Like Andy Dufresne on his sewage-laden crawl toward freedom, today marks another day in the interminable saga of Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers. By now, the smoke is billowing around us at all times, as the Sixers search for an appropriate trade for the point guard (?) amidst Simmons’ reportedly staunch desire to play nary another second in Philadelphia.
Until the fateful Woj, Shams, Ramona, or whomever-bomb hits our respective Twitter feeds, we’re all left to scrounge for whatever crumb-sized rumors fall onto our plates in the meantime.
On Monday, my colleague Harrison Grimm wrote a piece detailing what a theoretical deal between the Sixers and the Minnesota Timberwolves — the team most heavily rumored to acquire Simmons’ services at this point in time — might look like.
Today, I’ll be taking a look at a team that has been lingering on the periphery of the Simmons talks: the Cleveland Cavaliers.
While some teams, like Sacramento and Golden State, have reportedly become less likely over time to ultimately vie for Simmons in earnest, the Cavs, according to some recent reports, have continued to make inroads in the discussions.
First, Cavaliers reporter Evan Dammarell wrote a story detailing the apparent two-way interest between Cleveland and Simmons.
And this week, national NBA reporter Marc Stein echoed Cleveland’s interest and potential standing as a dark horse candidate to trade for Simmons.
So, let’s consider the Cavs as a trading partner for the Sixers’ embattled All-Star.
Who does Cleveland have to offer?
The team’s third-year point guard, Darius Garland, is likely off the table for a handful of reasons. Firstly, he seems to hold the highest ceiling of the Cavaliers’ young players, likely making the team’s executives particularly hesitant to part with Garland — a player on his rookie deal and not yet eligible for big money — in a trade for a player whose value has decreased as much as Simmons. Additionally, as Dammarell noted, Garland is a Klutch Sports client. I’m sure the Sixers want to maintain a professional working relationship with the agency, but given the reportedly icy nature of communication between the two sides, I think it’s highly unlikely that Simmons would be dealt for a young star repped by the same agent who’s been working so hard to get Ben out of Philadelphia.
What about Garland’s backcourt mate, Collin Sexton?
While his 6-foot-1 frame has limited Sexton’s defensive impact (despite a non-stop, internet-famous motor), his offensive game has evolved really nicely in the NBA.
Last season, the guard averaged a career-high 24.3 points per game along with 4.4 assists on .475/.371/.815 shooting splits. Sexton has shot better than 40 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers in each of his three seasons in the league. In this most recent season, not only did Sexton attempt the most 3s per game in his career (4.4) but also the most free throws per game, at an impressive 6.4. At his size and at his age, that many nightly free throws could serve as a quite positive indicator for his future effectiveness, offensively.
The advanced stats tell a similarly rosy story in regards to Sexton’s offensive repertoire. Per Synergy Sports, Sexton ranked better than average as a pick-and-roll ball-handler (versus a straight-up defense and versus a defense trying to trap the ball-handler), in transition, as a spot-up shooter, and when playing off of a screen.
Sexton’s ability to display a scoring arsenal that varied and refined at age 22 in a far-from-optimal situation in Cleveland makes me quite bullish on what he could accomplish playing off of Joel Embiid post-ups on a team full of good players.
Trepidation at the prospect of bringing Sexton into the fold seems rooted in a concern that he’s simply too young to be a key initiator on a team that wants to win the title, and that the Sixers would soon be on the hook for what’s likely to be a massive contract extension to keep Sexton on the team. I think that both of those are valid concerns, but I feel that a package including Sexton appeals to be much more than what seem to be the other viable options on the market in return for Ben Simmons, currently.
So what might the rest of that package look like?
Cleveland, I’m sure, would try to unload Kevin Love onto the Sixers. While I actually do think that Love has some useful basketball left in him, the Sixers almost certainly won’t be keen to take on Love’s remaining two years and $60 million he’s due for his age-33 and -34 seasons. Even if they weren’t fully nauseated by the forward’s Spotrac profile, Tobias Harris’ existence in the starting lineup (and the need to keep him at power forward) make including Love in this deal a non-starter for Philadelphia.
Cleveland still needs to add money to the deal, as Simmons is due $33 million this year and Sexton is due only $6.3 million. Ricky Rubio and his $17.8 million contract might do the trick. While I doubt the Sixers would be likely to rely much on Rubio’s play (although a defense-first player at the 1 with a history as a solid passer may not be the worst profile to add to this team), Rubio’s contract expires after the season and helps to make the money work in the deal, and his reputation as a good veteran teammate doesn’t hurt, either. Cleveland would still need to throw a Dylan Windler or Damyean Dotson into the deal to round out the financials, but we don’t need to spend too much time on that aspect.
(Note: Rubio cannot yet be officially traded and aggregated with other players, because he is not far enough removed from his trade out of Minnesota, which occurred earlier in the summer. This restriction expires on Sept. 27.)
Sexton and Rubio certainly couldn’t be it, of course. For the Sixers to make this trade, picks must be heading to Philly. The good news for the Sixers is that Cleveland still holds the rights to each of its next seven first-round picks, and thus isn’t hindered by the Stepien rule. My guess is that the rights to three of Cleveland’s available first-round picks would need to be in this trade for talks to get really serious.
Trading Ben Simmons for Collin Sexton, Ricky Rubio, some extra salary, and a bunch of picks certainly isn’t where we thought we’d end up when the summer started. But a trade like this would provide the Sixers with an interesting mesh between the two goals the team is currently trying to accomplish: it would add a dynamic scoring option who seems destined to improve in an improved situation, plus significant draft capital to the team’s war chest in order to remain in excellent position to pounce if and when the next star player becomes available in the league.
Whatever the deal, this saga will eventually end. And on that day, we will finally be free.
Rest in Peace, Michael K. Williams.