How to blow up the NBA: Proposing a 3-team Damian Lillard, James Harden trade

Damian Lillard, James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers, Portland Trail Blazers (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)
Damian Lillard, James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers, Portland Trail Blazers (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports) /

The NBA world awaits the eventual Damian Lillard and James Harden trades. Well, let’s make it 2-for-1 and involve both in the same deal. 

James Harden‘s trade standoff with the Philadelphia 76ers is at a momentary standstill, no matter how vociferously he calls for change in the media. The same can be said for Damian Lillard with the Portland Trail Blazers, who have shown no real initiative to deal their disgruntled All-Star.

NBA training camp is a little over a month away. The season is right around the corner. If trade talks don’t pick up quickly, both Harden and Lillard could begin the season with their current teams. That is juicy material for the NBA’s annual soap opera, but it’s also a rather anticlimactic end to an eventful offseason.

So, what if… and yes, this is admittedly out there… Harden and Lillard were both traded at the same time, in the same trade?

The Sixers won’t trade Harden unless the deal keeps them in contention. Landing Damian Lillard would certainly keep them in contention. The Sixers can’t get enough for Harden straight-up, but perhaps they can get enough from Harden (and stuff) to facilitate Lillard’s arrival in Philadelphia.

This trade proposal will probably draw the ire of every fanbase involved. But, when push comes to shove, it makes sense for all parties.

NBA Rumors: Blockbuster trade proposal sends Damian Lillard to 76ers, James Harden to Pelicans, Tobias Harris to Blazers

The Sixers do this because…

It’s hard, yes. Tyrese Maxey is beloved in Philadelphia and he’s the only player on the roster fans don’t at least periodically despise. He’s not perfect, but he’s a gifted offensive weapon who could develop into the Sixers’ next star guard once Harden’s departure becomes official. Well, no longer.

Harden loves Maxey and would love to re-team with him elsewhere. The Sixers have to give something to get something. Harden’s value is in the dumpster. Maxey bridges the gap to get them Damian Lillard, a short-term upgrade over Harden under team control for the next four years.

The Sixers also get CJ McCollum, one of Lillard’s most beloved former teammates. McCollum is still talented in his own right, but more importantly, it’s a gesture of goodwill toward Lillard, who may be initially reticent to play for Philadelphia instead of Miami. Hey, look: we have your best friend, a reigning MVP, and a championship head coach. Come here, win a title, and revel in the love of Philly’s unique fanbase. That’s a good pitch.

The Sixers also get off the last year of Tobias Harris’ albatross contract while getting a playable wing in Naji Marshall, who can eat 25-30 minutes a night. The Sixers will be very short on strong, competent wing defenders outside of P.J. Tucker in this scenario. Marshall might have to carry more than his share, but the Sixers can make sacrifices to bet on the Embiid-Lillard-McCollum triumvirate in one last, desperate push to build a winner around Embiid.

Letting go of Maxey leaves the Sixers extremely thin when it comes to planning out the future, but the goal is the win now. If it doesn’t work out, that probably means it is time for Philadelphia to rebuild. Any rebuild starts with an Embiid trade, which would deliver a fresh boatload of draft capital and young prospects to Philly’s shores.

The Pelicans do this because… 

New Orleans has more draft picks than it knows what to do with and a pressing need to build a winner before the Zion Williamson era goes kaput. New Orleans can always pivot to a future built around Brandon Ingram, Trey Murphy, and others, but why not keep Zion in tow while also bringing in James Harden and Tyrese Maxey. It costs four first-round picks and a swap — as well as two recent lottery picks, plus CJ McCollum’s three-year, $100 million contract — but that’s pennies on the dollar if Harden delivers top-20 value and Maxey continues his offensive progress.

Harden, Maxey, Ingram, and Zion with a supporting cast comprised of Murphy, Herb Jones, Jonas Valanciunas, and others is comically deep. The Pelicans might be title favorites if Zion can actually put together a healthy season.

The Blazers do this because…

It’s better than the Miami offer.

Tobias Harris can put up numbers in the final year of his contract and potentially deliver another asset or two at the trade deadline. At worst, he’s a great vet for the locker room.

Dyson Daniels is an excellent connective playmaker and jumbo-guard defender who can share the court with Scoot Henderson, Anfernee Simons, and Shaedon Sharpe. Jordan Hawkins is slightly less appealing from Portland’s perspective, but he’s a lottery pick with undeniable gravity as an off-ball shooter. He would factor into the Blazers’ backcourt construction.

Portland also gets four first-round picks and a pick swap. Some of those picks are more valuable than others, but it’s a bountiful haul considering Lillard’s age and contract situation. The Blazers would have a solid foundation for the post-Dame future.

In the end… 

There are probably too many moving parts for this trade to actually happen. The Sixers are absolutely the most reluctant party given the long-term implications of giving up Maxey. But, in the end, pairing Lillard and Embiid is the last, best chance to salvage Embiid’s competitive window short of Maxey making a leap to full-fledged NBA stardom in the immediate future. McCollum’s contract isn’t great, but he’s still very good and he’s accustomed to Lillard. That chemistry, plus the offensive benefits of two versatile guard playmakers working in tandem with Embiid, makes this a workable outcome for Philadelphia.

The Pelicans and Blazers probably don’t need much convincing.

Let’s call it in. It’s a fun thought experiment, if nothing else.

Next. 5 best Harden trade destinations to win ring. dark