The Philadelphia 76ers hired Phil Beckner as a consultant to the coaching staff, the team confirmed to Fox Sports' Yaron Weitzman.
The move is bound to fuel speculation because Beckner has worked a long time as a trainer for Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard and was an assistant coach at Weber State, Lillard's alma mater.
The Athletic's Jason Quick wrote in May how Beckner reached out to Lillard as the Blazers were struggling in May and told the six-time All-Star he was not good enough.
"He was sending me (film clips) game after game, and each game was labeled NGE," Lillard said. "Not good enough … not good enough … not good enough."
The 31-year-old took the criticism to heart and helped Portland finish 10-2 to close out a 42-30 regular season that earned the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
Perhaps the Sixers simply think Beckner can be a positive presence behind the scenes. Lillard isn't the only NBA player he has advised in the past. Maybe Beckner could help unlock Ben Simmons' offensive game.
But the Lillard connection is inescapable given the uncertainty about both his and Simmons' futures on their current teams.
Lillard denied he had requested a trade from Portland, but that doesn't completely resolve the situation since the Blazers seem to remain outside of the Western Conference elite. His best shot of winning a championship might be with another organization.
Meanwhile, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported in June that Rich Paul, Simmons' agent, "met with president of basketball operations Daryl Morey and general manager Elton Brand at the predraft combine to begin evaluating the next steps in Simmons' Sixers career."
There may be no going back for him after his disastrous 2021 playoffs.
The one problem is that a Simmons-for-Lillard swap is probably out of the question. One NBA team executive told The Athletic's David Aldridge that Simmons is "so broken right now, you’re going to get killed if you do that" in reference to that hypothetical trade.
Regardless, hiring Beckner is at the very least something an NBA team would plausibly do if it thought acquiring Lillard was a possibility.