The Sixers should call the Bulls if they want to make the playoffs

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Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, right, goes up for a shot against Chicago Bulls’ Andre Drummond, center, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Philadelphia 76ers are in such bad shape as Thursday’s NBA trade deadline approaches that they need to make some moves if they still think they have a shot at a championship this season. All of their hopes and dreams rest solely on the reigning MVP, Joel Embiid’s ability to recover from his knee surgery on Tuesday and return to dominance and in full health for the playoffs.

The problem that is facing the Sixers is that they’re not a playoff team without Embiid. On the season, the Sixers are just 4-11 without their MVP center. That’s good enough for the lottery in the next NBA draft. While the season started with high hopes after trading guard James Harden, the team has been decimated by injuries since December.

The Sixers have been missing key reserve forward Robert Covington since the end of December with a knee injury, and he doesn’t appear any closer to making a return. In addition to Covington, the Sixers have been without starting guard De’Anthony Melton since the start of January. Melton, with a back injury, was looking like he’d return to the lineup against the Mavericks this past Monday until a flare up has seen his return pushed back indefinitely.

While losing a starting guard and top reserve would hurt any team, the Sixers have also been without stating forwards Tobias Harris and Nico Batum, who’ve both missed extended time with various injuries. Kelly Oubre Jr. missed a few weeks and has been inconsistent, at best, since his return. Newly named All-Star Tyrese Maxey has also missed time due to injury. The Sixers just can’t seem to get it together, and the loss of Embiid has put them in a bad spot with 32 games remaining in the regular season.

Who could help?

The Sixers should be looking to the Chicago Bulls to aid in their resurgence. The Bulls have guard Alex Caruso, who’s one of the best defenders in the league and is currently averaging a career-best 9.9 points per game. In addition to his defense, Caruso is shooting 40.4% on his three-point attempts this season, a quality shooter that the Sixers are sorely missing right now. Caruso also carries a very team-friendly contract through next season, as he’s on a partially guaranteed deal for just under $10 million next season.

Chicago Bulls guard Alex Caruso can’t get to a loose ball in time during the overtime of an NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)

Also, there’s a guy on the Bulls that Sixers fans will be accustomed to seeing. Center Andre Drummond is an elite rebounder and interior defender that the Sixers need to help get through Embiid’s absence. Drummond had a good time and enjoyed being in Philadelphia for the short time he was here prior to being traded to the Nets as part of the James Harden and Ben Simmons deal.

For the season, Drummond is averaging 7.9 points and 8.5 rebounds per game in only 16.2 minutes per night. Drummond would see a large increase in his minutes in Philadelphia and give them the interior presence that they’re lacking without Embiid. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Drummond would give the Sixers upwards of 12 points and 12 rebounds per night if given between 26-30 per game. Drummond is exactly the type of player that could help the Sixers hold over until Embiid returns and would be a huge asset in the playoffs if Embiid were to return and not be able to give the Sixers 35+ minutes per game.

At what cost?

The hard part, just a week or so ago, was that the Bulls seemed to have no plans on trading Caruso as they’re under some misguided notion that their team is on the cusp of being a championship contender. Despite players like DeMar DeRozan, Zach Lavine, Coby White, and Nikola Vukevic, the Bulls have not been able to put together any sort of consistent play throughout the year.

Chicago Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan, left, tries to get past Philadelphia 76ers’ Tyrese Maxey during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Dec. 18, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Now, as the trade deadline looms, the Bulls have been hit with the news that Lavine will not be returning this year as he needs surgery to repair an injured right foot. The injury has kept Lavine out of the Bulls lineup since January 18th and the thinking was that he’d be able to return for a playoff run. That hope is gone for the Bulls, as is any hope of a future. Lavine holds two more seasons on his contract with a player option in the third, with each year averaging around $45 million.

The Bulls need to wave the flag and surrender for the year. Using valuable assets like DeRozan and Caruso to gather picks and players for the future is their only hope. If they’re able to unload Drummond and get some sort of return as well, then all the better for the team. They have to realize that this current team is not going to challenge teams like the Celtics and Bucks for the top of the Eastern Conference.

While Drummond may come cheap with the Sixers having to give up a second-round pick and maybe another one, the big problem is going to be that Chicago overvalues Caruso and is looking for a return like the one that Utah got in return for Donovan Mitchell or Rudy Gobert, two elite players in the league.

While Caruso has great value with his defense and leadership, in addition to being on a very team-friendly deal, his value isn’t as high as Mitchell, Gobert, or even what the Sixers paid the Nets for James Harden. Caruso should be had for two first-round picks and maybe two seconds. If the Sixers are able to get the Bulls to take a young player as well in return, the draft pick compensation may be less.

Figure the Bulls choose between Terquavion Smith, Ricky Council IV, Jaden Springer, or KJ Martin, and then add in the draft picks. If it’s Smith or Springer, then the Sixers might be able to get away with a first-round pick, a first-pick swap, and three seconds for both Drummond and Caruso. If the Bulls decide they like Martin or Council, there may have to be another pick or two.

Whatever the case may be in terms of return, the Bulls would be wise to talk to the Sixers, and the Sixers should use this opportunity to gain some talent that could hold them over as they await the fate of Joel Embiid and his repaired meniscus. If the Sixers’ goal is to have Embiid back and in shape for the playoffs, then Caruso and Drummond would be the two players who could keep the team going while not having to change much in terms of play style.