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The Jonathon Simmons Error

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Philadelphia’s trade for and trade away of Jonathon Simmons exposes the flaws of the front office.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Philadelphia 76ers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

I have nothing at all against Jonathon Simmons. We went to the same college. I rooted for him to find a place in the NBA, and then rooted for him when he was blossoming in San Antonio, and then rooted for him to do well when he signed with the Magic.

And when his Magic tenure didn’t go the way it could have and Simmons became the key piece in the trade that sent Markelle Fultz to Orlando, I rooted again for Simmons to be successful in Philadelphia. I wanted Simmons to succeed.

But the Jonathon Simmons era in Philadelphia is a microcosm of what’s wrong with this team’s front office, and after an NBA Draft that was a failure in so many ways for the 76ers, it’s worth looking back on how the various aspects of Simmons’ time in Philadelphia were a failure by management.

It starts, as so many things seem to start, with the original Markelle Fultz trade, but since that doesn’t directly involve Jonathon Simmons and was technically done by a “different” management regime, let’s skip ahead to where Simmons actually becomes a Sixer.

Trading for Simmons

I don’t know what the trade market for Markelle Fultz was, but I know it wasn’t a good one, and getting a protected first and Jonathon Simmons was probably among the better returns?

But at the time the trade was made, the Sixers had already put together the Ben Simmons/Joel Embiid/Jimmy Butler/Tobias Harris thing, and the main goal in a Fultz trade shouldn’t have been a barely-rotation player and a top-20 protected first. In fact, with it pretty firmly established at that point that Fultz had no future in Philly, and that the Sixers were 100 percent entering a win-now phase, you have to wonder if there was a better player available in a Fultz trade if you’d looked only for a solid player and not also for draft pick compensation.

Looking back, that trade feels like a compromise. You go into the deadline hoping for a draft pick and a solid player, and you leave with...a draft pick that isn’t as good as you hoped for — which becomes two seconds if it doesn’t convey next year — and a player whose potential role on the team was a question mark almost instantly.

Would someone like Trevor Ariza or Courtney Lee have been more useful for a 76ers team that was, again, clearly trying to win a title last year based on the moves they made? If you were worried about the future, was there someone who didn’t have lingering money on his contract, someone you could have more cleanly moved on from without needing to attach a draft pick to get rid of?

I don’t know! Maybe! I refuse to believe Simmons and the Thunder pick was the best possible move for a team that was trying to be competitive. I know Fultz had pretty much no trade value, but there were teams with space and no direction who might have been willing to take him on for a player who was better than Simmons, even if the draft compensation was worse than what Orlando sent Philly.

Simmons’ Sixers Tenure

None of what I’d written above would have mattered much if Simmons had been able to contribute in a positive way to the Sixers, but his time in a Philly uniform just didn’t work.

First, in Simmons, the Sixers got a guy who, through 41 games in Orlando to start the year, was averaging 6.9 points per game on 36.4 percent shooting. He was shooting 22.9 percent from 3. Per Synergy, Simmons ranked in the 10th percentile offensively and the eighth percentile in the half court. His spot up numbers — 0.789 points per possession on 31.8 percent shooting — were in the 17th percentile. His most used playtype was as a pick-and-roll ball handler — something that the Sixers weren’t really going to need him to do — and he was even less effective in that role. Defensively, Orlando Simmons was better, ranking in the 61st percentile overall, but those offensive numbers were so rough for a team that needed offensive bench production that I’m almost just ignoring his defense at this point.

As a Sixer, Simmons played 15 regular season games. He shot better, getting that number up to 45.3 percent overall and 42.9 percent from 3, but surprisingly, the Sixers’ defense struggled with Simmons on the floor, with opponents having an offensive rating that was 5.8 points higher when he was on the floor than when he wasn’t.

Simmons wasn’t necessarily bad with the Sixers; in fact, I’d go as far as to so he was better in his 15 games than he was as a member of the Magic. But he couldn’t earn a consistent role in the rotation. He was, as he was in Orlando, incredibly inefficient as a pick-and-roll ball handler, though he improved as a spot-up option in the limited sample size we have from those 15 regular season games.

But Simmons wasn’t what the Sixers needed, which was a solid veteran player who could be trusted to play postseason minutes. With a contract that would pay him $5.7 million if he was still here next season, but that only had a $1 million guarantee before July, we knew the team would move on from Simmons. What we didn’t know was how they’d move on.

Draft Night

Perhaps the most egregious part of the entire Simmons era came during Thursday’s draft, when the team packaged him with a second-round pick for cash considerations.

I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but the Philadelphia 76ers took the champion Toronto Raptors to seven games, and the team should be running it back by re-signing Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. In that scenario, the real need for the Sixers is cheap talent, players who can give you depth and help alleviate one of the biggest issues of the Big 4 Sixers squad, which was a lack of depth in the postseason. Going into a draft with four second-rounders in a draft where there had been a lot of talk about solid players available in the second round is a good way of doing that, even if Elton Brand feels otherwise:

Instead, one of those seconds was used to trade up to get Matisse Thybulle, who the Sixers reportedly wanted so much that the rest of the league was like oh, y’all want Matisse Thybulle?, leading the Celtics to take him and then make the Sixers scramble and trade one of their seconds to move up and get him.

The team then turned the other three second-rounders into Marial Shayok, some cash, a heavily-protected Miami second that probably never arrives, and some more cash.

Let’s look at the Simmons portion of all this.

Philadelphia shipped Simmons and the 42nd pick to Washington for cash. By moving on from Simmons, Philadelphia is able to save $1 million next year, a number that A) won’t matter at all except for luxury tax purposes if the team re-signs Butler and Harris, or B) will matter a little bit in some other scenario where the team needs cap space to sign a player to replace one of those guys.

How you feel about this deal likely depends on how you feel about #RunItBack. I’m a believer in #RunItBack, so giving up the 42nd pick (it was Admiral Schofield, who I don’t love, but a pair of very talented players — Bol Bol and Talen Horton-Tucker — would have been there for the Sixers to consider) to save $1 million against the cap instead of adding a potential contributor to a weak bench (that’ll get weaker when T.J. McConnell and Furkan Korkmaz leave and could get even weaker depending on other things) feels like such a risk-averse move. It’s the kind of thing you do if you’re really not sure if you’re going to commit to moving forward with the team that you leveraged a ton of assets during the season to build.

Now, if Philly knows one or both of Butler and Harris are gone, then sure...I get needing some cap space. But Simmons also could have been stretched over three years, which means you could have kept the 42nd pick and just had $333,333 dead money per year for the next three years. That’s such a small amount. Unless you know with near-certainty that that money is necessary, why not draft a second-rounder? Remember that second-round picks don’t have a cap hold, so they wouldn’t be a hindrance over the next month of free agency.

Maybe the Sixers just really wanted to better position themselves for the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes, since they’re reportedly maybe getting a meeting?

I don’t know! What I do know is that selling draft picks to save a tiny amount of money when your team needs to find bench depth is a bad look.