The Sixers are rolling right along, having won six in a row to improve to 22-16 on the season, good for the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference.
The caveat that this is almost unquestionably their easiest stretch of the schedule still applies, and while the sheer level of dominance is impressive (they've won their last three games by an average of 16.3 points per game), it's impossible to completely lose sight of the fact that they're doing so against the league's bottom feeders.
Still, it's not as though the schedule gets too daunting at any point between now and the February 10th trade deadline, when the Sixers could theoretically (more on that below) be adding the much-needed reinforcements that Joel Embiid has been waiting on all season.
Banking these wins now so the Sixers can get to that point in a relative position of strength is key, even if it doesn't necessarily signal that the Sixers are back on track towards being a viable championship contender.
- Overview of the Sixers' week
- A look at the week ahead
- Musing: Keeping Simmons beyond the trade deadline
- Required reading
- Last week at The Daily Six
Last week's record: 3-0
Stats for the week:
- Offensive Rating: 121.9 (2nd)
- Defensive Rating: 104.9 (5th)
- Net Rating: +16.9 (3rd)
Highlights: 31 points, 10.7 rebounds, 7.0 assists on 52.3% shooting from the field. That is, of course, the stat line of one Joel Hans Embiid from this past week, as he continues to rise up the MVP rankings. Of the Sixers' +49 point differential for the week, 47 of that differential came in the 95 minutes that Embiid was on the court, with them just about breaking even (120-118) in the 49 minutes he was on the bench. Tobias Harris hit the 20-point mark two games in a row, with the highlight being his 23-point (on 12 shots), seven rebound, five assist performance against the Spurs. He's still not super into the 3-ball, but at least he's been getting into the paint a bit more lately. Seth Curry (10-23 from 3, 10-15 on midrange jumpers for the week) continues to be on target from the perimeter, and good Furkan (24 points against Houston, 20 against Orlando) made another appearance, after having shot just 31.2% from the field over his previous 21 games (ouch).
Lowlights: There really isn't much to nitpick here, at least not on the basketball court. They played a weak schedule and took care of it it in business-like fashion. The lowlight is COVID-related absences (Tyrese Maxey, Matisse Thybulle, Paul Reed, Jaden Springer and Myles Powell all missed time in protocols this week) and injuries (Isaiah Joe missing the Spurs game with back pain, Shake Milton missing two games with a back contusion, and Danny Green coming back from calf tightness).
- Monday: @ Houston, 8 pm
- Wednesday: vs Charlotte, 7 pm
- Friday: vs Boston, 7 pm
- Saturday: @ Miami, 8 pm
The trade deadline chatter has started to pick up, as you would expect now that we're only a month away from the February 10th trade deadline.
One of the notable pieces was from Marc Stein, who wrote that the Sixers' preference is to keep Simmons beyond the trade deadline and get him back on the court, and that their biggest fear isn't squandering this season of Joel Embiid's prime, but instead rushing this trade and squandering their opportunity to add a true co-star alongside of Embiid.
I wholeheartedly agree with the notion that maximizing the return on the Simmons trade is far more important than 'salvaging' this season, and it was something I wrote about in a column last month.
Because truth is the Sixers aren't going to win a championship with Joel Embiid and a bunch sub All-Star players as his supporting cast. Making a trade now rather than February might increase the Sixers' chances of losing in the second round rather than fighting for the play-in, but so what. That's a Pyrrhic victory if it puts them in a worse position to eventually land the supporting star that Embiid has desperately needed during the entirety of his NBA career, save for the brief period of time when he had Jimmy Butler alongside of him. The result of the Simmons trade isn't about salvaging a year of Joel Embiid's prime. It's about salvaging Joel Embiid's prime, full stop.
In terms of the Sixers' appetite to keep Simmons on the roster, there's a number of interesting angles to it.
