Philadelphia 76ers: Kyle Lowry could have been Jrue Holiday 2.0

Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports /

On Thursday, March 25th, the Philadelphia 76ers almost made a trade that could have defined their short and long-term future.

Up against the wall with a cornucopia of attractive picks, young players, and contracts of varying shapes and sizes, Daryl Morey was deep in talks to once again acquire Kyle Lowry, who played for his Rockets from 2009-12.

Would he pull off a deal for the ages that cashed in the potential of Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle for an immediate contributor alongside Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid, or would he instead hang back and take his chances on a smaller deal that didn’t disrupt the status quo?

Oh gosh, could you imagine if Morey was outbid by either Miami Heat or the LA Lakers, and we had to watch the pride of Villanova win another ‘chip elsewhere?

Well, as it turns out, that wasn’t the case. The 76ers made a move to acquire George Hill – which was far from fruitful – and Lowry remains on the Toronto Raptors’ books to this day, waiting for a sign-and-trade or extension later this summer.

Was that the right call? Only time will tell, but as the Milwaukee Bucks attempt to secure their fourth win in six contests in the 2021 NBA Finals, it’s hard not to wonder if Kyle Lowry could have been Philly’s answer to Jrue Holiday.

Could a Lowry-Simmons combo have saved the Philadelphia 76ers’ season?

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When the Milwaukee Bucks surrendered Eric Bledsoe, two first-round picks, two first-round pick swaps, George Hill’s contract, and the draft rights to R.J. Hampton in a four-team trade with the New Orleans Pelicans, OKC Thunder, and Denver Nuggets for Jrue Holiday – plus the draft rights to Sam Merrill – some questioned if the deal was an overpay.

Sure, Holiday is a fantastic player, a good shooter, and one of the better defensive guards in the NBA today, as fans of the Philadelphia 76ers know all too well, but is he really worth a package more substantive than the Toronto Raptors paid for Kawhi Leonard a few seasons prior?

Well, if his performances in the 2021 NBA playoffs are of any indication, the answer to that question would be a resounding yes.

Despite losing out on a Bogdan Bogdanovic sign-and-trade with the Sacramento Kings for the silliest reason imaginable, the addition of Holiday proved transformative enough to finally vault the Bucks over the proverbial hump and get them back into the NBA Finals after an underwhelming performance in the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals.

Why? Well, to simplify things considerably, it’s because Holiday is a perfect foil to Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks’ two-time MVP point forward.

Holiday is a better shooter than Bledsoe, a better scorer than Bledsoe, a better defender than Bledsoe – basically better than Bledsoe in every possible way – and most importantly of all, the sort of grizzled floor general capable of running the show and getting the most out of his teammates. The two-man game he’s established with Antetokounmpo – and Kris Middleton for that matter – is fast becoming one of the better guard-forward pairings in the NBA, and the now-infamous pass steal/pass Holiday play in the waning moments of the Game 5 all but cemented a third-straight win for the Bucks after dropping a pair to the Suns to start the series.

Does Eric Bledsoe make that pass? How about George Hill? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s safe to say the Bucks are a whole lot better now than in seasons prior, even if Jeff Teague is far from an elite 1b option behind “The Jruth.”

So, you may ask, why is this particularly relevant to the Philadelphia 76ers? Well, because for years now, Antetokounmpo has been a popular comp for Ben Simmons, and thus, comparing how their respective front offices decided to address their flaws with complementary pieces becomes a viable topic of discussion.

You see, ever since the Markelle Fultz situation burned out in spectacular fashion, the Sixers have been incredibly hesitant to pair up Simmons with another ball-dominant guard. Sure, they’ve given him run alongside players like T.J. McConnell, Raul Neto, and, most recently, Tyrese Maxey, but those minutes were always fleeting and never all that impressive due to their inconsistent frequency.

Some of this, obviously, came down to Simmons’ desire to be a point guard or at least the perceived desire that he was disinterested in being listed in the frontcourt. Despite his unselfish nature on the court and near-compulsion for getting the ball to his teammates over taking his own shot, Simmons is about as ego-driven as any 25-year-old former first overall pick signed with a max contract, and thus, his feelings have to be taken into consideration when making massive roster moves, just ask Jimmy Butler.

Antetokounmpo also tried to play point guard for a time early in his career, as well as shooting guard, small forward, and pretty much every other position on the court, but ultimately settled on power forward as his position of choice.

After watching some of Simmons’ eventual bad playoff habits penetrate into the regular season – aka his inconsistent effort, passiveness, and unwillingness to get embarrassed at the charity stripe – the Sixers’ reported interest in Lowry made sense. Like Holiday, Lowry is a top-tier NBA point guard who plays defense like a dog, is a quality distributor, and most importantly of all, drained 37.7 percent of his 6.7 3 point shots a night over his tenure in Toronto. Even if the team had to pay a premium for his services, landing a player with that sort of skill set to play alongside Seth Curry in a new-look backcourt may have just been worth the price of admission.

Something tells me the Bucks would happily surrender two very late first-round picks plus R.J. Hampton, Eric Bledsoe, and a pair of pick swaps for a Holiday in hand 100 times out of 100, especially since it helped to secure a happy Antetokounmpo on an NBA supermax contract.

Assuming the Sixers either procured a viable frontcourt player to fortify their rotation from the Raptors or in a separate transaction – maybe the Sixers keep Tony Bradley and exchange picks/roleplayers for Kenrich Williams if they want to keep the OKC connection alive, but it doesn’t really matter – the team would have a more balanced rotation featuring four 15-plus points per game scorers and enough two-way players to weather whatever losses had to be incurred to facilitate such a deal.

Could that have been enough to get past the Hawks in Round 2? That, my friends, is the $50 million question.

With Lowry in the fray, the Sixers would have had a legitimate lead guard to rely on in the final five or so minutes of the game, instead of giving Joel Embiid the ball over and over and over again. Lowry could make good passes, drive to the basket, and most importantly of all, actually drain free throws down the stretch.

And as for Simmons? Well, why not use him as a supersized screener instead of a non-shooting wing without an offense purpose once the ball passes the halfcourt; you know, just like how the Bucks use Giannis.

But now? Well, the best chance of the Sixers righting their proverbial ship is to trade Simmons for… someone somewhere else, maybe even Lowry in a bigger package involving multiple other assets, as any sort of a “come-to-you-know-who” moment feels borderline impossible.

Next. Is CJ McCollum really the “best” possible outcome?. dark

If the 2020-21 NBA season was truly about seeing what the Philadelphia 76ers already had – as Daryl Morey claimed multiple times – the idea of passing on a legitimately talented point guard to instead roll with the same old Ben Simmons/Joel Embiid/Tobias Harris plus a rotational supporting cast feels rather antithetical, no? The Sixers already missed out on the best potential trade they’ll come by anytime soon, even if the Houston Rockets didn’t want to ship James Harden back to his former GM, and by failing to play ball with Toronto, they effectively whiffed on what could have been the perfect moonshot for a 2021 title to instead hope something better materialized in the offseason. But instead? Instead, Philly will all but surely lose Simmons to trade while his value is at its lowest, and their future will be no less certain than one season prior. *sigh* such is the life of a Sixers fan.