Philadelphia 76ers: After Lillard, Zach LaVine is a perfect trade target

May 9, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine (8) dribbles the ball during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
May 9, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine (8) dribbles the ball during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

When it comes to a looming Ben Simmons trade this offseason, I’m petty sure everyone is in agreement that landing Damian Lillard would be the best case scenario for the Philadelphia 76ers. Lillard is one of the top scoring guards in the NBA, and his presence alongside Joel Embiid would immediately reopen the Sixers’ championship window.

While things definitely seem to be trending towards the Trail Blazers at least listening to offers for their superstar point guard, there’s a very real possibility that Lillard simply does not become available the summer. He’s still under contract for another couple of seasons, and Portland could very easily trade CJ McCollum instead, selling Lillard on a new-look roster moving forward.

If that does end up being the case, Daryl Morey and the Philadelphia 76ers are going to have to pivot their attention elsewhere. Bradley Beal has been a name oft-mentioned in Sixers trade rumors, along with the aforementioned McCollum. Some fans have gotten creative, suggesting Morey target players like De’Aaron Fox, Jamal Murray, and even Kawhi Leonard.

However, after Lillard, ascending Bulls star Zach LaVine is the player that I’ve had my focus lasered in on since the moment the Sixers were eliminated from the postseason. Coming off a career-year which saw him selected to his first ever All-Star Game, LaVine has all the makings of someone who is on the brink of NBA superstardom.

Playing on a Bulls roster that was pretty universally regarded as below average, LaVine had himself an outstanding 2020-21 campaign.  He averaged 27.4 points per game on 50.4% shooting, while also recording a 3P% of .419.

LaVine’s eFG% of .596 was also the third highest amongst qualified guards, only trailing the likes of Steph Curry and Bogan Bogdanovic.

If the Philadelphia 76ers can’t land Damian Lillard this offseason, Zach LaVine would be a pretty sweet consolation prize.

Where LaVine really interests me when it comes to being a Ben Simmons “replacement” is in regards to his athletic profile, as he’s arguably a better overall athlete than Simmons. While the Sixers’ biggest need moving forward is a perimeter guard who can generate their own offense, any trade which involves Simmons being swapped out for a smaller point guard is going to drastically worsen Philly’s overall defensive prowess. Simmons was a DPOY candidate last season, and the likes of Lillard, McCollum, and/or Beal are all below average on-ball defenders.

While LaVine has yet to really establish himself as a plus defender, his freakish athleticism and large frame better mirrors what Simmons gave the Sixers. Doc Rivers could hypothetically utilize LaVine in that “roamer” type of role, weaponizing his lightning quick speed in a more off-ball type of manner.

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Additionally, LaVine is only on a salary of $19.5 million. While the NBA salary cap is a mystery to even the best of analysts at times, a Simmons-for-LaVine trade would give Philadelphia some short-term salary relief as they look to better fill out the rest of their roster. The Sixers would obviously look to extend LaVine for the longterm following a trade, but 2021 would consist of having him at a “discounted” price.

Last but not least, I could envision the Bulls actually entertaining a LaVine-for-Simmons trade with not much else attached to it. Chicago attempted to go all-in on making the postseason this past year (traded for Nikola Vucevic), but didn’t accomplish their goal. While the Bulls very much like LaVine and believe in his longterm potential, swapping him out for Simmons (who’s already inked to a max extension) could seem attractive.

A Simmons and Vucevic pairing alone is one that makes a lot of sense due to the fact that Vucevic likes to operate on the perimeter a good amount.

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If the Bulls are in fact intrigued with acquiring Simmons, this could result in the Philadelphia 76ers hanging on to some of their more prized assets. Keeping one of Tyrese Maxey or Matisse Thybulle would be a major win for Morey, along with some of the team’s future first-round picks. While a LaVine trade gets the Sixers closer to being a Finals contender, more moves would have to follow to actually get them there.