The Liberty Ballers Podcast network has been crushing it lately and I’m back to jot up some takeaways from a really fun episode of “The Gastroenteritis Blues” last week featuring The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski. Krawczynski covers the Minnesota Timberwolves, the team reportedly most interested in acquiring Ben Simmons.
The synergies have been there from the start. Their lead executive Gersson Rosas worked closely with Daryl Morey for years in Houston. The franchise resides in a small and chilly market that isn’t typically a threat to land stars in free agency. They’re staring down the pike at another meh season. Adding a defensive Swiss army knife such as Simmons might alter their trajectory in ways they just could not find via other avenues. They want this to happen, the fit is there (they have plenty of shooters to surround Simmons with), they just need a few things to break right for them (or wrong for Philly, depending on your vantage point).
Our Harrison Grimm predicted that if a trade were to go down with the Wolves, here’s how it might look:
“My assumption is that the framework of the deal would likely include Malik Beasley, Jaden McDaniels, and another guard from a veteran team.... Draft compensation along with one of Prince or Beverley could be re-routed to a third team for an additional player — likely a veteran point guard of some kind.
....If they don’t do a deal for Damian Lillard, they’ll likely aim to set themselves up for a bigger move later on down the line.”
So let’s take a look at what one of my favorite beat reporters Jon Krawczynski had to add when speaking with our podcast stars Steve Lipman and Dan Volpone. Shout out to co-host Emily who opted out of this pod and the Olympics to focus on her hesi and stepbacks. Workout clips on Instagram to follow.
Here were my four top takeaways and some analysis.
1) The Wolves’ chances of landing Ben are better than they were because the market isn’t there for the Sixers right now
Krawczynski: “It really has not much to do in terms of my belief that Daryl Morey would reduce his asking price or that a deal is on the brink of happening, I don’t think we’re there at all. But I do think it has more to do with the circumstances of the market right now…. I think that the Wolves are the team that most want Ben Simmons....
“...my statement that where I feel stronger about the Wolves today than I did a couple weeks ago has much more to do with the market itself…I think that they’re in better position because a market hasn’t materialized.”
One thing that stands out to me is that a leading beat reporter for the team most commonly linked to Ben Simmons here does not believe anything is on the brink of happening. We’re “not there at all” was how he phrased it. It’s also interesting (read: disappointing) that he likes their chances not because their offer is that strong but because he’s not hearing of any bidding wars; the type which might lead to Philadelphia generating offers Minnesota simply can’t compete with.
Krawczynski adds that he doesn’t think a Minnesota offer would compete with one from the Spurs, if San Antonio were to offer Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson and some other pieces. Our Paul Hudrick recently selected as his favorite a Murray headlined package, out of 9 Ben Simmons trade ideas.
If I had to boil down the essence of his point on this it might be something like Hey, the Wolves’ halfway decent offer might actually be the best value for the Sixers if nobody else steps up.
2) Simmons would be open to playing for the Wolves
Krawczynski: “I think he would play in Minnesota. That’s my understanding. He is from the same high school as D’Angelo Russell….he and [Karl Anthony-Towns] are friendly. He has those relationships....
…[Simmons] is a guy that is aware of the dynamics around him. He knows that Philly fans can’t wait to boo him on opening night….but more so he knows that in the moment of truth in the playoffs his coach did not have his back and his star teammate kind of sort of a little bit threw him under the bus as well. And now maybe he deserves some of that criticism but that’s just the nature of it now. Those are the relationships that have been broken and he wants to go. I don’t think this is a bluff on his part. I don’t think that Klutch is making idle threats.”
His understanding that Simmons would be open to playing for the Wolves is important. There were some rumors that Simmons would like to play for a California team, but that might simply be an NBA truism at this point. How many players being traded would not be open to the Lakers, Warriors or Clippers? He has not heard that Simmons would veto or try to thwart a trade to the Wolves so that’s at least something.
Krawczynski also echoes sentiment (from folks like ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and others) suggesting Doc Rivers’ postgame comments (not being sure if Simmons is a championship-caliber point guard) have contributed to Simmons no longer wanting to play here. So more smoke to that fire.
3) The Wolves are still not quite there on their own, they’d need the Sixers to abandon hope of Dame and then get another team or two involved
Krawczynski discusses how difficult a two-team trade would be for the Wolves. This was something ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has discussed in the past; Woj has noted that Minnesota might need a third (or even fourth team) to help Philly get back the type of win-now players they covet in a potential swap.
Krawczynski: “Honestly, a one-to-one Philly-to-Minnesota deal is harder to conceptualize because Daryl Morey has asked for Anthony Edwards and that’s not happening . They wouldn’t do that straight up for Ben Simmons….
“If Morey gives up the pursuit of another All-Star to come in immediately, like Damian Lillard isn’t coming right now, Bradley Beal isn’t coming right now, if they come to grips with that reality then maybe that opens up some possibilities for the Timberwolves that were not there otherwise.”
One of my favorite tidbits in this section was his noting former coach and executive Tom Thibodeau asked for both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons at the early stages of the Jimmy Butler-to-Philly negotiations. They eventually settled for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, and a second-rounder. Shoot your shot, Thibs!
I don’t have the impression Morey is prepared to abandon hope for Lillard or Beal. Remember how much of a full-court press he put on prying Jimmy Butler away from the Sixers in the 2019 summer? Dude did not even have cap space and rolled out more of a red carpet for Butler than Philly did. He’s always hunting stars.
With Beal eligible to sign an extension in early October (although he could also punt the option until as late as next summer) and Lillard apparently staying put for now, I’d guess that Morey would prefer to head into the season, win as many games as possible with Simmons, rehabilitate his value if possible, and hope the Blazers and Wizards lose every game. Then revisit the subject when those stars actually have a wandering eye.
#NBA source: The #Sixers 'are expecting (Ben Simmons) to play (in 2020-21). The expectation is they will. It's bumpy right now (& the team expects it) to get better.' The #76ers don't plan on making a deal that would drop them back in standings & not getting viable offers. pic.twitter.com/QUMmzkKbKF— Tom Moore (@TomMoorePhilly) September 15, 2021
Back in early August I wrote “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?”
4) You expect things to get ugly after a trade demand, but then things get even uglier than you expected
Krawczynski, who reported first hand on how ugly the Jimmy Butler situation got when he wanted out of Minnesota, said this to Lipman and Volpone:
“It seems like [Simmons’ camp] are going to [hold out] and then it’s up to the Sixers to decide ‘OK, are we going to try and weather that storm and really stick to our guns and not let him bully us into a move’….and really try and dictate the terms or are they going to say ‘hey, look, we gotta take what we can get and move on because this is an untenable situation?’”
So should the Sixers be willing to ride out a potentially long and very public holdout? Volpone brings up the possibility that Simmons is just a quieter person than Butler was, and may not even be around the team if he held out. Could things drag out further that way if he was not as much of a disruption as Butler was in Minnesota? Butler’s ordeal lasted through camp, preseason, and ten regular-season games. The full pod is definitely worth a listen for all of that nuance.
You’re probably already annoyed imagining the TNT and ESPN viral soundbites bashing Simmons for not playing and bemoaning the team playing hardball as another season of Embiid’s prime counts down. Should they “come to grips” that Beal and Lillard ain’t walking through that Wells Fargo door anytime soon, as JK suggests, and explore three-team deals sending Simmons to Minny?
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