he wants to win a title. So stay tuned...]

And if that's the case — if Lillard is about to hit the trade block — then the Sixers need to do whatever it takes to land him.

What. Ever. It. Takes. 

With the team closer to true title contention than it's been since the days of Allen Iverson, this is not the time to play it safe. To sit back and hope things fall in your lap. To think that being good is good enough. No, this is the time for the Sixers to truly go all in. And to do that, you give up whatever it takes to land Lillard in a trade. 

Luckily for the Sixers, they have the right man for the job running their front office, with uber-experienced Morey supplanting the far less experienced general manager Elton Brand as the team's top decision-maker last offseason. They also now have a coach with a pedigree to lure a top star, as well as an MVP runner-up in Joel Embiid to pair him with. The Sixers are clearly a team on the cusp of winning a title, and they have to realize that adding a player like Lillard, even if it costs a lot — and it will cost a lot — is what is required of them at the moment.

The Sixers' current title window is inextricably tied to Embiid's window. After all, he's the main reason the Sixers are in the position they currently are, one of the favorites in the East for at least the next couple of seasons, and his massive body likely isn't going to age gracefully if he continues playing as hard as he does. In other words, now is the time for Philly to be aggressive in trying to win because their window is never going to be as open as it is at the current moment.

Obviously, the starting point for the Sixers in any Lillard deal is going to be Simmons. But because he has the same warts he's had since he entered the league and because all those warts were fully exposed in the playoffs just a few short weeks ago, that's only the starting point. It's going to take a lot more than that to get the Blazers to part with Lillard.

So, what else should the Sixers be comfortable parting with? 

Everything. Well, almost everything, as it should go without saying that Embiid is the only player the Sixers wouldn't be willing to give up in any realistic situation. Beyond that though, it should all be on the table.

Multiple first-round draft picks? Why not? We've already established that Embiid's window — and thus the Sixers' window — is now. He's not getting younger, and while he's not old by any measurement, injuries take their toll and big bodies typically show that toll more than most. Banking on young prospects, even if they're lottery talents, is problematic for two reasons. For starters, there's no guarantee that they'll pan out, and the Sixers don't necessarily have the best draft history, although it's been better the last two years. But beyond that, even if they picked the right guys, there's no guarantee that they'll be the best versions of themselves — let alone ready to contribute on a contender — during this current window. And priority No. 1 for the Sixers at the moment should be winning a championship in the next three or four years. Hoarding draft picks isn't the way to do that, and those picks are much more valuable to a team you'd presume will be rebuilding post-Lillard. 

But draft picks alone likely aren't going to be enough to ship out with Simmons. If the Sixers want Lillard, they're also going to probably have to give up either Tyrese Maxey, who flashed down the stretch in his rookie season, or Matisse Thybulle, who was named to the NBA's All-Defense second team in just his second year in the league and did so despite him playing far fewer minutes than his peers. Depending on what other offers the Blazers have, it could cost the Sixers both. 

And they should do it without thinking twice.

Are Maxey and Thybulle two young promising players? Absolutely. Are they worth keeping at the expense of landing a player like Lillard? Not at this point in their careers. Moreover, the Sixers don't have much else they could give up that would be a significant upgrade over whatever first-round picks the Sixers could offer instead. 

Sure, the Sixers have guys like Seth Curry who would be attractive to other teams, but if the Blazers are trading away Lillard, they're more likely to be a rebuilding team, in which case picks and guys in their early 20s probably have more value to Portland's front office. And obviously, we didn't mention Tobias Harris, because with Simmons already included in the deal, adding in Harris wouldn't make much sense, and the same thing that applies to Curry applies to Harris. But if Harris or Curry were mandatory pieces to be included — with the Blazers obviously sending multiple pieces back or it being some part of a massive three-team deal with the Sixers getting more in return than simply Lillard, would you really let that stop you? Obviously, there are a lot of moving pieces there and we can't give a definitive answer without more information, but it still works to illustrate how neither of those guys is untouchable in the way Embiid is. 

The Sixers' window to win is now. They have Embiid in his prime. They have a coach who's been there before and a lead executive not afraid to make splashy moves. What else they have left — if they do make a deal for Lillard — is largely going to depend on how much the Blazers want in return for a guy who has been the face of their franchise for the better part of a decade. 

It's going to cost a lot. But the Sixers should be willing to pay, no matter the price.

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