The first thing to keep in mind is that almost everything you hear at this time of the year is nonsense, or at least has the chance to be nonsense. It makes very little sense for Daryl Morey, either to reporters or to other executives around the league, to be truthful about what his priority is. But it makes a whole lot of sense for Morey to try to convince people about what he might be willing to do, which may or may not align with his actual preferences.
In reality, his actual preference probably largely depends on what's being offered in the next month. If a star magically becomes available, Morey's preference will quickly shift away from keeping Simmons and towards making a deal. But if the packages being offered now aren't improved upon, his preference very may well be to keep Simmons past the deadline.
But the packages being offered a month before the deadline are almost never the best packages that will become available. The question is what's in that middle area, and whether Morey take actions which will steer the offers towards what he wants.
By signaling that he is willing to keep Simmons, he's also signaling that his position isn't as compromised as most expect that it is, which which would help prevent other teams from thinking they can get Simmons on low-ball offers. In short, expect Morey to signal that he's happy, and maybe even hoping, to keep Simmons in Philadelphia ... right up until there's an offer that changes his mind.
Assuming an offer with a viable co-star doesn't materialize in the next month, and assuming a package that makes the Sixers viable contenders this season isn't there either, two questions immediately pop up: which course (Ben Simmons or the return on the trades being offered) will have the most trade value this summer, and would Joel Embiid be okay with not making a major trade during the season.
In theory, if the only real goal is to build a legitimate championship contender during Embiid's prime (as it should be), and if Simmons is the trade chip that projects to hold the most value in the summer, holding on to him does make sense, although the calculus isn't always straightforward.
If a young player is offered to the Sixers, even if that player doesn't necessarily fit the timeline to compete for a championship alongside of Embiid, would that player benefit from Embiid's presence and play the best ball of his career, and thus be worth more in a trade this summer than what it cost for the Sixers to acquire him?
In terms of players currently rumored to be available (or, at least, to not be untouchable), Tyrese Haliburton would be an example of such a consideration. Could Haliburton, after assuming even more point guard responsibilities playing next to Maxey than he has had so far with Fox, and benefitting from the attention that Embiid receives, put up the best numbers of his career, and cause executives around the league to re-evaluate what his long-term upside is?
Or, is there a package of young player(s) plus picks that would be worth more, or at least have wider appeal, than Simmons will have in June and July? Part of the concern over going this route prior to the season was that it wouldn't lead to the Sixers becoming legitimate contenders this year, but if a star doesn't become available for an in-season trade this year, and if Morey becomes increasingly convinced that Simmons won't report if he's still on the roster after the trade deadline, that might be more enticing at the deadline than it was in September.
Which brings us back to a real wildcard in all of this: what would Ben Simmons do if he's a Sixer on February 11th?
Obviously, Simmons and his camp have to do everything they can to convince the Sixers that he would continue to hold out, as it's their best chance to force a trade. And perhaps he would. But one of the reasons he would be willing to risk losing money is because of the leverage holding out creates in trying to get his preferred outcome of a trade. If the trade deadline passes and the Sixers threaten to fine him for missing games, would he risk that money even though the possibility for a trade is no longer there? And if he did come back, would he sulk while doing so? How would sulking impact his trade value in the summer?
And then there's the biggest consideration of them all: would Joel Embiid be okay if the Sixers have no real shot at contending this season, despite his MVP level play? The bottom line is there may not, and probably will not, be a trade available to Morey that would make them contenders this spring, and if that happens and Simmons continues to hold out, the Sixers' playoff hopes will be slim.
But it's one thing for you and I to sit here and say that the Sixers should be okay with that, and that their best path forward is to hold on to Simmons. It may even be possible for Embiid to be saying that behind the scenes right now, in January. But it might be tougher for Embiid to be living in that reality in April and May, especially if he feels like he's done everything that he can.
I'm not saying that Embiid would become disgruntled if this scenario played out. But I am saying that the odds of that happening is perhaps the biggest projection that Morey has to make over this next month.