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Ben Simmons trade market: hoops, mental health, Rich Paul, Doc, Daryl Morey & one wild 3D chess match

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The NBA Draft is in our rearview with Jaden Springer and Charles Bassey being welcome additions. Free agency is ongoing with George Hill being waived and heading back to Milwaukee, Danny Green staying put, and bigs Georges Niang and Andre Drummond joining the squad. The team can still use some smaller salary-cap exceptions to continue to improve along the margins, but whatever headline reprieve from Ben Simmons trade rumors we got is behind us now as well.

As fans who just follow the reports and rumors, we’re only privy to a teensy weensy bit of the full picture here. But let’s try and put ourselves in some people’s shoes and better understand this 3D chess match that seems to be occurring here.

Ben Simmons would probably welcome a trade, do you blame him?

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers - Game Seven Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Ben Simmons was runner-up Defensive Player of the Year, and an All-Star, but he did not have his best season this year. With Joel Embiid ascending to MVP-worthy status, and Tobias Harris restoring much of his reputation if not trade value Simmons found himself with less of an offensive role than he has had in years past.

Coach Doc Rivers discussed all year long how he wasn’t worried about Ben scoring points because the team was winning.

Things changed for Simmons when he hit a slump following the All-Star Break, and he took even less of a role in the halfcourt offense. He was spending a chunk of his minutes in some lineups that didn’t work, sitting in the boring ole dunker spot, and it started to sound like he may have had some other stuff going on too.

Simmons left us wondering what he meant when he said this back in March:

We began to see some stories about his family pop up that I’m guessing were anywhere from distracting to devastating:

By season’s end, there was still discussion about potential off-court distractions for Simmons. Newly re-signed Danny Green had this to say:

“I saw a kid that had been going through a lot the whole year — mentally, emotionally, inside, outside, off the court with his family, things back home,” Green said. “And he doesn’t necessarily discuss it with us in private, but I knew he was going through a lot. He had some things going on during the season.”

And it seems likely to me that whatever was going on isn’t completely behind Simmons yet, as long as his family continues to make headlines:

With Team USA’s Simone Biles openly discussing her mental health and how it impacts her performance in sports, it seems like a good time to at least remind ourselves what Coach Rivers suggested after the season, that these athletes are real people with real stuff going on:

What Danny Green alludes to in his comments hasn’t been talked about much when describing Simmons’ disappointing second-round performance. And who knows maybe it wasn’t a factor here at all. But with everyone talking about “the twisties” lately it seems reasonable to wonder if Simmons had other things on his mind besides hoops and that impacted his game this season.

Rich Paul & Klutch operating without a ton of leverage

2021 NBA Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

So trying to see things from Simmons’ side here....

With Simmons taking a back seat offensively, spending more time in the dunker spot than ever before, enduring some toxic lineups that don’t help him thrive, potentially dealing with some off the court stuff, it was probably hard enough to lose confidence, miss a truckload of free throws, fail to posterize Trae Young, hear the fans chanting for him to be traded, then at an absolute low point also hear his coach and teammate offer less than supportive postgame analysis. I can handle the rest but not YOU guys too! Frustrated is fine, but talk to me not the media.

Danny Green also suggested Simmons was “not the type to take that risk” without a proper push.

A couple of days ago, on ESPN’s “The Jump,” Ramona Shelburne noted that “in a lot of ways I think they would prefer that” in regards to the Sixers actually wanting to keep Simmons in town.

But she added:

“...but it doesn’t seem like think there’s a bridge there that’s being walked across by both sides. I don’t think Ben Simmons has that interest right now because things were said afterwards after the season, Doc Rivers said some things, Joel Embiid said some things, I know there’s been trying to smoothing out that relationship but it doesn’t seem like Ben is necessarily interested in that right now.”

Zach Lowe agreed with Ramona, adding:

“I think the Sixers would like to bring Ben back, ultimately in a new team context, maybe he looks better because his trade value right now is just not where Daryl Morey wants it to be.... maybe the toothpaste is just too far out of the tube....”

When Shelburne mentions things that were said by Rivers and Embiid, she likely means these public comments:

It’s not hard to understand why Simmons would want out.

The Sixers, Daryl Morey, chemistry, management and fans

Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

The Sixers have an incentive to downplay the idea that there is a chemistry rift between their All-Stars and at least pretend to tune out fan sentiment. You can bet Daryl Morey is reminded of lockerroom chemistry and how tough Philly fans can and will be when he makes trade calls here.

