We’re less than 24 hours from the start of the 2021 NBA Draft. As is typical of this time of year, the trade buzz is palpable. Bradley Beal is considering the idea of requesting a trade. Kyle Lowry is assessing his options heading into free agency. Daryl Morey is leading the Sixers through a critical offseason as Philadelphia looks to trade Ben Simmons. The Sixers are at the center of many of the latest rumors. They’re ostensibly waiting for the right opportunity to pounce when a star becomes available. Right now, Beal and Lowry are the most prevalent names mentioned with the Sixers. So, let’s take a look at how each guard would fit with the Philly.
Bradley Beal Has A Decision To Make
According to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, Bradley Beal is mulling over the possibility of requesting a trade from the Washington Wizards. Fisher also reported that the Sixers were amongst the teams to which Beal would welcome a trade, should he mandate a new team.
In the days following that report, Fischer revealed that a package centered around Ben Simmons could make the Sixers front-runners for Beal. That certainly isn’t ground-breaking. However, Fischer’s phraseology is enough to make Philadelphia pull as many strings as possible to loosen Washington’s grip on the 28-year-old guard.
Of course, Beal carries more star power than Lowry does at this stage of their respective careers. However, there is a discussion to be had about whether or not Beal is the better fit of the two.
The Fit For The Sixers
The only thing preventing Beal from the fit being a match made in heaven for both parties is that he profiles as a shooting guard. One could justifiably argue that any star-level perimeter creator is the perfect fit for the Sixers. My line of thought would be that the goal should never result in touches being taken away from Joel Embiid. Beal is perhaps a level up on Tobias Harris as a passer. He’s far below what Kyle Lowry presents as a playmaker for his teammates. Beal likely takes away a significant portion of Embiid’s touches. Lowry likely does not.
Simply put, Beal is an elite three-level wing scorer who excels at creating his own shot. He didn’t impress as a shooter off the catch last season. But, one could postulate that the data is uneven because the volume of pull-ups far outweighs the volume of shots off the catch.
Beal is a fluid, creative scorer from anywhere on the court. That’s what the Sixers need. He just isn’t much of a point guard, which could prove detrimental to the team come playoff time. One could make the case that Washington’s decision to trade John Wall for Russell Westbrook was a coincidence of positions as the teams matched awful contract for awful contract. One might also ponder whether Washington did that trade knowing that the team couldn’t reach the playoffs with Beal running point.
The Finances Fit Like A Glove
From a financial perspective, it’s a pretty smooth transaction. The Sixers can match salaries with Ben Simmons, alone. Then, it’s a question of what peripheral assets Tommy Sheppard and the Wizards mandate in return. Perhaps it’s a plethora of draft picks. Perhaps it’s picks and a selection of Philadelphia’s young assets. Whatever the package is, the only hindrance is whether or not Beal wants to come to Philadelphia.
The Fit For Beal
First, there is the interesting nugget from Fred Katz of The Athletic. On Monday, Katz reported that the star guard was ‘frustrated’ by the fact that the Wizards did not give Sam Cassell, who was with the Wizards during Beal’s early seasons, a second interview for their vacant head coaching job. Cassell, Katz reported, was Beal’s top choice for the vacancy.
It appears as though Cassell well remain on Doc Rivers’ staff for at least the upcoming season. So if Beal is bent on playing for the team that staffs Cassell, the Sixers would be more than happy to make his wishes come true.
From a basketball perspective, the Sixers would serve as perhaps the best destination for the guard. Beal thrives with the ball in his hands. The Sixers would certainly afford him the freedom to take games over when the situation calls for it. There has been a nearly-linear inverse relationship between Beal’s rising usage and declining defense over the past few seasons. With Embiid there to carry the offense at times, Beal could commit more energy and focus to normalizing his defensive aptitude. By the same token, Embiid’s prowess as an interior defender would aid in covering up Beal’s defensive shortcomings when his matchups turn the corners on him.
The on-court fit might be slightly worse than that of the other guard to whom the Sixers are most prevalently linked. But, the financial fit is far better.
The Kyle Lowry Interest Continues To Circulate
On Tuesday, Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry would be open to joining the Sixers if they offered him the right amount of money.
It is perhaps the furthest thing from a secret that the Sixers made a significant effort to acquire the Philly native at the 2021 trade deadline. Lowry represents one of Daryl Morey’s signature trade victories during his Houston tenure. Beyond that sentimental representation, Lowry is a multi-time All-Star at the point guard position who plays a dogged brand of basketball on both ends of the floor.
The basketball fit, for both sides, yields perhaps the highest chance of mutual satisfaction amongst all possible destinations for the guard. The financial fit, however, is quite the opposite of perfect.
The Fit For The Sixers
You can object that Lowry is old and thus minimizes the Sixers’ window of contention. But, there’s no denying that his skill set fits what the Sixers need on the court to a tee. He’s an expert at navigating a half-court offense. Lowry can create his own shot off the dribble. He can make plays within whatever tempo the game dictates.
