The Milwaukee Bucks made things a whole lot more interesting heading into NBA training camp by landing Damian Lillard. This is bad, bad news for the Philadelphia 76ers, who now see one of their superior conference adversaries get even better. There is a way the Sixers can salvage the situation, though: bringing back Jrue Holiday.
Holiday was one of the players the Portland Trail Blazers received in the haul for Lillard. Portland will obviously look to flip him in exchange for more assets as they enter their Scoot Henderson-led rebuild. When that trade happens remains to be seen, though with the deal sending Lillard to Milwaukee already becoming official, the Blazers will start up a separate effort to trade away the All-Star and defensive extraordinaire.
The Sixers are reportedly interested in acquiring Holiday from Portland, though so are many other teams. Shams Charania said the Blazers will be active ahead of Monday's Media Day in search of a new destination for the 33-year-old guard.
Jrue Holiday homecoming?
A homecoming with a former Sixer could cheer up a Philly fan base that's downtrodden by years of playoff failures and another disappointing, uncertain offseason. Holiday was drafted 17th overall by the Sixers in 2009, became an All-Star in his fourth season and was traded to kickstart Sam Hinkie's Process. All these years later, he remains a very good player.
Even as he gets up there in age, Holiday is a stellar defender and strong playmaker. The latter skill is of particular importance to Philly, who desperately lacks in that area without James Harden. He has been a very efficient scorer at the rim and in his three years playing with star-studded Milwaukee, he shot very well from deep, particularly from above the break, where he connected on at least 38 percent of such looks in each season. Holiday's history as a very shaky scorer in the playoffs is one key blemish the Sixers will have to either work around of alleviate.
Tyrese Maxey taking pressure off Holiday as the lead ball handler can help him retain his effectiveness. Holiday's woeful shooting percentages in the playoffs were partly the result of being on a Bucks team that struggled mightily with half-court offense (hence their desire to trade for Lillard). Joel Embiid and Maxey should make things easier for him there, both independently and together, as should the creativity in scheming from Nick Nurse. Even on the nights when Holiday can’t buy a shot, he's still hustling, defending and making plays for others.
A Jrue Holiday-James Harden trade idea
Harden remains on the roster, and it's anyone's guess as to whether he'll show up for the team's Media Day and training camp next week (it doesn't seem like it). Philly would be wise to get rid of him before the season begins so that each side can finally get away from the other. Embiid may be okay traversing these rough waters for the time being, but nothing is going to change for the better barring a completely unforeseen change of heart from Harden or a trade that sends him away.
The Sixers now have another clear avenue to trade Harden should the Miami Heat feel the need to salvage their own situation after fumbling the bag on yet another star. But they could also use this as an opportunity to call up the Los Angeles Clippers, Harden's destination of choice. While Harden's desire to join LA hasn’t been reciprocated as heavily, adding a star playmaker alongside Kawhi Leonard and Paul George should be enticing to a Clippers team eager to make a deep playoff run.
The framework of a three-team deal that gets Holiday to Philly and Harden to Los Angeles could look like this:
- Sixers get: Holiday, Robert Covington
- Clippers get: James Harden, P.J. Tucker
- Trail Blazers get: Marcus Morris Sr., Nicolas Batum, 2028 first-round pick from Clippers, two 2024 second-round picks from Clippers
If the Sixers need to offer a second-round draft pick of their own instead of the Clippers since Harden's trade value is tanked, so be it. But this structure or something similar should appeal to each team.
The Clippers would be giving up a significant amount of draft capital, including the nearest first-round pick they can trade, and land not only Harden but also Tucker, someone they were rumored to be interested in. Tucker gives LA a bigger forward to play alongside its two star wings and gives them the option to go super small.
The Sixers swap Tucker with another former Philly player in Covington who can play more like a prototypical wing than Tucker. While Tucker's rugged size makes him useful in certain spots, Covington can allow Tobias Harris to take on bigger players, which he is better equipped for. At the very least, they could serve as a platoon for whatever the most demanding wing assignment is. RoCo is also a more valuable floor spacer since he is comfortable shooting above-the-break triples, which Tucker is not.
The Blazers keep the reunions coming by welcoming back Batum along with Morris, who could provide depth for them until they get flipped to another team themselves. At worst, Portland allows their contracts to expire at the end of the season. Since the Blazers targeted the Bucks' picks in five or so years — a period of time when their window of playoff contention seems likely to be on the downswing — it stands to reason they would accept another similar pick.
Even if Holiday doesn’t work out like the Sixers want him to, he's under contract for just two more seasons (with the second year containing a player option). Philly can move on and look to build a better using its cap space. Moving on from Tucker opens up even more room, though offloading Holiday and receiving significantly less money to retain space could be a mighty challenge.
The chances that Holiday works out that poorly are not very high, though. He is a tough-minded, versatile veteran who works with Embiid and Maxey and has something Philly values heavily: championship experience. Landing a player of his caliber would be the icing on the cake of a trade featuring the addition-by-subtraction element of ditching a frustrated Harden. The Sixers must act quickly.