Philadelphia 76ers: Tyrese Maxey shouldn’t be untouchable

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

In case you haven’t noticed, the Philadelphia 76ers are being linked to a ton of potential targets in the waning hours before the 2021 NBA trade deadline.

Will most, if any, of these potential deals actually go down? Statistically speaking, almost none of them will, but until the deadline officially passes on March 25th at 3 pm EST, anything is possible, and thus, the speculation will continue.

Between you and me, this is one of my favorite times of the NBA season; it’s just so much fun.

But, for any deal to go down, even the best GM has to surrender some sort of asset to get a deal done, even if it’s just cash. Players, picks, and even cash can be exchanged in a slapdash search for a midseason jumpstart, with only a select few assets earning the coveted distinction of being “untouchable.”

As painful as it may be to say, Tyrese Maxey does not deserve that distinction.

If the right deal comes around, the Philadelphia 76ers should trade Maxey.

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When the Philadelphia 76ers were in hot pursuit of reuniting James Harden with his former general manager, reports came out that Daryl Morey was unwilling to give up a package centered around Ben Simmons, Matisse Thybulle, Tyrese Maxey, and additional draft compensation – reportedly three first-round picks according to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor.

Theoretically, passing on that deal made some sense from a pure asset retention standpoint, as all three of those players are going to be in the NBA for the next decade-plus, and such a deal essentially cannibalizes the team’s draft capital for the better part of the next, but if such a deal was a no-go, why were Simmons and Thybulle reportedly notified to pack their bags with a trade close? Was Maxey really the difference between landing Harden and not?

That, according to some, would appear to be the case, and unfortunately, it looks like a pretty massive mistake.

You see, on that unsuspecting day in January – the first day of the 2020-21 NHL season – Maxey was in the middle of the best stretch of basketball he’s played all year, averaging 18.8 points, 3.5 assists, and 3.8 rebounds a game while playing 30.4 minutes of action a night. He’d just dropped a career-high 39 points on the Denver Nuggets in the infamous “Seven Sixers” game on March ninth, and excitement was at an all-time high that maybe Maxey was the home-grown third star the Sixers had been desperately searching for since ex-GM Bryan Colangelo traded away Jayson Tatum and the Kings’ first for Markelle Fultz – which isn’t really true but feels bad regardless.

However, since that fated stretch came to an end in late-January, corresponding largely with a number of Sixers players landing on the Covid-19 list, Maxey has fallen further and further out of Doc Rivers‘ rotation, now only playing in games where the team is either undermanned or up 20.

But how does that happen? How does Maxey go from this untouchable asset to a player who rarely actually sees the court on a squad in the middle of a self-proclaimed “Championship or Bust” season?

Unfortunately, there isn’t just one reason for Maxey’s falling out, but a few.

First and foremost, Maxey was given a four-game sample to play alongside Ben Simmons in the Sixers’ starting five in Seth Curry’s absence, and for the most part, the results weren’t particularly good. Sure, Maxey still scored fairly well using his speed and patented mid-range floater, but his fit on the court with Simmons was awkward, to say the least, and that, unfortunately, wasn’t going to change over a larger sample size.

Could Maxey eventually develop into a true blue two-way guard capable of locking down opposing guards and knocking down 3s while switching between off and on-ball responsibilities like Victor Oladipo, Kyle Lowry, or Malcolm Brogdon – all of whom are potential Sixers trade targets? Potentially so, but that leads us to the second reason why Maxey’s status with the team has slowly but surely changed since his mid-January highs: He’s a 20-year-old rookie.

By absolutely no fault of his own, Maxey is 37 games into his NBA career and is still feeling out how he fits playing alongside players who are bigger, faster, and stronger than his opponents at Kentucky. Maxey is just two years removed from his time at South Garland High School and is roughly four-five years away from reaching his NBA prime.

Why, you may ask, is this relevant? Because the Sixers’ current Big 3 are 27, 28, and 24 years old respectfully and would ideally like to use their prime NBA years competing for championships with the best supporting cast possible.

While many will quibble over how Doc Rivers opts to use – or should I say not really use – Maxey coming off the bench, it’s hard to see a world where the former first-round pick is given the room needed to polish up his game mid-season; especially in a season already compressed by COVID-19.

Factor in Maxey being arguably the team’s best realistic trade asset in the eyes of NBA teams destined for the lottery, and the idea of simply hanging up the phone when his name gets called would be incredibly foolish if the Sixers are serious about adding a viable two-way guard capable of helping to win now and form a viable Big 4 alongside Embiid, Harris, and Simmons. For all of Maxey’s potential, he’s not a particularly efficient player right now, as his -3.40 Real Plus-Minus ranks 78th overall among all guards.

Between you and me, I imagine trading Maxey was something Morey always considered even when he drafted him, as the crafty exec has never been particularly keen on keeping first-round picks dating back to his days in Houston.

Next. Just trade for Norman Powell, it’s not that hard. dark

Will Tyrese Maxey be a member of the Philadelphia 76ers when they take the court on Thursday night against the Los Angeles Lakers? Only time will tell. But should he be explicitly held out of conversations due to the dubious distinction of being “untouchable”? No, the Sixers already made that mistake once, and I imagine they won’t do so again. With a slew of two-way combo guards available to be had across the league, many of whom are in the same age range as Philly’s current Big 3, cashing out on Maxey early for a proven contributor now may be a calculated risk worth taking, even if he becomes a John Wall/De’Aaron Fox-level contributor a few years down the line.