Summer League has provided a wonderful respite from Ben Simmons trade speculation. Flashy play from the Sixers’ young core of Tyrese Maxey, Paul Reed, Isaiah Joe, and others has been a really fun storyline. Then there’s the biggest deal of all, regarding what happens with Simmons. It may feel like the Sixers and their former 1st overall pick have reached a point of no return. Yet we cannot ignore the looming possibility that there could be more basketball ahead for Simmons in Philadelphia. And it might be a good idea for everyone to emotionally prepare themselves for exactly that, especially if Damian Lillard wants to give Portland another chance to win him over.
Thus far, the future Hall of Famer in Oregon has not requested a trade, yet all eyes are on him and the Blazers:
Since the Sixers’ season ended, the team has kept a watchful eye on the status of Damian Lillard in Portland, @DerekBodnerNBA writes.— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) August 8, 2021
“It would be fair to say the goal is less to trade Ben Simmons and more to acquire Lillard.”
More: https://t.co/XSjJyuycJ3 pic.twitter.com/ITwaKJvt8l
So if Dame isn’t gettable would they finally listen to the fans who begged them to “run it back” just two years later than we all meant?
Damian Lillard’s potential next home
So for those of you who can’t stop wondering about the Simmons trade situation, we can turn to some futures markets to see if there are any clues. By mid-July, the Sixers came in just behind the field favorite Knicks as a potential landing spot in the event Lillard were to be traded. Those odds have not changed in over a month.
"If Damian Lillard says I want out of Portland — if Lillard wants out of Portland and I'm not sure he does yet — his No. 1 choice is gonna be the New York Knicks. You heard it right here. His No. 1 choice is going to be the New York Knicks."— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) August 2, 2021
- Stephen A. Smith on Lillard
But since that point, the Knicks became big players in free agency, and they forfeited their opportunity to take Lillard into cap space without having to include pricy players in any potential deal. They may now need to wait until December 15th if they wanted to include their newly minted players in a deal. And they risk Portland (or a third team) not feeling similarly passionate about dudes like Evan Fournier or Nerlens Noel.
If Lillard wanted this thing done with sooner, that would theoretically give the Sixers the upper hand.
“If it’s Philly versus New York, the Sixers have an edge that will expire on Dec. 15 at the earliest: The Knicks will have a very hard time building an offer for Lillard in a two-team trade until all their big-money signings — including Julius Randle on a new extension — become trade eligible at various points beginning midseason,” Lowe wrote. “Philly’s offer is ready now.”
NBA Rumors: Knicks, Sixers Expected To Engage In 'Damian Lillard Trade War' If All-Star PG Becomes Availablehttps://t.co/16Wg1rcVEl— The Inquisitr (@theinquisitr) August 12, 2021
But the markets have not shifted despite the Knicks spending spree. That seems noteworthy. Perhaps bettors expect this one to drag out a bit, for whatever that might be worth.
What about Ben’s potential next home?
Can we learn anything by checking the Simmons’ odds?
Here was how the betting markets looked by August 1st, per OddsChecker spokesman Kyle Newman:
“Odds on Ben Simmons next team have remained mostly stagnant, though the Cavaliers and Rockets have joined the fray. Notably missing from these odds are the Philadelphia 76ers. This doesn’t mean oddsmakers are counting out a return for Simmons. The odds provided are simply on where he might end up being traded, if he were traded. The 76ers would without a doubt be the overwhelming favorites if there was a market for Simmons’ Opening Night team. The big question still remains, will a major star become available? If so, Simmons becomes an intriguing centerpiece for any deal. If not, how likely is it he really does leave Philly this offseason?.”
Here, in table form, from Newman the odds if a trade were to occur:
By August 7th, these odds shifted:
“Portland moved from +250 to +150 [an implied chance of 40%], Toronto moved from off the market to +250 [28.6%], Golden State moved from +600 to +300 [25%]. Those are now the 3 favorites to land Simmons if he were to be traded. As I said last week, The 76ers would be the favorites to retain Ben Simmons if Opening Day Team odds were on the market.”
Newman suggesting that the Sixers would probably be overwhelming favorites to have Simmons come the first game of the season if that bet were offered is fascinating. How many people involved are hoping for that from Simmons’ camp to Joel Embiid to the fans?
Today SB Nation’s Ricky O’Donnell named Simmons the most likely star to be traded, giving Simmons an “any moment” designation on when a potential deal might be executed.
“The Simmons situation sure seems like it will be a major distraction if Morey lets it bleed into the season. At the same time, the team wants to make sure they can get the absolute best return for him. Until this is resolved, the Simmons trade rumors will remain one of the biggest stories in the NBA.”
But O’Donnell also did some tea leaf reading and indicated that he thinks Lillard is more likely to be traded by next summer at the earliest in 2022:
“There was plenty of speculation Lillard could demand a trade this summer, but instead he’s made public comments pressuring the team to improve quickly....If Portland doesn’t make an all-in move before the season starts, it’s easy to envision a scenario where the team has another early exit in the playoffs and Lillard demands a trade in the summer of 2022.”
So if the Sixers wanted to hold onto their best chance to acquire Lillard, knowing Dame may not ask out in the near future, might they prefer to keep their lineup in tact?
Embracing the uncomfortable?
Sixers President Daryl Morey has long held the reputation (especially among his critics) that he values data science more and team chemistry or team culture less than his peers. If Lillard decides to give Portland a chance, that theme may well come to light.
This thing dragging out through mid-December would allow teams like the Knicks to become real players in any potential trade for Lillard. If Lillard waited he could see how Portland looks and even give his team more of a chance to make splash trades that might win him over. Who knows, might there be a “2022 Raptors,” a team we expect to be good that surprisingly stinks and makes a talented veteran (like Kyle Lowry last year) available?
If that’s the case he could increase the chances he lands on a new team he wants to play for, and potentially even help his current franchise create a bidding war.
So the Sixers may need to do their best Kumbaya thing here.
Things are reportedly not smooth. Doc Rivers for all of his strengths doesn’t seem like the best coach to maximize Simmons’ potential. Offensively, Simmons took a step back under coach Rivers who dramatically upped Ben’s “dunker spot” usage. Much of that went towards Joel Embiid isolations and post ups which was great. But Simmons also lurked in the dunker to make room for wayyy too many “primary creation” opportunities for Tobias Harris and for spot-up shooters. Rivers also played Simmons wayyyy too many minutes in predictably terrible lineups featuring a non-shooting big in Dwight Howard. And now Rivers (who overplayed old school backup bigs in Los Angeles and Philly) has yet another old-school reserve big in Andre Drummond whose fit with the current roster is beyond questionable.
Doc Rivers is going to play the bejesus out of Andre Drummond!!!!— Spike Eskin (@SpikeEskin) August 15, 2021
Of course, the cleanest solution to this entire situation is trading Simmons today for Damian Lillard. And of course, that isn’t the most likely scenario to actually occur based on some betting markets. The team “settling” for lesser talents and better fits like CJ McCollum and some draft picks appeals to some fans. Improve the team’s fit and also stockpile assets for the next potential star to ask out. But it doesn’t seem like Morey’s M.O. to diminish his 2022 title odds in any way, while merely hoping for unknown stars to become disgruntled and then merely hoping to top the market for said star.
The second cleanest solution here if Lillard hasn’t requested a trade come this time next month? Paul Reed is simply the superstar stretch big the Sixers have always needed and gets everyone singing songs about mud if not Kumbaya.
It will be fascinating to see how this all shakes out. But if Lillard isn’t available soon, the team and the fans may all need to be prepared to embrace the uncomfortable.