Trade rumors: Sixers mentioned among interested teams as Damian Lillard requests trade
Want to know the only thing more insane than the Portland Trail Blazers giving Jerami Grant a five-year, $160 million contract 30 minutes after the NBA's free agency period kicked off on Friday?
That would be the Blazers giving Grant a five-year, $160 million contract 30 minutes after the NBA's free agency period kicked off...only for Damian Lillard to request a trade some 18 hours later.
That's the boat Portland finds itself sitting in now, the bomb dropping around noon on Saturday that Lillard has requested a trade.
The Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets are Lillard's preferred destinations, according to Chris Haynes.
The Sixers are among the teams that will register interest in Lillard, according to Adrian Wojnarowski.
With Harden's time in Philadelphia almost certainly over after the star guard opted into the final year of his deal in hopes of a trade, this is the sort of scenario that gives the Sixers a chance to pivot from one star guard to another. And one that perhaps fits better with Joel Embiid, at that.
Ultimately, this comes down to two things: where Lillard wants to go and what assets the Sixers can bring to the table in a potential deal.
The first one is really all that matters. By all accounts, Lillard's preference is to go to Miami. He has enough cachet with the Blazers organization that he'll almost certainly be traded to his first preference. While he doesn't have the contractual power that Bradley Beal's no trade clause had with the Washington Wizards, the personal equity he has with Portland might as well be its own no trade clause, even if he won't be able to dictate the package coming back to the Blazers the way Beal could.
While his preference for Miami certainly puts the Sixers at a disadvantage, it doesn't mean that there isn't time to convince Lillard to change that preference. This is the time of year where everyone around the league is in contact with each other. If Lillard is willing to listen, Philadelphia won't have to work too hard to get in touch.
The second part is where things get interesting. The Sixers, in their current state, almost certainly don't have enough assets to compete with the likes of Brooklyn. Depending on how you compare Tyrese Maxey to Tyler Herro, you might argue Philadelphia doesn't have enough to compete with Miami in a trade race, either.
But regardless of what anyone says, these types of star-centered deals usually revolve around promising young players and draft picks. While Philadelphia is communicating that they aren't interested in trading Maxey, we'll see if that principle will hold if they find themselves in the thick of discussions to land Lillard. After all, it's meaningful that the Sixers are reportedly not expected to give Maxey a contract extension this summer.
Those same reports insist that maintaining financial flexibility is why the Sixers aren't so quick to move on a Maxey extension. But, "financial flexibility" doesn't exactly telegraph the plan. It leaves things open for interpretation. One interpretation is that it makes it easier for Philadelphia to entertain other transactions that they might want to complete not involving Maxey. Another interpretation would be that not extending Maxey at this time makes it easier to include him in trades this offseason.
For what it's worth, a league source wouldn't rule out to 97.3 ESPN that Maxey could potentially be extended before the start of the season - after the dust settles on Philadelphia's offseason plans.
As for draft pick compensation, the Stepien rule makes it so that the Sixers can only offer the Blazers one future first-round pick - their own in 2029 or their own in 2030. Miami, on the other hand, can offer two first-rounders across the four drafts between 2027 and 2030.
To circumvent the Stepien rule, per se, either team could entice the Blazers with pick swaps. Perhaps Portland is willing to bet that they will be better than one of Philadelphia and Miami in the seasons during which they'd have the right to swap first-round selections.
But, if Lillard can be moved off of his position about the Heat, the Sixers do have one chip that none of these other potential suitors have: a star guard of their own who wants a trade.
No, the idea wouldn't be to send Harden to Portland. Rather, it would be to send Harden elsewhere for a suitable package. If not Maxey, Philadelphia's best chip might be to take the return they get on a Harden trade, package that with assets of their own, and redeem the whole boatload for Lillard.
That Miami looms as the favorite to acquire Lillard would theoretically put pressure on Philadelphia to get a Harden trade done sooner rather than later if the Sixers were to seriously pursue the Portland star.
But, if Lillard is set on Miami, there's not a whole lot the Sixers can do. And if the Sixers believe it's a wild goose chase, they shouldn't rush into a Harden deal in search of assets to send to Portland.
Never say never, but maybe hold off on buying your customized Lillard Sixers jerseys.