How badly do the Sixers want to trade Simmons? No matter what Shelburne and Lowe think here, one has to infer the simple answer is “yeah they’d actually prefer a trade...if they feel they’re tangibly improving.” And that conversation basically revolves around Portland’s Damian Lillard.

Lillard like Simmons is signed for another four seasons... but he is currently playing in the Olympics and has not yet asked out. So maybe we don’t want to hold our breath here?

What happens when Lillard sees the Blazers are far from contenders by Christmas? Would the Sixers be out of ammo by then to make a play?

These questions make it easier to understand the big asks the Sixers are making for Simmons trades that don't involve Dame.

Before the season started, Daryl Morey hopped on reddit and had this to say:

“I think the endowment effect is likely the biggest reason more trades are not made along with the fact that the only real currency to “even up” a deal are draft picks....

“For example, if a good player is in the last year of his deal, you often will look for players that have longer good contracts so you can ensure the player you receive will stay and you won’t take the risk they will leave in free agency. Initially we will painstakingly analyzing the relative merits of the deal but when we flip it we often quickly realize that if we were to think about trading a player with multiple years on his deal we generally wouldn’t even consider players with one year remaining.”

First Morey mentions an awareness of the endowment effect, so he’s keenly aware of his own potential to overvalue his current hand in any swap. Yet....

Is he overvaluing his hand and might that cost the team a swap that makes everyone happy? Let’s consider some context.

Here’s what John Hollinger wrote for The Athletic on Morey’s tenure with the Rockets:

“They called about trades more than any other team, by a mile. But second, they always started with a sky-high asking price, making borderline absurd offers and then working their way back to something reasonable.”

Hollinger notes that this negotiation style does actually lead to action, as Morey’s Rockets made more deals than any other team during his tenure in Houston.

Then the rest of what Morey wrote on Reddit, about valuing players with long-term contracts is also relevant here.

Recall, it was reported by Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer that a big part of the reason the Sixers did not trade for Kyle Lowry last trade deadline was the fear Lowry, on an expiring contract, might leave in free agency; even when you get a player’s assurances he’s open to an extension down the road, you can’t bank on it.

So while there have been endless rumors about the Sixers trading Simmons for players like Bradley Beal or Zach LaVine, a) we don’t suspect those players are available and b) we know Morey places an absolute premium on stars signed to long term deals; dudes like that on expiring contracts may simply be too risky for Philadelphia.

There’s a clock ticking here though. Knowing that things could get tense or awkward if they went into training camp as is, we can remember a) this is how Morey has done business effectively in the past and b) he may be asking for deals that won’t get him a yes because he doesn’t particularly want to make a deal with that team.

OK, Rich Paul, OK! I’ll call Miami and Golden State and see what they say....

Ask yourself: how many young players or picks would the Sixers offer in a blockbuster for Lillard? In order to pass on the chance to land Dame, and possibly even increase the chances a conference rival (vegas seems to think the Knicks have a real shot) might get him, Morey might need an absolute crap ton of stuff in return; stuff beyond the value he places on Simmons. The team would not just be losing Simmons, they’d be losing their best shot to get Lillard. What’s that worth?

Let me make some calls, signal to Simmons, Klutch or the fans who want a trade that we’re trying our best. If that’s indeed the type of 3D chess stuff that’s playing out here, then maybe the Sixers are content to head into the season as is and deal with the awkwardness.

We want Dame, and if we can’t have him, we want to keep Simmons. Let’s see how Portland looks.

But would ownership have the stomach for what Keith Pompey says could be a circus should they run it back with last year’s starting five? A starting five that might have pummeled the Hawks had Green stayed healthy?

What does Joel Embiid think of that? What happens if the fans boo mercilessly, does Simmons have the stomach for that? Would Rivers change his approach or would he use Simmons in the dunker spot and pair a chunk of his minutes with Andre Drummond in 2022?

What happens if heaven forbid Lillard or Simmons got hurt?

For now, there is still time. There’s a long offseason still. Morey can continue to make crazy asks knowing he won’t yet get a yes, while progressing through his typical negotiating process, simultaneously giving Klutch and some angry fans the old college try.

But as we inch towards the beginning of the 2021-2022 season, we’ll learn if Philly is content to go into the year holding out hope for Lillard. If that’s what Morey wants to do, how ugly might it get? Might he get assurances from ownership that he has full authority (like Sam Hinkie once received to launch The Process) but then lose their support when the media or fans became too loud?

There could be a game of chicken being played here, and no matter how good Morey is at not flinching, maybe everyone else will. Then who wins?

Cover art credit to Zainab Javed @zrjaved