What Sixers do at NBA trade deadline will show how they answer an essential question

·5 min read

PHILADELPHIA — To trade Ben Simmons or not to trade Ben Simmons by the Feb. 10 deadline. For the 76ers, it comes down to one fundamental question.

Are Daryl Morey and the Sixers willing to perhaps sacrifice a potential deep playoff run with star center Joel Embiid in the prime of his career to increase the chances they wind up with a star such as Damian Lillard, James Harden or Bradley Beal this summer, thereby making Philadelphia a more legitimate title contender going forward?

It sure seems like Morey isn't in a hurry to make what he perceives as an uneven deal by the deadline, so it wouldn't be a surprise if the Sixers' president of basketball operations allows the embattled Simmons to sit out the entire season.

While Doc Rivers said prior to Embiid tying his career-high with 50 points in Wednesday's 123-110 victory over the 8-win Magic that his team has been pretty good when everybody other than Simmons is available, the Sixers don't have the bench or athletic, two-way wing players to contend for a title without bolstering the roster by Feb. 10.

Sixers coach Doc Rivers questions a call during the first half of Monday's loss to the Wizards.
Sixers coach Doc Rivers questions a call during the first half of Monday's loss to the Wizards.

"We clearly would like to address some of our (needs)," Rivers said. "There's no doubt about that. I'm not saying I don't want to make our team better. But at the end of the day, as a coach, you just have to worry about what you have.

"... Listen, I trust what we're doing. I have stayed out of it thus far for the most part. I think we'll end up just fine."

Asked what the Sixers could use, Rivers mentioned rebounding – they are last in the league with an average of 42.1 per game – and playmaking.

"I've had a lot of success getting teams to the playoffs and never struggled with (playmaking)," Rivers said. "You need playmakers in the playoffs. You just do. (Opponents are) going to take you out of your stuff. You need guys that are going to be able to make plays for themselves and for others. The more you have, the better team you have, the better chance you have (to win)."

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Second-year guard Tyrese Maxey might be the Sixers' lone initiator consistently capable of creating shots for himself and his teammates, which is not ideal.

It's possible a team could come up with a more palatable offer to Morey and the Sixers by the deadline, but will it be enough?

The Inquirer's Keith Pompey reported Wednesday that "Sacramento has considered packaging Buddy Hield, Tyrese Haliburton, Harrison Barnes and two first-round picks for Simmons, (Tobias) Harris and Matisse Thybulle. However, the source said the Sixers aren’t interested in that package." I'd be a bit intrigued by that, especially Haliburton.

I wouldn't trade Simmons to the Pistons for Jerami Grant, Villanova's Saddiq Bey, Kelly Olynyk and a first-round pick, as Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer reported Detroit offered. Morey won't, either.

As for the possibility of waiting until the summer to move Simmons, you can make a case for acquiring Lillard being more tenable than Harden and vice versa. Both players' production has declined from last season to this year, but both would create a formidable two-man game with Embiid, who turns 28 on March 16.

The 31-year-old Lillard, who is sidelined with abdominal surgery, is a year younger than Harden and under contract for two more years (at $42.5 million and $45.6M, with a $48.8 million player option for 2024-25 after making $39.3 million this season).

The 32-year-old Harden is in the final year of a contract paying him $44.3 million this season, with a $47.4M player option for 2022-23 that he's likely to decline. Harden turned down a three-year, $161 million maximum extension from Brooklyn, so he would be even more expensive than Lillard and could potentially be the first player in NBA history to hit the $60 million mark in 2025-26, when he'll be 36. A former league MVP who Morey traded for in Houston, Harden (averaging 10 assists to Lillard's 7.3) is a better passer and initiator.

Beal is a 28-year-old pure scorer, though he's the least effective 3-point shooter of the three. Beal can become a free agent if he declines a $36.4 million player option next season, after earning $33.7 million this year, and would be eligible for a five-year, $235 million maximum extension.

Adding Lillard, Harden or Beal in the summer is admittedly an enticing proposition. But not maximizing the playoff chances with the way Embiid is playing this season, punctuated by his 17-for-23 shooting Wednesday night en route to putting up 50 points in just 27 minutes, would seem like a waste. The 7-footer is scoring in the midrange with fadeaway jumpers and making it look ridiculously easy, as he did while shooting 8 of 10 in both a 20-point first quarter and 23-point third period.

Sixers center Joel Embiid, right, scores two of his 50 points in just 27 minutes during Wednesday's win over the Magic.
Sixers center Joel Embiid, right, scores two of his 50 points in just 27 minutes during Wednesday's win over the Magic.

So little time, so much to consider.

In three weeks, we'll know Morey's answer to the Sixers' big question.

Tom Moore: tmoore@couriertimes; @TomMoorePhilly

This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: What Sixers do at NBA trade deadline will answer key question