I didn’t intend to start a riot, and I am not trying to undo space and time and campaign for this, but it’s fun to think about.
Before the Sixers decided to trade up for Markelle Fultz last year, I wrote this:
I get the point about Lowry being maybe a bit of a reach at this point in the process, but I think some are overestimating the timeline, or at least the timeline that Bryan Colangelo will adhere to. This wouldn’t be a mid-aughts Sixers move to grab an 8 seed. Combining a well-rounded veteran point guard with a young and dominant Embiid – which could be a fleeting thing – makes some strategic sense. If healthy, Joel Embiid is already a top 5 big man in the league. Pair him with Lowry, coming off the best season of his career, and you instantly have a playoff team. If Ben Simmons is as-advertised, the Sixers could be very good by year 2 of the Lowry deal. What if LeBron gets hurt? Would a team with three star caliber players which already has decent role players in Robert Covington, Dario Saric and T.J. McConnell, not to mention a likely lottery pick or two this year, be able to compete in the East? Absolutely.
This is all moot if the Sixers get the number pick and take Markelle Fultz, but there’s only a 15% chance of that happening. So it’s absolutely worth discussing if Kyle Lowry could accelerate the process.
The only thing I was wrong about was the fact that the Sixers could’ve contended this year.
Whether they truly considered it or not, there was a real possibility that they would pursue Kyle Lowry last summer. Certainly it had seemed more likely than trading up for Markelle Fultz, which was the better option. But a more likely scenario was signing Lowry and drafting third, which turned out to be Jayson Tatum.
How different would the team look right now?
Certainly Lowry’s prohibitive contract (three years, $100 million with the Raptors) would’ve prevented the Sixers from signing J.J. Redick. But that’s about it as far as substantive changes. They’d be rolling out a lineup of Simmons, Lowry, Tatum, Saric and Embiid, with Robert Covington coming off the bench. Oh my.
They are already quasi-contenders this year – they can absolutely win the East, but beating the Warriors or Rockets seems like a long shot at best – and they would have legitimately been so with Lowry and Tatum on the team right now. Those guys check the perfect boxes for this team. I’m not trying to take away what J.J. Redick has done – because he’s been terrific and actually averaged more points per game than Lowry this season – but he’s still not the player Lowry is. The latter averaged 16 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds, and actually hit more threes than Redick this year albeit at a slightly lower rate. Tatum provides more versatility, the ability to score out of iso (debatable whether this is ideal), and affords you the option of using Covington in more specific defensive roles or off the bench.
Now, I’m not here to pass judgement on what having Lowry would do for future flexibility (though some thought he wouldn’t have prevented the Sixers from doling out a max level contract this year), because the Sixers are in a better situation now with near-limitless flexibility. If they sign a major free agent this summer, or trade for Klay Thompson, they will become instant title contenders and probably even favorites. And I’m actually all for keeping Redick around. That’s the better path, say nothing of the fact that Fultz, still, has more long-term upside than Tatum. The Sixers find themselves in a much better position without Lowry’s contract. However, with an accelerated timeline and the early success of Tatum, this is a scenario that could’ve played out and given the Sixers a real chance to win now. It’s a fun thought experiment.