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Could Sixers wait until summer to land bigger fish for Ben Simmons?

Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal are among a few players whose situation could change in a few months.

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NBA: Washington Wizards at Portland Trail Blazers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Anything worth doing takes a little chaos- Flea

We’re now hours away from Dec. 15 and by now you’ve probably heard that that is a key date to monitor. Lots of players who were recently signed last offseason will become eligible for trade. For Daryl Morey, Elton Brand and the Philadelphia 76ers, that means a major crop of potential contracts can now be included to facilitate a potential Ben Simmons blockbuster deal; one that might even take four teams to swing.

Trade season kicks into full gear at midnight, brew your coffee after dinner.

For all of you “well, actually” types, yes, you’re right, it also means pretty much any non-Joel Embiid Sixer could hear his name pop up in a trade rumor between today and that Feb. 10 deadline. I’m fully prepared to be surprised several times over the coming weeks.

Ben Simmons stalemate

When Ben Simmons returned to the Sixers in late October there was at least a fleeting moment when it felt like the three-time All-Star might actually suit up to play for the team; one of my esteemed colleagues at LB even guessed the November road trip might be the time it happened. If that was a remote possibility at the time, it feels like an even longer shot now that the Melbourne native suits up again for Philly.

On Monday we learned from Shams Charania that the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks may have joined the party as teams interested in Simmons.

Per The Athletic:

“The New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers are among the teams interested in Simmons, sources said, although it’s unclear how much traction Philadelphia truly has on any move.”

That coming just a couple days after ESPN’s Woj suggested that the market was picking up for Simmons.

So it’s definitely time to gear up for that inevitable trade, right? Surely? Maybe not so fast.

According to Jake Fischer, of Bleacher Report Tuesday:

“The Sixers have made it clear that any Simmons trade will still require an All-Star-caliber player from their wish list of some two-dozen dream partners for Joel Embiid during the prime of his career.

Philadelphia has always operated with an expectation that a true star will ultimately become available.”

The BR piece goes on to name Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal and James Harden as names the Sixers continue to target. Of course, you’ll recognize that trio of superstars from Sam Amick of The Athletic’s “list of 30 players” piece.

So how do we resolve new trade momentum reported by the most reliable source in Woj, coupled with ongoing reports that the Sixers still need a top star back? Is there some star hiding somewhere, secretly making late night disgruntled phone calls to his agent? Has Morey identified the 2022 version of 2012 James Harden, a sixth man set to explode for the next decade?

Let’s break down a few top names that keep coming up.

Damian Lillard

The Portland Trailblazers have insisted their superstar is not available, but nobody really believes them since that’s a ship everyone knows will probably sink even if they do change captains and shuffle deck chairs. Dame’s loyalty and legacy are becoming diametrically opposed. Perhaps league-legend Kevin Garnett could share with Dame the benefits of leaving the only team you have ever known to join forces with Doc Rivers. Lillard may want the type of extension new management doesn’t want to offer. He is certainly worth waiting for up to the deadline. But the question becomes then, would he be worth waiting for beyond that date, given the chance his situation hits a head next summer?

Bradley Beal

The Washington Wizards’ star two guard came into the NBA the same year as Lillard and also shares loyalty as a core value. He has opted not to sign an extension yet. Quietly, Beal has struggled this season. He’s down nearly 10 points per game and shooting just 26.8 percent from distance. Maybe he just needs a change of scenery?

Beal and Dame have enough in common that New York Knicks fans are salivating at the idea of pairing them both this offseason; Beal via sign-and-trade and Dame via blockbuster. ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith has suggested Lillard would be open to the Knicks, for whatever that is worth. But the idea of either or both of them finally deciding to make a move doesn’t seem far fetched.

Russell Westbrook

The 2017 MVP and walking triple-double hasn’t meshed with the Los Angeles Lakers and his name has popped up in trade rumors. Those rumors came about when we heard that the Lakers were part of a new cadre of teams interested in acquiring Simmons. The Sixers shouldn’t (read: won’t) consider trading Simmons for Westbrook.

But would they consider swapping Tobias Harris for the former Thunder and Rocket? I suppose that’s something both the Sixers and Lakers might dislike enough where it starts to feel even.

James Harden

The Fischer piece goes into some detail on Morey’s continued quest to acquire the three-time scoring champion and 2018 MVP.

Harden is a pending unrestricted free agent. If he wanted to leave Brooklyn then a sign-and-trade with Simmons is feasible. But I have a hard time seeing Harden leaving as of this writing. For starters, the Nets can offer him $270M, a sum no rival team can come close to. The Nets may not want to go that high since The Beard hasn’t played like his old self. A combination of declined explosion, new rules aimed at non-basketball moves, and poor spacing (no Kyrie Irving means more Bruce Brown and DeAndre’ Bembry) has certainly limited him thus far. But if Irving returns that will improve their spacing and title chances. If they swing a blockbuster for Irving that offers another scenario where they better support Harden’s game. Leaving money on the table isn’t ideal. Leaving Kevin Durant, playing some of the best ball of his legendary career, isn’t either. Durant spaces the floor for Harden much better than Joel Embiid would. This probably isn’t something the Sixers are banking on; just another remote possibility to monitor.

So what’s the play?

The Sixers are now asking themselves some wild questions. Do they risk squandering a year of Joel Embiid’s prime in hopes of a long-shot trade we don’t expect to happen anyway? Do they risk squandering Embiid’s entire prime by taking 60 cents on the dollar just to improve their chances incrementally? If they did, might Joel get a wandering eye after losing in the second round with say, CJ McCollum? Would they be fully out of the running for Lillard come July if they traded Simmons for McCollum in February? Do they then consider acquiring Malik Beasley, Pat Beverley and picks now, trying to thread the needle? That duo is better than nothing, and the picks could keep hope alive for something else later...surely?

Do the chances that at least one of Dame, Beal, Harden, (perhaps Kyrie Irving, Zach LaVine and nine other players) becoming available represent a cumulative percent they feel like betting on? If so, is the best offer that materializes on Feb. 9 worth declining?

You get the gist. It’s a brutal, wicked calculus here. Working against them are things like the endowment effect and loss-aversion. But working for them is the inevitable disappointment and chaos which should begin to infect the league as preseason fantasy awakens into macabre reality for all but the elite tier.

When Daryl Morey goes on record and insists this could go on for four years, you might reasonably scoff. But you’d have to pause and ask yourself, could he at least mean one? Given how many stars not available today may be on the move in July, it might make them physically ill to miss out on a pending superstar sweepstakes. Maybe it’s a bluff, but just how much of one is it?