Little has changed with the ongoing Ben Simmons situation in recent weeks. The Sixers are continuing their season without him and Daryl Morey isn’t changing his patient approach to wait until the trade he wants is available.
We have some new noise now, though, due to the troubled state of the Portland Trail Blazers. Their core has largely remained the same, new head coach Chauncey Billups hasn’t helped matters, general manager and president of basketball operations Neil Olshey was under investigation for alleged workplace misconduct and was fired on Friday, and the team sits at 11-13 and 10th place in the Western Conference. They’ve been dismantled in their last two games as well, losing 114-83 to the Spurs and 145-117 to the Celtics.
Now, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania and Sam Amick, Portland’s superstar Damian Lillard “has grown frustrated with the team’s play and tension appears to be on the rise between the players and Billups.” Lillard made it clear to his organization in the offseason that he wanted roster upgrades, and that’s only being reinforced right now. Also, as Charania and Amick have reported, Lillard is interested in playing with Simmons:
Lillard intends to give the Trail Blazers organization time to find its next leader of basketball operations. But beyond the front office component, the face of the franchise still wants significant changes to the roster. Multiple sources have told The Athletic that Lillard would like to play with Philadelphia 76ers three-time All-Star Ben Simmons. The Trail Blazers’ league-worst defense would instantly improve, and sharing a backcourt with a non-shooter could work given Lillard’s high-volume usage.
It’s hard to see a Blazers core built around Lillard and Simmons going very far in the West. But if Lillard wants some help for the team’s 30th-ranked defense, would like to try playing off a new kind of playmaker, and simply needs a significant change, then maybe that’s what’s catching his interest.
Charania and Amick also went on to lay out the kind of trade package that has been discussed:
Sources say the Trail Blazers, under Olshey, discussed the framework of a trade for Simmons, moving CJ McCollum, a first-round draft pick and a young player such as Nassir Little or Anfernee Simons to Philadelphia. The 76ers, sources said, at one point asked the Trail Blazers for McCollum and multiple draft picks and multiple draft swaps, which Portland rejected. Olshey maintained significant confidence in the roster he constructed. Now, it’s unclear if there’s a deal to be had with the 76ers. But with Olshey out, who among chair Jody Allen, vice chair Bert Kolde and Cronin would be the one making the call on a Simmons trade or any acquisition designed to alleviate Lillard’s concerns?
As this article mentioned, it remains to be seen how much the Blazers’ new leadership values Simmons. Assistant GM Joe Cronin is serving as the interim GM while the team looks for a new head of basketball operations, and Charania and Amick noted that Cronin “will have autonomy for moves that benefit the organization moving forward.”
We’ll also have to wait and see what interest Morey could have in a package featuring McCollum, possibly Simons, and picks as the season develops, and whether or not he’d consider reducing the number of picks he wants in return if he can’t find better offers elsewhere. Ideally for the Sixers, Morey’s patient approach would pay off in this kind of scenario by the Blazers upping their offer to make a deal happen and keep Lillard happy.
Of course, the player Morey (and any other executive in the NBA) would truly want is Lillard himself. Not all of the Sixers’ offensive weaknesses would be addressed by adding McCollum either. He’s a somewhat limited passer, and he doesn’t get to the rim or free throw line much at all, which is the kind of off-the-bounce creation the team could use. Then there are the defensive issues when you add McCollum and Simons to an already small backcourt with players like Seth Curry and Tyrese Maxey.
That said, if Dame and other preferred stars don’t become available, and Morey decides to pull the trigger before the trade deadline to get the Sixers some extra firepower, then McCollum, Simons (who’s improved this season with increased production and more promise off the dribble) and picks would still be a helpful return for the Sixers. Landing new assets would also help future flexibility to make other moves.
As has been the case for months now, we’ll just have to wait and see how this saga develops. But Lillard becoming increasingly frustrated and impatient in Portland could prompt something to happen. Perhaps the change he’s pushing his team to make will end up involving the Sixers after all.