Lowry also fits within Doc Rivers’ offensive philosophy quite well. He’ll likely be tasked with playing on the ball more than he did this past season with the Raptors. But, he isn’t a dominant isolation guard in the way that many modern stars are. Lowry is comfortable playing off the ball and even did so to the Raptors’ benefit when Kawhi Leonard led them to a title in 2019. He will move the ball and trust his teammates enough to serve as a spacer when the situation calls for it. His experience as a lead guard would also serve Embiid well in improving as a screener in the pick-and-roll. Above all else–and ironically the simplest–Lowry would make it much easier for the Sixers to score in a half-court setting than it’s been over the last two seasons.
Lowry’s presence would also help bridge the veteran leadership that served as an intangible factor in the Sixers earning the 1-seed in the East this past season. The multi-time All-Star, who grew up in Philadelphia, would naturally have the gravity of his teammates’ ears as soon as he walked into the team’s training facility in Camden, New Jersey.
Toronto Has Lost Trade Leverage
Logic would dictate that Toronto has lost much leverage in trade negotiations because they don’t have the roster control needed to dangle the point guard in front of potential suitors. If Masai Ujiri and company grow greedy on the sign-and-trade front, they risk losing Lowry to a team that can afford him on the open market.
The Pelicans have created the cap space to sign Lowry outright if the Raptors were to prefer the financial flexibility opened by allowing him to walk instead of executing a sign-and-trade. Still, given the seemingly strong equity between Lowry and the Raptors, he may be willing to give the Raptors an opportunity to redeem him for something tangible. Toronto certainly could prefer to get something in return for Lowry, too. Should that be the case, there exists the possibility that they could agree to a two-way sign-and-trade of Lowry for fellow free agent Lonzo Ball.
There are other teams that will be interested in Lowry’s services. I won’t bore you with every possibility. The point I’m illustrating is that the Raptors have lost virtually all leverage as far as redeeming Lowry for assets goes. But, they have options if he wants to leave them a parting gift. The Sixers are not the only contender that will pursue the star guard, either.
There Simply Aren’t Many Contenders With Cap Space
By the same token, they’re one of many contenders lacking the financial freedom needed to splurge on Lowry. He may forgo a playoff lock and take the money the Pelicans have to offer. There is not much that established contenders can do about that. But, Lowry could limit his services to certain contenders. There are a bevy of teams that can start a bidding war with Philly in the sign-and-trade market. In that case, the Sixers could certainly run into some road blocks in their pursuit of acquiring him.
The Sixers Should Not Trade Simmons For Lowry
The Simmons card trumps any package of goods that other contenders can offer, assuming there isn’t a wild card offer out there. But, it doesn’t makes sense for the Sixers to put Ben Simmons at the center of a trade for 35-year-old Kyle Lowry. The Sixers are not the Phoenix Suns. Phoenix, after missing the playoffs in ten consecutive seasons, had nothing to lose in trading for star point guard Chris Paul. Further, one might argue that the highest-ceiling asset with which the Suns departed to acquire Paul was a 2022 protected first-round pick. The Sixers have more at stake than the Suns did at the time. Paul is also a better player than Lowry is. So, the idea that the Sixers should be willing or required to depart with Simmons to acquire Lowry seems debatable at best.
Should the Sixers agree with that opinion, a successful attempt to acquire Lowry could be made with other resources. Namely, that means signing-and-trading Danny Green and picking up the guarantee on George Hill’s deal to get the money in the ballpark. There would be some degree of young assets (Tyrese Maxey, Shake Milton, or Matisse Thybulle), as well as draft equity, going to Toronto to make the deal worthwhile for them.
Saving The Simmons Card
Such a possibility presents an opportunity to pivot away from the need to trade Simmons until the exact moment that either Lillard or Beal becomes available. Simmons’ postseason play ideally served as a humbling experience. If such is the case, he could come to training camp with an acceptance that playing off the ball is better for this team unless he decides to make an effort as a jump-shooter. In a role with less pressure to create offense in a half-court setting, Simmons might break through to the next level of his game.
Thus, the Sixers would have some options going forward. They could elect to roll with Simmons as a power forward and Lowry as the lead guard if they feel it’s a formula that maximizes their chances of winning a title. Alternatively, with Simmons’ trade value restored in a better-fitting role, Morey and company could redeem the Australian point forward for one of the two aforementioned guards if they become available.
There would be some inherent risk in such a plan. Perhaps he struggles with the adjustment to playing power forward on a full-time basis. Perhaps he doesn’t buy in to the fullest extent and his play doesn’t elevate as the Sixers hoped it would. Alternatively, maybe Simmons suffers injuries that raise skepticism about his durability or ceiling. Such circumstances serve as realistic scenarios that could lower his trade value even further. That puts the Sixers in a bigger bind than they’re currently in.
