Before I start, this trade is not something in progress, nor will it probably ever happen. It’s just the process of being a Sixers fan, plugging puzzle pieces together and thinking, “What if.”
In the last days of October 2015, the Philadelphia 76ers will be starting year three of the rebuild with no end in sight. While I am fully on board with the idea of waiting until we find our superstar to build around, others grow very impatient, and even some of the most dedicated fans are starting to doubt the process.
It has been almost three years since James Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets (along with Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook, and Lazar Hayward), for Jeremy Lamb, Kevin Martin, and Steven Adams. When this trade happened Sam Hinkie was the Assistant General Manager of the Rockets. They went about the rebuild in a very similar fashion, collect assets, build your team through the draft, free agency, and trades. Only difference being Houston rebuilt without ever tanking.
Now entering year three of the rebuild it is time for some progress to be made, and Hinkie has shown he is not high on just adding a few wins a year, “Those teams win in the high 50s (referring to championship contenders). They don’t win in the teens. They don’t add two or three wins a year. They don’t add a win a month for a little while to try to get where they’re going. They get all the way to the 50s. They get their usually on the backs of great players.”(NJ Today)
Heading into the 2015-2016 season the Sixers have two players who could possibly turn into that superstars in Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, and a more stable supporting cast than years prior. But sadly, this cast of players isn’t going to take us from 18 wins to 50. While some Sixers fans are dreading this upcoming season, others fans are looking forward to the 4 possible first rounders for the 2016 draft. I’m here to say, don’t get to over excited.
In Sam Hinkie’s individual press conference after the 2015 NBA draft he made an interesting comment on the 2015 draft pick situation, “I don’t think we would have gone into the draft that way saying ‘let’s bring six rookies to this team,’ that’s not the way we approached it. Ideally we said three is good, two we can handle, four we can handle.”
With another year of roster fluctuation ahead, there will be even less roster spots available for grabs after this season. Meaning it will be hard to bring in four first round picks, including a few second rounders. If there was a time to attempt a “Harden-esk” trade, this would be the time to attempt one. And the name I can’t get out of my head is Damian Lillard.
When the Harden trade happened, he was not yet a full blown superstar. He had averaged 16.8 ppg, 3.7 apg (per ESPN). Damian Lillard has always been surrounded by a talented starting five through his first few years in the league which put him as the second option, behind LaMarcus Aldridge in the 2014-2015 season. This year he will be a one man show in Portland who will go from a 4-seed in the playoffs, to joining the Kings down in the basement of the west (couldn’t help myself).
This would be the perfect time for Sam Hinkie to strike, the Blazers are left with an allstar PG, no talent to surround him with, and no assets (sound familar? Pre-Sam Hinkie?). They actually have less assets than you’d think, sending their 2016 first round pick to Denver. Then sending their 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2020 second round picks to Chicago, Houston, Sacramento, and Orlando.
With the Trail Blazers being asset deprived the Sixers could strike up a deal sending multiple picks, and possibly a player or two, to Portland for Damian Lillard. I’d imagine a deal would look something like this,
POR receives: PHI 2016 first round pick, 2016 LA first round pick, 2016 OKC first round pick, PHI 2017 first rounder (top-10 protected), Tony Wroten, multiple second rounders
PHI receives: Damian Lillard, (insignificant other player)
1. The Sixers finally have a centerpiece to build around, and someone worthy of being the starting PG on a championship team. Also, a PG who is well-acquainted to the idea of playing with a dominant big man helping Jahlil from the moment Damian arrives.
2. If Sam Hinkie is truely interested in chasing Kevin Durant this offseason, Damian Lillard would not hurt the pitch. It would give KD a star to team up with as they groom the young Sixers into a championship contender. Add in the new practice facility, KD’s old coach Todd Wright, and young talents like Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, hard pitch to turn down.
1. Damian Lillard just signed a five year deal with the Trail Blazers which makes deals harder to complete.
2. Most teams aren’t able to tank like the Sixers have because they’re in smaller markets and are always in danger of being moved to another city if their teams doesn’t perform. Portland is one of those smaller market teams.
As I stated in the beginning, I have not heard any chatter from anywhere about this as a potential trade, but the more I think about it the more it makes sense. Damian Lillard has a Philly type attitude and play style, and he is a young star on the rise. I believe this could be the move that propels the Sixers from an ~25 win team, to a playoff team, and eventually a contender no one wants to see in the playoffs.
All images from Gettyimages.com