The Philadelphia 76ers had a chance to make a major move earlier this season when James Harden was on the table and they were among the favorites to land him. Most reporting, in fact, had them as the favorite, but it didn’t happen, perhaps because Houston owner Tilman Fertitta refused to do business with former Rockets GM Daryl Morey, who now runs the shop in Philly.
Either way, the Sixers held onto Ben Simmons, who is probably having the best season of his career. Alongside Joel Embiid, an MVP frontrunner, the Sixers have two of the best defenders in the league and, perhaps with one more addition, a legit title shot.
The Sixers, meanwhile, could make a big acquisition of their own. League sources say Philadelphia, which came up short in its bid for Harden, is still seeking major moves to increase its championship odds. The trade market still needs to take shape in the coming weeks, so realistic targets are unclear. But one name to monitor is Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, a 34-year-old Philadelphia native in the final season of his contract. A veteran perimeter shot-creator is the only piece the Sixers truly lack, and there aren’t many other players on Lowry’s level who are even theoretically available.
Lowry would obviously be an unbelievable addition for the Sixers, who, to O’Connor’s point, still lack a reliable, shot-making creator on the perimeter. Simmons can’t shoot. Danny Green isn’t any kind of creator. Seth Curry isn’t a primary one. Tobias Harris is a Jack-of-all-trades but a master of none.
Problem is, the Raptors are coming on of late and might see themselves as being one move away from contending for another trip to the Finals. They’ve won seven of their last 10 and sit just four games back of Philly, and Kyle Lowry is still awesome. He ranks No. 9 in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus and, alongside Fred VanVleet, remains the lifeblood of a Toronto organization not keen on rebuilding.
Outside of Lowry, a few names to monitor are Lonzo Ball, Evan Fournier and George Hill. JJ Redick isn’t a creator, but Philly makes just 10.3 3-pointers per game, which ranks No. 28 in the league. It is very hard to win in the playoffs while losing the 3-point battle, and though Redick started off rocky this season, he’s shooting just under 49 percent on 3.5 3-pointers a night over 11 games in February.
As O’Connor pointed out, the trade market remains unclear with the extended March 25 deadline still a month away, but we know a thousand phone calls are happening as we speak and Morey is on a lot of them. He wasn’t on the job in Philly more than a week before he traded for Danny Green, and two weeks before he traded for Seth Curry, addressing Philly’s complete lack of shooting in the blink of an eye. They could still use more of it, in addition to a playmaker, and if there is someone to be had who fills one of, or both of, those holes, Morey will not hesitate to pull the trigger.
The Sixers have been atop the Eastern Conference most of the season, but they’ve hit a bit of a slide of late, losing four of their last six as the Brooklyn Nets have pulled within a half-game of the top spot, entering Tuesday.