Since the James Harden trade first became official, many have wondered what the Philadelphia 76ers‘ next move may be. While the whiteboard has yet to leak for the Sixers, the team has made clear the value they’ve placed on acquiring a third star to surround Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey.
When and how that will happen remains speculative, but as everyone looks to read, or even create, the tea leaves, one name has entered the rumor mill… again.
According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, there is “increased openness” between the Chicago Bulls and two-time All-Star Zach LaVine about exploring a trade.
Seemingly the moment this alert went out to the NBA masses, many began to speculate if the Sixers could be among the teams to pursue LaVine. After all, team president of basketball operations has been reportedly hell-bent on adding an All-Star-quality player in the wake of James Harden’s trade demand.
Now on the other side of that situation, the team once again has the assets to make such a pursuit a reality; but whether they should do so for LaVine is another question.
While his talent and scoring ability are obvious, LaVine’s fit with this current Sixers team and the financial commitment Philadelphia would be making over the next four seasons is far less certain.
Again, the ability itself is unquestionable, but LaVine’s skillset is far from a perfect fit in Philadelphia. He’s tremendous as both shooter and scorer, obviously, but the manner in which he does so is not entirely conducive to a supporting role, or rather it has not been in some time.
LaVine has not taken more than three catch-and-shoot threes per game since he played in Minnesota back in 2017. That could change if he comes to Philadelphia and is accepting of a role as the third option instead of the primary offensive weapon that he’s been in Chicago, but players who have experienced the type of freedom of shot selection that LaVine have, have not historically been so willing to defer.
For all the praise that can be hulred towards LaVine for his offensive acumen, the opposite can be said of him as a defender. Despite a fair amount of size and athleticism, LaVine has often exhibited a combination of poor defensive IQ and a lack of interest on that end as well.
Tyrese Maxey has certainly improved as a defender, but not to the point that a backcourt of Maxey and LaVine would grade out positively.
Alongside Alex Caruso and Andre Drummond, LaVine has been successfully “hidden” at times, but there wouldn’t be a perimeter defender of Caruso’s level in Philadelphia to facilitate that role. Rather, the Sixers should be targeting a versatile defender like Caruso — or even the man himself — to ease the burden already placed on Tyrese Maxey, but more on that another time.
Once you get past the defensive warts, the financial implications of LaVine are even more damning. A total of nearly $138 million over three seasons is due to LaVine after this season. Any plans of attacking free agency would be heavily impacted by this deal.
While one could argue that the Sixers would have found their star, thus rendering the need of cap space unnecessary, another could easily argue the possibility of acquiring young, more affordable players who fit the construction of the team better as well. There is, of course, already a player in mind.
Then, there’s the matter that the team would be forced to sacrifice either their depth or Tobias Harris in order to facilitate a deal for LaVine. The inclusion of Marcus Morris and his rather large, expiring cap hit would almost certainly be included in any trade, but after Morris, the Sixers would still find themselves well short of the required matching salary.
To get closer to that number, they would have to include one of, if not both, Nic Batum or Robert Covington — which must wait until Jan. 1 as the players acquired in the James Harden trade cannot be aggregated until that date. While neither of those players comes close to LaVine’s current output, both have been extremely useful and even necessary at times, for the Sixers. Acquiring LaVine, considering all factors, may not be worth losing that depth.
The alternative to losing that depth is by including Tobias Harris in the trade, which makes little sense for Philadelphia and they have shown no intention to do so. Not only has Harris consistently been one of the more critical voices in the Sixers locker room, but losing a player of his caliber would be counterintuitive unless it was necessary to land a true game-changer. Parting with him, be it in a trade or in free agency next offseason, will not be an easy matter for the organization.
The guard the Sixers would be more likely to target is defensive demon Alex Caruso, who fits the team’s needs both from a skillset and salary perspective. Again, that conversation will wait for another day, but it will come. For now, the focus of the story is that the Sixers should not, and reportedly are unlikely to, seriously pursue LaVine.
Simply put, he is a very talented player, but he doesn’t fit the team’s current plans and in this specific case, isn’t worth mortgaging the team’s newly acquired assets for.