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Editor-in-Chief’s mailbag: Should the Sixers trade for Zach LaVine?

You had plenty of questions about Zach LaVine, where Kelly Oubre, Jr. fits when he returns and much more. I did my best to give answers.

NBA: MAR 22 76ers at Bulls Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s hard to believe the Sixers are nearly a quarter of the way into their season, but here we are.

The team has mostly performed above expectations, sitting at 12-6, just two games back of the Celtics for the top spot in the East — with a matchup looming in Boston Friday night.

With Joel Embiid looking even better than he did during his MVP campaign, Tyrese Maxey ascending into stardom and a nice stockpile of assets for a midseason trade, the Sixers are as intriguing as any team in the NBA.

And with that, your interest has definitely been piqued! So, with plenty of questions to answer in this mailbag, let’s get to it!

(Note: Follow me on Twitter @paulhudrick if you want to submit questions in the future. I’d like to do this as frequently as possible! For those who didn’t get their questions answered, I’ll do my best to include you next time!)

Let’s get this one out of the way first because it’s definitely the biggest question.

And we’ll start here: I don’t think the Sixers have a ton of interest in LaVine. Price is likely the biggest issue, both with what they’d have to give up to get him and potentially paying him through 2026-27. Perhaps if Daryl Morey can swoop in with a low offer, he gets tempted, but that feels unlikely.

As a player, LaVine could be a great fit. In Nick Nurse’s scheme, LaVine could profile well with all the ball and player movement, and the gravity of Embiid and Maxey could give him looks he never got in Chicago. He’s a knockdown shooter off movement or off the dribble. He’d be a huge help as another ball-handler and creator.

But to get LaVine, you’re going to have to give up multiple players that are helping you plus multiple draft picks. Strictly from a salary standpoint at least one of De’Anthony Melton, Nicolas Batum or Robert Covington would have to be moved. You’d also likely be parting ways with Marcus Morris, Sr. and Danuel House, Jr. That’s not team crushing, but your depth, which has been a relative strength for the Sixers early on, would greatly diminish. The defensive concerns are legitimate and would only be exacerbated by losing one of Melton, Batum or Covington.

LaVine is a hell of a player, but when you look around the rest of the NBA, teams are getting away from the Big 3 model, mostly because of the new CBA. The Suns are the only team going with it and Bradley Beal has been out for most of the season. The Celtics have two clear stars and then two borderline All-Stars. With Khris Middleton struggling to return to form, the Bucks really only have two true stars.

Maxey is the key here. If he continues to look like a legit All-Star (and he’s shown no signs of slowing down) then a player like Anunoby would make a ton of sense. Another player I like: Bojan Bogdanovic of the Pistons. He’s great a shooter, can put it on the deck a bit, very high basketball IQ and perhaps a little underrated as a defender.

A lot can happen between now and Jan. 1, when all the players acquired from the Clippers can be aggregated in a trade. We’ll be tracking it all.

The first place people will go is a backup ball handler. Could the Sixers use one? Sure. But that ball handler better be a lot more than just a ball handler.

Nurse’s rotation is pretty full. I imagine the starting five will remain intact — Embiid, Maxey, Melton, Tobias Harris, Batum. That leaves Paul Reed, Kelly Oubre, Jr., Covington, Patrick Beverley, House, Morris and Jaden Springer as options. That’s 12 players. We all know Nurse plays the shit out of his best players. In Toronto, he’d use nine guys at most — with that number being closer to seven — for the most part during the postseason.

So, if you call the Wizards about Tyus Jones or the Pistons about Monte Morris, are you sure those players would be amongst the Sixers’ top seven players? Right now, Maxey is averaging a league-leading 38.4 minutes a game. In the postseason, you’d think that number easily rises above 40. That leaves just four minutes a half where the goal is simply to get the ball over half-court to Embiid.

If there’s a ball handler that is definitely better than the aforementioned guys, great. Go get him. Otherwise, hope that Beverley, who seems to be finding his footing offensively (he’s hit 6 of 11 from three, while averaging 4.7 assists over his last three), can get the job done.

As mentioned above, a true No. 3 type player would be what I would hunt. Anunoby guards at an All-Defensive Team level and Bogdanovic gives you more shooting and scoring. Depending on price, those are the waters I’d currently be wading in.

As mentioned above, I believe Batum stays in the starting lineup and Oubre becomes the team’s sixth man. It makes the most sense.

Batum’s connectivity on both sides of the ball is the perfect complement to the Embiid and Maxey pairing. He’s a strong shooter, passer and off-ball mover. He’s also a higher level and smarter defender than Oubre, which I’d value in a pairing with Maxey.

Your first subs would likely be Oubre and Beverley.

Oubre is pretty ideally suited for a microwave bench scorer role. Oubre and Embiid have done quite well playing off each other. And with Maxey off the court, Oubre does provide a player that can create their own shot and stress the defense. He’s more of a gambler defensively, so I like the idea of having his minutes coincide with Embiid at the rim. Plus, Pat Bev, Melton, Oubre and Harris playing in front of Embiid could wreak havoc defensively.

For the record, what a wonderful problem for the Sixers to have, right? Two starting-caliber wings?! What a time to be alive.

I could certainly see scenarios where the Sixers close with both players. Think of all that size with Oubre, Batum, Harris and Embiid.

Well, this answer is pretty simple: Embiid simply isn’t a lob catcher.

This all seems injury-related. What I mean by that is Embiid’s past lower-body injuries being a factor.

For starters, he simply can’t get the lift he once did. If you watch him every night he hardly ever even dunks anymore. Those injuries and general wear and tear on his 7-foot, 280(?)-pound frame have taken a bit of his explosiveness.

The other is how vulnerable bigs are in those positions. With a player like Embiid, opposing players tend to get away with a bit more because of his size — and of course the opposite is true for Embiid. It wasn’t a lob, but this play comes to mind:

After the Lakers game the other night, Embiid spoke about his two-man game with Maxey and how he compensates for not being a lob threat:

“I’m not a hard roller that’s going to go out and catch a bunch of lobs and stuff. So I can compensate for that by just holding the screen, freeing him up and just making sure he gets some space to get some separation from his defender. Honestly, my whole thought process is just to try to get him better and try to help him get easy looks. We’re going to keep doing it.”

So, while that action isn’t as sexy as the lob, it’s certainly effective.

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