Rumors have been rife over recent weeks about the future of Portland Trail Blazers’ point guard Damian Lillard, including whether or not he will request a trade out of Portland, given that the franchise is a week into the free agency period and President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey has yet to make any deals that move the needle significantly in terms of competitiveness. In the midst of that speculation, the Philadelphia 76ers have some serious interest in trying to attract Lillard to their team, according to Derek Bodner of the Athletic.
Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey has always been steadfast in his pursuit of superstars, with his team-building philosophy being the epitome of “star hunting” long before the phrase was ever translated to Bostralian. From the very start of Morey’s tenure in Philadelphia the organization was almost singularly focused on monitoring the James Harden situation in Houston, according to sources both inside and out of the organization. Since the Sixers’ season ended the team has similarly kept a watchful eye on the status of Lillard in Portland. From the Sixers’ perspective, it would be fair to say the goal is less to trade Ben Simmons and more to acquire Damian Lillard.
Bodner argues that the Sixers are in prime position to get Lillard should he request a trade.
So if we assume that the odds that Lillard becomes available over the next 12 months has increased, the next question becomes whether the Sixers odds have improved as an eventual Lillard landing point. And while Lillard was probably not laying in his Olympic Village cot dreaming about the pick-and-pops he could run with Georges Niang, the Sixers’ ability to ‘Aim for Dame’ has improved relative to the rest of the league, and I would argue quite substantially so.
To Bodnar, Ben Simmons is an enticing carrot, but he acknowledges both sides may not see it that way.
Then there’s whether Portland would even have interest in Simmons, or whether Simmons would have interest in Portland. That’s of a lesser concern, though. If Simmons hasn’t put the pressure on the Sixers to deal him before Lillard becomes available, the Sixers can always engineer a multi-team trade, sending Simmons to a team that wants him, and relaying some of the assets they get back to a rebuilding Portland. As long as there is strong interest in Simmons around the league, the Sixers are playing from a position of strength.
The biggest threat in all of this might very well be Rich Paul, Ben Simmons’ power agent who could very well become frustrated with his client being in constant trade rumors, after having just been, reportedly, and from his perspective, publicly embarrassed by his coach and star teammate. If Paul and Simmons’ camp demands a trade before Lillard reaches his verdict about the state of the Blazers, it puts the Sixers in a bit of an uncomfortable position.
You can read the entirety of Bodnar’s piece here (subscription required).