The Philadelphia 76ers have won nine of their first 12 games and at 9-3, they sit in second place in the East. In terms of league-wide standings, they’re tied with the reigning NBA Champs, Nikola Jokic’s Denver Nuggets, and the Luka Dončić, Kyrie Irving-led Dallas Mavericks. The Boston Celtics are first overall at 10-2, after the Sixers squandered a golden opportunity to take at least a split on the season series vs. Boston when both Jaylen Brown and Kristaps Porzingis missed action in Philly recently but Jayson Tatum and co. were still able to get it done.
Even Joel Embiid had to admit that Boston is still the team to beat after that L:
But unlike several of the top-tier teams, Philadelphia believes they have another “big move” they can still make to cement their place among the league leaders and perhaps even reach a few yet-to-be-scaled-summits.
Let’s hop around the slop and see what pops in Sixersville, shall we?
Stein throws cold water on the LaVine dream?
We’ll begin with Marc Stein whose Substack newsletter provided a little insight regarding the latest Zach LaVine rumors.
The LaVine updates began with Shams Charania of The Athletic, who reported that the “Bulls are open to trade possibilities” regarding the two-time All-Star guard.
Marc Stein quickly threw a glass of cold water on the idea many local fans would love to see. Per a recent edition of Stein’s Substack Newsletter:
“Don’t look for Zach LaVine to wind up with the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Sixers will presumably make due-diligence inquiries into LaVine’s availability, amid a rising belief leaguewide that the Chicago Bulls are moving closer to disassembling their underperforming roster, but LaVine doesn’t match the description of what Philadelphia is looking for after trading away James Harden....”
Stein quotes Daryl Morey’s recent appearance on The Rights To Ricky Sanchez pod, connecting the dots, when Morey described what he is targeting via trade but does not seem to describe a player fitting LaVine’s skillset.
Per Stein’s newsletter, continued:
“...I would say first off, they need to be pretty solid on both ends,” Morey, who has collected three future first-round picks and three pick swaps to work with for his next significant swing, told the podcast.
“As you get into the playoffs, it gets very hard for your top guys to be elite one way,” Morey continued. “… The other thing would be we probably need them to have a bit of playmaking — sort of connector, ball-movement aspects. We are a little short on that and it becomes more important in the playoffs as well.”
Does LaVine or any of the Bulls’ top players fit that description? Realistically not.
There are likewise no firm indications yet in circulation that the two-way Bull who would surely generate lots of interest leaguewide — Alex Caruso — will be made available between now and the Feb. 8 trade deadline. Caruso is in the third season of a four-year, $37 million deal.
But Shams chimed in once again to say the Sixers actually do have a “level of interest,” just like the Lakers and Heat.
So perhaps not coincidentally, the three teams LaVine named on his “list” last week all have a level of interest in him. More on that to come.
Pausing briefly, it’s really interesting that we’ve heard Alex Caruso’s name pop up in connection to Philadelphia from more than one insider. The former Lakers champion is not nearly the three-point shooter or half-court offensive closer LaVine is, but he’s an exceptional perimeter defender, something the Sixers really need, and he is a good passer fitting that "connector and ball-movement” element Morey describes.
Per Stein, continued:
“The Sixers are naturally encouraged by their 8-2 start and could well opt to wait until later in the season to seriously pursue trade opportunities when specific needs become more evident. Also: Free agents signed over the summer, in most cases, can’t be dealt until after Dec. 15. Philadelphia’s recent acquisitions from the LA Clippers in the Harden trade, furthermore, can’t be aggregated in subsequent trades until after Jan. 1, which affects Nicolas Batum, Robert Covington, KJ Martin and Marcus Morris Sr.
It appears more feasible that teams such as Miami or the Los Angeles Lakers, rather than Philadelphia, could emerge with substantive trade interest in LaVine since those teams have a clearer need for an offensive infusion.”
So again, Stein is more piecing together Morey’s words than reporting real intel that the team isn’t in on LaVine. In the same pod, Morey admits more than once that he personally isn’t likely to get his dream target and he may have to “make it work” with whoever becomes available.
LaVine wants Philly, Philly?
But as we alluded to LaVine may be a lot more interested in joining the Sixers than they are targeting the Renton, Washington native, who shares a skills trainer with Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey as full-time clients of Pure Sweat Drew Hanlen.
According to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sport, LaVine did something most stars tend not to do, that is, list the Sixers are a team he’d like to play for.
“LaVine and his representation hold several preferred landing spots, such as the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers,” Fischer reported Friday, “and each team has registered some level of interest in the Bulls guard.”
Ahh yes, Jimmy Butler, when in Minnesota seeking trade, once named the Sixers, Lakers, Heat and Nets, an awfully similar wish list as LaVine’s. LaVine and Butler were once traded for each other as well. Would it not be destiny for LaVine to join forces with Joel Embiid, and Tyrese Maxey helping to dethrone Jimmy Butler’s Heat, the reigning East Champs and perennial Sixers tormentors?
(You have to wonder if the Sixers would consider landing LaVine partly in order to thwart Miami from landing him first.)
But Toporek makes a compelling case that Caruso is actually a better trade target (for his likely asking price) than LaVine for this Sixers squad anyway.
I went through the Sixers’ asset cupboard and calculated the team’s best “all in” trade offer.
But whether they wanted that to go to one-star player or two role players, it does seem Morey would much prefer to make trades before the February deadline.
Morey set the Sixers up to have upwards of $50M in spend come the summer (partly by pretending to be terrified of tampering with Harden, tempting Beard to opt in, is the way I’d retell it to kids by a campfire one day) but has already indicated he and Elton Brand would prefer to spend the money early (e.g. trading for a player on a long-term deal, or a player on an expiring deal they can extend with Bird Rights after the 2024 NBA Draft by late June) rather than wait.
Could the Sixers be waiting for someone like Raptors’ wing OG Anunoby to become available? Would three first-round picks and a young player like Jaden Springer be enough to not only tempt a notoriously reluctant trader in Masai Ujiri to make a deal but also top a market that might include teams like the Knicks, who have registered serious interest in OG in the past, while also possessing a bigger draft-pick haul than Philadelphia?
The Grizzlies once offered the Nets four first-round picks for a comparable stud in Mikal Bridges but were rebuffed by Brooklyn, so what would a player like OG go for? What about LaVine? Caruso?
Harden breaks the Clips’ losing streak with step-back triple vs. surging Rockets
Finally, the Clippers are 1-6 since they traded for James Harden. After losing their first five games of their new “Big Three” era (apologies to Russell Westbrook), Harden drained a game-winning step-back triple to snap a six-game Rockets winning streak.
Beard has been trying to become a more comfortable catch-and-shoot bomber for several years now (even though he routinely claims it’s a brand new skill for him to learn, rolls eyes), but as you can see, he still prefers to shoot off the bounce whenever he can:
Harden prefers the much harder shot to the far easier one.
One thing I won’t miss is Harden drawing fouls that simply aren’t called come playoff time. Apparently, he still has to pay for his sins of grifter past, and I’m just relieved that’s the Clippers' problem now.
The Sixers, on the other hand, are 7-2 since they acquired two additional first-round picks, a potentially valuable 2029 swap with L.A., plus Robert Covington, Nicolas Batum, and Marcus Morris Sr. Their vibes are right.
Speaking of Batum...please come back Nico
Finally, I’d just like to add that Nico Batum’s absence has been a low-key big deal. He’s legit #good. The team is 4-0 with Batum in the lineup, and just 5-3 overall without him. So we’ll wish him the best during what could be a rough personal journey, and hope he can get back out there soon.