The bigger issue is the mathematical gymnastics that will be needed to fill out the rest of the roster should they find a way to keep Simmons (and Harris) and acquire Lowry.
The Sixers’ most feasible way to acquire Lowry via S&T is to send Ben or Tobias out in that trade.— Bryan Toporek (@btoporek) July 28, 2021
But if Lowry is making $30M, the hard cap could thwart them from re-signing Danny Green and/or using their full MLE.
It isn’t out of the realm of possibility that the Sixers find a way to roster a so-called ‘Big Four’. Heck, if Lowry comes out and says he wants to go home or the other offers on the sign-and-trade front are unappealing, it could even be a probability that the Sixers find themselves with that ‘Big Four’. But, salary obligations would restrict them so much that the rest of their roster depth would most-easily consist of players on veteran minimum deals. They would even have to go as far as dumping Seth Curry’s salary to legally fill out the rest of the roster. That scenario is far closer to absurdist comedy than it is to a realistic possibility.
That is why the most practical course of action towards acquiring Lowry in a two-team deal includes one of Simmons and Tobias Harris. Yes, he played poorly in his third consecutive second round series. But, the Sixers should not trade Ben Simmons for Kyle Lowry. Conversely, the Raptors may prefer to let Lowry walk in free agency over taking on Tobias Harris in a trade. A third team could get involved to make such scenarios more interesting. Yes, my brain would combust and smoke would flow from my ears. Outside of that possibility, the financial fit for the Sixers is far from sensible. In fact, I might even say that it makes the possibility of acquiring Kyle Lowry highly unlikely.
The Fit For Lowry
There’s no denying that he fits the Sixers perfectly. In fact, it’s such a strong fit that it’s difficult to imagine that they could possibly fit his needs at an equal or higher standard. The Sixers don’t have an established guard that can assume ball-handling duties on a consistent basis to afford Lowry opportunities to play off the ball. They have a big man that shoulders most of the offensive load. Theoretically, that means Lowry can slowly assume fewer scoring responsibilities as he gets closer to retirement. That same big man is an elite rim protector that can help mask the point guard’s defensive deficiencies as he continues to age.
What the Sixers might not have is the shooting gravity needed to maximize the perimeter spacing around Lowry. Toronto was not as efficient from beyond the arc as the Sixers were last season. But, their volume of attempts was drastically higher than that of the Sixers. Perhaps teams are willing to bet on the Sixers missing threes if it means taking away dribble penetration from the ball-handler. That’s where a low-volume three-point shooting team could serve as a bad fit next to a point guard that might need more space to create offense as his body slows down.
I cannot say that I studied Toronto’s aptitude at setting screens for Lowry. But, I can say that Embiid, while having the tools to become so, is not a good screener in the pick-and-roll. Lowry has always been quick enough to be effective off the dribble. But, he would be justified in having reservations about playing with a big that isn’t a good screener in the most fundamental offensive concept in the game. I would still retort that Embiid is so good that that shortcoming can be overlooked. But, a veteran point guard might not feel that way in the closing stages of his career.
Speaking of dribble penetration, Rivers emphasized the importance of ‘paint scores’ last season. By that, he meant maximizing dribble penetration and straight-line drives and then creating open shots from that. Rivers also championed a team-oriented style of offense. He tried to get away from isolation and instead pivoted towards ball movement. Lowry’s time in Toronto showed that the veteran guard could move well away from the ball after initiating plays. Further, he’s adept at attacking close-outs and leveraging rim pressure to make plays for his teammates.
Ben Simmons…In Step?
Instead of writing a whole new piece on the latest rumors surrounding Ben Simmons, I will include such an update here. It will be short anyway.
This report, if you want to call it that, came out late this afternoon:
ESPN Sources: Sixers continue to canvass the league for Ben Simmons trades — armed with a steep asking price. Simmons and his agent, Klutch CEO Rich Paul, are in step with a move elsewhere. Draft night is always an ideal vehicle for a deal, but talks could continue into summer.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 28, 2021
There’s a lot to unpack here. First, there is the interpretation of “are in step with a move elsewhere”. To me, it means that they agree with the Sixers that a divorce would be best for both parties. I would be very surprised if this was leaked from the Sixers’ end of the marriage. Daryl Morey and company have nothing to gain from leaking something that sounds like, “Oh yeah, Ben would like to be traded, too”. This seems to be something that Simmons’ side of the relationship leaked to Adrian Wojnarowski. Such a play would perhaps create a public image that would avoid embarrassment for the high-profile point forward. If it appears mutual, Simmons can deny the notion that he was sent packing on the basis of not being good enough to advance the Sixers past the second round.
For what it’s worth, sources close to Simmons maintain that, out of all possible scenarios, his preference is to remain with the Sixers.