This offseason, the Sixers will likely focus on building out the roster around Joel Embiid and James Harden. No team in the NBA had a more productive top-4 offensively than Philadelphia. It would make sense for Daryl Morey, Elton Brand, and the front office to maintain financial flexibility (to the extent possible), build cohesion, and try to establish a culture without more roster overhaul.
That is… unless another star expresses interest in joining the team. We have all heard the Bradley Beal rumors (and yes, please, thank you), but the new free agency pipe dream is a different Eastern Conference two-guard: Chicago’s Zach LaVine.
Fresh off the best season of LaVine’s career in Chicago, the Bulls are once again looking for answers. The six-seed and a swift first round exit despite DeMar DeRozan’s MVP-level output and the stellar play of new addition Alex Caruso does not exactly inspire confidence in the future. Now, rumor has it that LaVine will take meetings with other teams in free agency. A return to Chicago is no guarantee.
The Sixers should make every effort to lure Zach LaVine to Philadelphia
Star power wins championships. You can’t ignore the margins — you need competent bench play, a competent coach, and a strong culture of accountability — but you can paper over a lot of flaws with star power alone. The collective talent of Embiid and Harden (with Maxey on the rise and Harris playing the best ball of his career) makes the Sixers a contender despite copious issues elsewhere in the organization. If the Sixers can add Zach LaVine to the mix, arguably a top-20 NBA player, it will only elevate their status further.
LaVine wants to win — he has made that clear. The Bulls are capable of winning games in the regular season, but the path to Chicago legitimately competing for a championship is murky. It’s not murky in Philadelphia. Complex, perhaps, but pretty straightforward at the same time. You have Joel Embiid, you have James Harden, and you have Tyrese Maxey.
The Sixers’ cap flexibility is limited due to Tobias Harris’ expensive contract ($37.6 million) and the looming extension of James Harden, who is eligible to make $47.4 million next season if he picks up his player option.
Bryan Toporek of Forbes Sports recently wrote an in-depth breakdown of how the Sixers can acquire another max star this summer. Go check it out, it’s worth your time. It starts with a) trading Tobias Harris and b) getting James Harden to sign for less than the supermax.
In order to pry LaVine from Chicago, the Sixers’ easiest path would be engineering a sign-and-trade around Harris’ contract. That said, there’s no guarantee Chicago has any interest in Harris’ contract. He’s not anywhere close to LaVine’s caliber of player and the money is not representative of the on-court impact.
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That means the Sixers should probably start looking for ways to dump Harris’ contract to a third team. Think OKC or Detroit, with other assets (Matisse Thybulle, Paul Reed, Jaden Springer) sent out to sweeten the pot. If the Sixers can get rid of Harris’ contract, cut Danny Green’s $10 million from the books, and the finagle the finances elsewhere (Furkan Korkmaz is due $5 million, Georges Niang is due $3.5 million), then the team will have enough to make LaVine a competitive offer. The Bulls star can make up to $157.4 million over four years with a new team. The Bulls can offer him $212.3 million over five years.
There is obviously risk involved in acquiring LaVine. There’s a non-zero chance the Sixers would have to include Tyrese Maxey (be it in a sign-and-trade, or to help offload Harris’ contract). LaVine is much better than Maxey, but he’s 27 (not 21) and he’s obviously more expensive. There’s a strong argument, in that scenario, for just keeping the combined talents of Maxey and Harris.
If the Sixers can set themselves up for LaVine without sacrificing Maxey, then you run into the potential problem of starting three guards. Philadelphia’s perimeter defense is already problematic, and there’s a strong chance Tobias Harris, Matisee Thybulle, and Danny Green would all be out the door in order to make this happen. Harden can guard wings and forwards (he does most of the time already), but the Sixers would have to work hard to build a competent defense even with Embiid patrolling the paint.
That said, if the Sixers can legitimately tempt Zach LaVine, then you circle back to the aforementioned guiding principle of NBA contention (or, more specifically, Morey’s unique brand of team-building): star power. You win championships with star power, and it’s hard to imagine a more potent four-man group than Joel Embiid, James Harden, Zach LaVine, and Tyrese Maxey. That team is not being stopped offensively.
Morey would have to work his tail off to fill out the roster with minimum contract vets who can hit open 3s and defend. The Sixers still need toughness and size on the perimeter in some capacity, which LaVine does not provide on his own. How small can the Sixers get and still compete? How much does Maxey’s offensive talent matter when he’s deferring to three established stars? Those are the questions that Philadelphia would have to answer before signing LaVine. But, end of the day, it’s Zach LaVine. He averaged 24.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 4.5 assists on 60.5 true shooting percentage last season as ostensibly the second option on a top-6 seed. It’s hard to argue against signing him if he’s interested in the Sixers.