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Trading for Zach LaVine is tempting, but Sixers wise to look elsewhere

The Sixers doing due diligence on a potential Zach LaVine trade is smart, but the decision not to actively pursue the All-Star guard is even smarter.

Chicago Bulls v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Despite reports to the contrary, the Sixers have shown little-to-no interest in the Bulls’ Zach LaVine. The two-time All-Star guard could make an already-potent offense nearly unstoppable, but there are concerns on the court, health-wise and financially for any team trading for his services.

LaVine’s on-court fit with the Sixers would be imperfect but could make sense. With that said, the team is likely wise to not trade for the All-Star guard because of his injury history and contract.

Let’s start with the positive: LaVine can flat-out score. Since arriving in Chicago, LaVine has averaged 25.0 points in 337 games. He’s become a prolific three-point shooter, hitting 39.0% of his threes on a healthy 7.6 attempts from deep a game the previous four seasons. He has the ability to hit threes off the dribble or off movement.

Despite a no-assist 50-piece earlier this season, he’s proven to be a decent playmaker, averaging 4.4 assists a game during his Bulls career. He’s also a ridiculous athlete, having won the dunk contest in back-to-back seasons (yes, he won).

The biggest on-court knock on LaVine is his defense. At best, any advanced metric you use will tell you he’s average — and the eye test will back that up. Throughout his career, his teams have routinely had a better defensive rating with him off the floor. Despite his size and elite athleticism, his block and steal numbers have been mostly subpar.

But for some of the reasons listed above, he could fit with the Sixers.

One of the biggest reasons for optimism when it comes to LaVine working in the Sixers’ offense is Kelly Oubre, Jr. As a super athlete and strong slasher and cutter, Oubre has been a tremendous fit playing next to Embiid and Maxey. LaVine will give you that mixed with elite shooting. While his usage rate has been high (29.8 as a Bull), he’s been a strong off-ball mover in his career — unlike a certain bearded gentleman that used to play here. With the respect opponents will have to show LaVine as a shooter, imagine how frequently he’ll be able to make quick cuts to the basket during Maxey-Embiid actions.

Speaking of the shot, that should be the biggest attraction to LaVine. The Sixers are currently 22nd in the NBA in three-point attempts per game. Outside of Maxey and De’Anthony Melton, they’re lacking shooters that provide volume and accuracy.

As mentioned, LaVine can really shoot it, and he can do so in a variety of ways. Last season, 16.9% of LaVine’s threes were of the catch-and-shoot variety while 21.8% were off pull-ups. That’s a decent mix. He also shot 41.6% on catch-and-shoot triples in 2022-23.

While LaVine’s off-ball movement seems to have lessened a bit since having knee surgery back in 2022, it’s also the product of the Bulls’ offense playing more of a five-out style. LaVine could potentially thrive in Nick Nurse’s scheme which has been predicated on ball and player movement so far with the Sixers. Plus, with respect to DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic, imagine the space LaVine will get playing next to Embiid and Maxey.

Again, despite that 51-point, zero-assist game against the Pistons, LaVine is a willing passer when the opportunity presents itself. He’s been a strong pick-and-roll player with Nikola Vucevic and excels in DHOs. We all know the Sixers have severely lacked playmaking with Maxey off the floor. Keeping LaVine on the court during the non-Maxey minutes should allow one of the top offenses in the NBA to continue to hum.

It’s all about creating time and space while being unpredictable. Embiid, Maxey and LaVine would attract so much attention. Imagine the opportunities that will create for guys like Tobias Harris, De’Athony Melton, Nicolas Batum and Oubre, let alone all the opportunities they would create for each other. Under Nurse, the Sixers’ offense has already been much less predictable. We’ve already seen an uptick in playmaking from Embiid and Maxey. It’s not far-fetched to think LaVine could take his game up another level in that department.

Nobody is going to mistake LaVine for an All-Defensive Team guard. It’s been one of the issues with him in Chicago and why he and head coach Billy Donovan seemingly don’t have the greatest relationship. Pairing him with Maxey, who is improved but still vulnerable, could raise issues.

But the Sixers with James Harden (not exactly a defensive savant) had the Boston Celtics on the ropes at home with a lead in what could’ve been a deciding Game 6. The issue that night was not defense. Boston scored 96 points. The Sixers scored 86 and basically didn’t make a field goal for the final six minutes of the game.

And if you’re choosing to be an optimist, look at the way all the Sixers have bought in with Nurse on both ends of the floor. Plus, LaVine has ties with both Embiid and Maxey. All three share a skills coach in Drew Hanlen, and both LaVine and Maxey are represented by Klutch.

But here’s the rub: LaVine’s big contract and growing injury history make him far from a safe bet.

After playing in 77 games as a rookie and all 82 in his second season, LaVine has missed significant time throughout most of his career. He suffered a torn ACL while still with the Timberwolves in 2017. He injured the same knee in 2021-2022. He was able to finish out the season before needing offseason surgery again. LaVine was able to play 77 games last year, but didn’t play more than 67 in any season between 2016-17 and 2021-22.

As of this posting, LaVine remains out of the Bulls’ lineup with right foot inflammation. He’s played in just 18 games.

The injury history might be something you take a chance on if it weren’t for LaVine’s contract and what he’s still owed. LaVine signed an extension with Chicago that kicked in during the 2022-23 season. After this season (in which he’s making $40.0M), he’s owed $43.0M next season, $45.9M in 2025-26 and has a $48.9M player option for 2026-27. That’s a lot of money for a lot of years for a guy with a lingering knee issue.

LaVine was the first high-profile name to be in trade rumors, but he won’t be the last. Everyone is monitoring the situation in Toronto with OG Anunoby already off to the Knicks and Pascal Siakam seemingly next to go. As more and more teams find themselves out of the playoff picture, they could look to sell.

Daryl Morey has assuredly had conversations with the Bulls’ brass. A team executive with the resources and roster he has in place is going to always be looking to upgrade. Perhaps Chicago’s price gets low, as both team and player seem eager to part. Maybe the Bulls would be more likely to incorporate someone like Alex Caruso in a deal if it meant the Sixers would take on the remaining years of LaVine’s deal.

But, while the Sixers have the assets to make a big trade, Morey will be leery of making an “all-in trade” now that could potentially preclude the team from making a bigger splash this summer. The Sixers will be the rare contender with cap space and trade chips to go after a big fish. While that might not be what fans want to hear, taking a shot with Embiid, Maxey and a ton of depth might be your best bet this postseason.

Never say never, but it doesn’t look like the Sixers will pull the trigger on a LaVine trade — and that appears to be a wise choice.

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