I’ll start this column by saying something that is just obvious:
“Ben Simmons had a HORRIFIC playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks.”
I won’t deny it, and we don’t need to get into specifics, but if you want to, here you go — if you care to re-open that wound.
Ben Simmons 4th quarter this series:— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) June 21, 2021
Game 1: 2-2 FG
Game 2: 0-0 FG
Game 3: 1-1 FG
Game 4: 0-0 FG
Game 5: 0-0 FG
Game 6: 0-0 FG
Game 7: 0-0 FG
Here we are on Thursday — over 72 hours later. There have been press conferences. There have been many takes (good, bad, and patently awful). It is consistent with the pain and depression that many of us are feeling and have felt since Sunday night.
(SIDEBAR: Referring to those “patently awful” takes… I am not buying anyone that claims that Simmons either doesn’t care or doesn’t want to work and improve any aspect of his game. If you don’t think he’s out here working, then I have no time for you.)
The Philadelphia 76ers and their fan base are a passionate bunch. We want it to be different. We want something to change. (Sadly, there’s not much we can do about the owner’s box. Lots of people seem to think that will be the cure to all of what ails us, but that’s not an easy fix.)
Daryl Morey, however, is in charge of the front office, and if there’s one GM (or President of Basketball Operations, technically) in the whole of the NBA I trust to fix this situation (albeit maybe a little blindly), it’s Daryl. When it comes to Simmons, however, there’s a question that has to be asked.
Despite how upset and frustrated we are in him, is it possible that the Sixers are just stuck with him?
That’s not to say being “stuck” with him is the worst thing. Simmons is 24 years old. He is a three-time All-Star, a two-time All-NBA defender, and the Defensive Player of the Year runner-up. Yes, he HAS to improve his free throw shooting. If that’s shooting them right-handed, underhanded or via the use of magic, that’s just what has to happen.
The problem with Simmons is that no fix is an easy fix. Correcting his free throws (if it’s a form problem or a mental problem) is not an easy fix. Trading him is not an easy fix, either.
Let’s start with his contract.
Simmons is owed about $147 million over the next four years. His salary next season, alone, is $33 million. That’s not an easy number to move. Is it as immovable as Russell Westbrook’s or John Wall’s near $45 million number? No. At least, it’s not THAT bad. Keep in mind that Westbrook and his ballooning contract has been traded TWICE in three years.
Teams looking to trade for Simmons at least have the security they’re getting a young player under control for four years. Does it make him more desirable given his accolades so far since coming into the league? Possibly. What’s his value, now? That’s the other problem.
No one really knows.
There has been report after report about how executives in around the league view Simmons after his disastrous series against the Hawks.
That’s fine. Great. You all want him, but what are you willing to give up for him in a trade.
Are you dangling Stephen Curry, Bob Myers?
How about you, Neil Olshey? Are you waving Damian Lillard around?
There’s no chance that Tommy Sheppard has Bradley Beal on a fishing hook — especially not when he already has Westbrook on the roster.
So, where does that leave us?
The rumor being passed around like an illicit drug that’s legal in the state of Colorado (among other states NOT named Pennsylvania) is Ben Simmons to Portland for guard CJ McCollum. It’s not a bad idea. In the Liberty Ballers Slack channel, I floated the idea of CJ plus Robert Covington for Simmons and draft picks.
McCollum gives the Sixers the go-to perimeter scorer that they need to pair with Joel Embiid, and Covington makes up for what the team loses on the defensive end. Even if Covington comes off the bench for Tobias Harris, that’s a huge upgrade when Harris has to sit.
Trailblazers fans are fed up with McCollum in the same way Sixers fans are fed up with Simmons. I’m not totally convinced Olshey would say “yes” to this trade. Clearly, Portland has to do something, but is this it? Who knows?
What kind of territory are Morey and the Sixers in when you talk about Simmons’s trade value?
