The NBA Finals are almost over and the draft and free agency are rapidly approaching. The offseason is already underway for most teams, and for the Philadelphia 76ers, that means plenty of trade talk and questions about what the future holds for Ben Simmons. In terms of who the Sixers are targeting, one player stands firmly above the rest: Damian Lillard.
It’s no surprise to receive another update that the Sixers are interested in Lillard (who wouldn’t be), but it is noteworthy to hear from The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor that Philly has recently been one of “the most aggressive suitors” along with a handful of other teams:
Few team executives expect a Dame deal to happen this offseason. But multiple front-office sources say the Heat, Kings, Knicks, Rockets, and Sixers have recently been the most aggressive suitors.
Front-office executives say that if the Blazers eventually move Lillard, they can expect a return rivaling or surpassing what the Nets gave up for James Harden: multiple young players, plus three first-round picks and four first-round pick swaps.
The big advantage the Blazers have with Lillard’s value is that he still has four years left on his contract, compared to just two guaranteed years for James Harden when he was dealt to Brooklyn. As you’d expect, it’s going to take a lot to acquire Dame. But if the Sixers are building a package around Ben Simmons plus some combination of first-rounders and valuable young players like Tyrese Maxey or Matisse Thybulle, they should have a real shot. The Sixers would also be left in a position to contend with one of the top duos in the league in Lillard and Joel Embiid, adding more reason for Lillard to be interested in joining Philly.
Lillard obviously doesn’t seem to be too happy in Portland even though he hasn’t made a request to be traded — at least not yet. Whether such a request comes this offseason or a little further down the line remains to be seen, but it’s hard to see the Blazers making any notable moves to reassure Lillard about the quality of the roster. They have minimal cap flexibility (they’re over the cap with only the $9.5 million non-taxpayer mid-level exception to offer in free agency), they don’t even have their first-round pick this year, and they have limited trade assets besides someone like C.J. McCollum.
A McCollum-Simmons trade could be a possibility, but it’s more likely one the Blazers would be interested in. McCollum just doesn’t give the Sixers quite enough playmaking or ability to attack the rim, which is what they ideally need if they’re trading Simmons. Unsurprisingly, as O’Connor noted in his piece, the Sixers are hoping to get in the running for Lillard rather than settling for McCollum.
Ultimately, it doesn’t sound like a Dame trade will be happening just yet. As O’Connor pointed out, few executives around the league are expecting a deal to happen this offseason. Plus, for whatever it’s worth, Lillard said to media at Team USA practice last week that he expects to return to Portland next season (although he clearly put pressure on the front office to make improvements and didn’t make any strong commitments).
But if (when) a trade does come, you can expect the Sixers to be heavily involved. Lillard is the dream target for them right now as a top-tier offensive talent and elite pull-up shooter with nearly unmatched range. He’d give them just what they need to help lead the offense alongside Embiid. The Sixers should do whatever they can to make a trade happen.