Sixers

7 Sixers-related thoughts on attention-grabbing Lillard report

Sixers

Damian Lillard might push to leave Portland, Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes reported Sunday. 

According to Haynes, the “enormous backlash” over the Trail Blazers’ process to hire new head coach Chauncey Billups and Lillard's “concerns on whether a championship contender can be built” could lead to the 30-year-old star moving elsewhere.

Billups is set to be introduced as the Blazers’ coach at a press conference Tuesday. Lillard told The Athletic earlier this month that he liked Jason Kidd and Billups. 

Portland ultimately hired Billups despite a woman alleging in 1997 that Billups sexually assaulted her. Billups settled a civil lawsuit in 2000. Lillard tweeted that he was unaware of Billups’ history.

From the Sixers’ perspective, this latest development with Lillard is certainly attention-grabbing. Here are seven thoughts on it: 

1. Lillard is a truly great offensive player, someone who can turn a game by flipping a switch only he possesses and nailing contested 35-footers. He was, incredibly, 54 for 130 (41.5 percent) on shots from 30 feet and out during the 2019-20 season. Any team that theoretically might be a high-scoring superstar away from title contention should be interested in Lillard, and that includes the Sixers. 

2. As was the case in James Harden trade discussions, it seems likely that Ben Simmons would be the centerpiece of a hypothetical Lillard-Sixers trade. Portland would surely ask for plenty in addition to Simmons for an in-his-prime, face-of-the-franchise player who’s about to begin Year 1 of a four-year, supermax extension. Simmons might appeal to the Blazers as a 24-year-old with untapped potential who could transform their poor defense, but we assume they’d also request draft picks and promising youngsters such as Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle. There’s always a line, but it would be fair enough for the Sixers to sacrifice some of their future in exchange for a better chance at winning during Joel Embiid’s best years. With Embiid’s checkered health history, nothing is guaranteed. 

 

3. Adding Lillard would make Sixers fans even more acutely aware of Simmons’ strengths and weaknesses, as impossible as that sounds at the moment. In contrast to Simmons, Lillard shoots and scores a bunch (27.6 points per game over the last five seasons) and is a tremendous foul shooter (89.3 percent for his career in the regular season, 88.7 percent in the playoffs). Instead of sagging off below the foul line, many opponents guard Lillard as soon as he crosses half court. Simmons is obviously far more talented and versatile than the 6-foot-2 Lillard defensively. And, being frank about the way the NBA works, Lillard expends so much energy on offense that defense doesn’t tend to be his No. 1 priority. If the Sixers were to land him, they’d hope Embiid could take a bit off his shoulders, and that the defensive drop-off wouldn’t be too steep. 

4. Many games involving Lillard hinge on the simple question of whether his jumpers are falling. That’s often a good thing for his team, although he’ll almost always try (and sometimes fail) to shoot himself out of slumps. Another minor potential downside is that screening and rolling is low on the list of Embiid’s top skills. With Lillard, it appears the players alongside him are irrelevant at times. On a very high volume, he’s ranked in the 90th percentile or better in pick-and-roll points per possession for five consecutive years. Still, Embiid doesn’t have experience playing with someone like Lillard who’s blitzed constantly. There would be an adjustment period. Tobias Harris and Seth Curry are the two best release valves in the CJ McCollum mold on the Sixers’ roster. Curry played with Lillard during the 2018-19 season.

5. Even if Lillard ends up sticking with the Blazers, McCollum is a name to monitor. The Athletic’s Jason Quick wrote last week that he believed “the likelihood of McCollum being traded this summer is probable, if not certain.” McCollum averaged 23.1 points and 4.7 assists this season, making 40.2 percent of his 8.9 three-point attempts per game. The Lehigh product rarely turns the ball over, would provide a perimeter scoring boost and could play backup point guard minutes. 

 

6. The Lillard-McCollum backcourt has been to the conference finals once, where Portland was swept by the Warriors in 2019. Lillard has played in and won big games — drained iconic, series-clinching shots, even — but he wouldn’t automatically turn the Sixers into an invincible force in the Eastern Conference. He’d probably give them a more dangerous half-court offense and greater late-game variety, though, and those upgrades would be particularly meaningful for the Sixers. 

7. Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey’s dealmaking reputation and Simmons’ well-publicized offensive issues in Round 2 of the playoffs mean the Sixers aren't an entirely unrealistic destination for any non-center star who might become available. The ceaseless speculation isn’t a ton of fun for those who just enjoy the games, but it’s absolutely notable when a plugged-in national reporter like Haynes writes that Lillard might end up changing teams.