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David Murphy: A trade for Kyle Lowry would bring Sixers tantalizingly close to Nets. That makes him worth a heavy price.

David Murphy, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Basketball

PHILADELPHIA — They do not often build statues of men who trade promising talent and first-round picks for 34-year-old players with $30 million salaries. In most cases, the ultimate return on a move like that is a one-way ticket to wherever Vlade Divac is now. In Latin: Negotium Colangelous. In English: Inadvisable.

Thing is, there aren't a lot of 34-year-old, $30 million players who can single-handedly turn a good but out-classed team into a bona fide championship contender. In fact, my list of names says that there is only one, and that's a compelling enough reason for Daryl Morey to ignore conventional wisdom.

Kyle Lowry isn't just the player the Sixers need. He is the players — plural. He is the ballhandler. He is the defender. He is the playmaker. He is the shooter. He is a champion. Granted, the Raptors star and Villanova legend is not an asexually reproducing flatworm, which means the Sixers will only be able to suit up one of him. But that one player would be enough for them to make a case as Eastern Conference co-favorites.

Am I going to make that case? No, because I am a coward. But I'll at least be bold enough to say that I would not immediately dismiss it. That's saying something, especially when you consider the team the Sixers are currently chasing.

Before we delve into the unfortunate reality of the Sixers' situation, let's take a moment to catch all the trade deadline dwaddlers up on why we are even having this conversation. As The Philadelphia Inquirer's Keith Pompey reported on Thursday, the Raptors are open to dealing Lowry if the veteran is open to a move. The sudden emergence of his name on the trade deadline radar — earlier this week, a report in The Ringer conspicuously floated his name as a possibility for the Sixers — suggests that something is afoot. For now the Raptors appear to be framing that something as a willingness to throw a bone to a loyal veteran player.

That framing might sound curious, but it is a curious situation. Lowry is in the midst of another excellent season, perhaps even one of his finest. He's averaging 18 points per game with some of the most efficient play of his career. His .567 effective field-goal percentage would be his second best mark in 14 NBA seasons. His .395 3-point percentage would be the third best of his career and his best since 2017-18. He's averaging 34 minutes per night for a team that has won nine of its last 14, four of them against the top three teams in the conference.

 

If you watched the Raptors in their back-to-back series against the Sixers over the weekend, you might scratch your head at the notion that Toronto could be looking to trade him to a contender. Toronto might currently be 16-17 and the fifth seed in the conference, but they sure looked like a team that could make some noise in the second half of the season. This is especially true when you consider how little we truly know about the state of play in the East, given the NBA's whacked-out COVID-19 schedule.

But let's not spend too much time thinking this one through. It's a weird year, and the Raptors are in the weirdest of situations, playing their home games on a court that says We The North but is located in Tampa. Lowry is in the last year of his contract, playing on a team that is in the midst of a youth movement. He is no longer the best point guard on his own team (that title goes to Fred VanVleet, he of the four-year, $85 million deal he signed this offseason). In a typical season, Toronto might struggle to justify dealing him, but given the circumstances of 2020-21, a mutual parting makes some sense.

This is especially true given the price a team like the Sixers should be willing to pay. Having missed out on James Harden, and with no superstar lurking on the trade market, Morey doesn't have many obvious directions in which he can pivot. There are a variety of ways he can make the roster a better version of itself. Adding one of the veteran ballhandlers that figures to be available would go a long way toward remedying the bench and giving Doc Rivers more crunch-time combinations (George Hill's thumb injury doesn't help here). A wing who can shoot and play defense would also help the cause, giving Rivers the option of sliding Tobias Harris into a sixth-man role, a move that could make the bench more dynamic and the starters more stout (I've always thought Garrett Temple could be a fit). While we're throwing out names, it's worth noting that Austin Rivers appears to have lost his spot in the Knicks' rotation. Rivers was once a member of Morey's Rockets teams, and he remains Doc Rivers' son.

But none of these players does much to fix the Sixers' biggest problem. They need a player who can consistently get buckets and whose name is not Joel Embiid. Lowry is that guy. He makes them better in all phases of the game, even when you factor in the necessary inclusion of Danny Green's salary to facilitate a deal. Masai Ujiri, president of the Raptors, should ask for Tyrese Maxey and a first-round pick, and that'd be a painful thing to consider. Assuming Toronto has no interest in Matisse Thybulle or Isaiah Joe, and is not satisfied with mere picks, I would counter with Shake Milton, though I'm aware that puts me in the minority (we'll save that argument for a future dispatch).

Point is, the Sixers have little choice but to be aggressive. Given the leverage that Toronto has, any deal will probably hurt. Lowry comes with plenty of risk. Depending on his aging curve, he could prove to be a four-month solution. But he is the perfect player for those four months, and you have to think the Sixers know it.

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