To answer that question, I should preface that my brain entertained the idea of Simmons to the Houston Rockets for a year (plus a player option) of John Wall. That’s something that happened. I’m not proud of it. It was a total lapse in judgement, and my brain has been sternly reprimanded for its behavior in that moment.
The second idea I had was Simmons to the Minnesota Timberwolves for D’Angelo Russell. The Timberwolves don’t have a general manager, yet. Gersson Rosas is the President of Basketball Ops, but what state are the T’Wolves in? Are they still trying to build around Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns? Are they trying to tear it all down and trade both of them? Aside from maybe the Sacramento Kings, no NBA team is in the kind of limbo Minnesota is in.
What of Anthony Edwards? How does he fit with what Minnesota is trying to do?
There’s stuff that I do like about Russell: the career high 38.7 percent from 3 on seven attempts, the 1.237 PPP on spot up jumpers (90th percentile), the .879 PPP as a PnR ball handler (which is great if you have the kind of rolling big man that Embiid is). Then, there’s the stuff I don’t like. He’s a horrible defender (117 DRtg; -1.9 DBPM), and his shot selection can be a little maddening.
Let’s just move on from that one because who knows what Minnesota is going to do at this point. I feel bad for you, Wolves fans. The state that brought us the magic of Prince Rogers Nelson deserves better.
Say the Sixers keep Simmons, he works on things, and we start the regular season and see repeats of why he’s been maddening. How would we feel about a year of Kemba Walker?
That’s a rhetorical question because the answer, I’m sure, is “not great”.
Walker comes with similar positives as Russell: excellent spot up shooter (1.220 PPP), solid PnR ball handler (.923 PPP), 36.0 percent from 3 last season on eight attempts. He’s not the great iso guy he was in the past, but he gives you more options than Simmons in the half court.
Like Russell, he’s not the strongest defender (114 DRtg; -0.7 DBPM), and he’s been hit by the injury bug the last two seasons. He dealt with a knee injury that kept him out of the playoffs this season against the Brooklyn Nets. Now, if the Sixers were to trade Simmons to Oklahoma City for Walker and load manage him and Embiid to have that duo plus Tobias Harris for a full playoff run, sure. That’s do-able.
I guess. :shrug:
That’s the theme with any scenario in trading Simmons: shrugs, and lots of them.
Some of my LB colleagues like the idea of Malcolm Brogdon. I’d love it, but the Sixers would still be minus a point guard. Virtually all of my LB colleagues LOVE the idea of Zach LaVine, and I’m the lone soldier on the hill saying, “God no. Jesus Christ, no. Please no.”
(Listen. I’m not saying LaVine is bad, per se, but he’s been with the Bulls full-time for three seasons, and they’ve never won more than 35 games. I don’t know if it’s coaching, team construction or a combination of the two, but the “good stats on a bad team” guy always gives me slight pause.)
Then there’s the other issue of wondering how the hell Simmons fits on a team that’s essentially the same as the one he’s on now. Nikola Vučević has a similar skillset as Embiid (a big that can step out). Secondly, how does trading for Simmons to the roster for literally their only shooter help the Bulls because they’re TOTALLY DEVOID of outside shooting past LaVine?
That’s another rhetorical question. It doesn’t help.
At that point, you’re looking at three-team deals, and those are far from perfect.
I’d love to see Simmons land with the Denver Nuggets, somehow, in a three-team deal. That’s me speaking as an NBA fan that wants to see the insane amount of passing that would take place in a lineup that features Simmons and Nikola Jokić. I wouldn’t know how in the world that trade looks, though.
And that’s the point of this long, drawn out dialogue. There’s no perfect solution – aside from Simmons’s brain somehow clicking the right way and all of our issues with him clearing.
What we have is an imperfect 24-year-old All-Star/All-NBA defender that had a really bad series. Where the Sixers go from here is anyone’s guess. This offseason is going to be a wild one, so keep those belts fastened, and keep your hands inside the ride at all times, folks.