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Holding Ben Simmons past trade deadline would be malpractice

Given the reported players that could be available, Daryl Morey and the Sixers have to move Ben Simmons.

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

The Philadelphia 76ers are 20-8 (!) in games Joel Embiid has played this season. He’s missed 11 games, but the team’s winning percentage when he’s in the lineup (.714) would eke out the Bulls for best in the East. With an easy schedule coming up, and with Embiid very much back in MVP form, that record could look even better when we reach the Feb. 10 trade deadline.

This success comes without Ben Simmons playing a single minute of basketball this season, and with countless reports saying he has no plans to do so.

Despite the Sixers looking like a contender during Simmons’ holdout, Daryl Morey has insisted he is willing to stand firm at the deadline if the right player does not come available. Based on the players reported to be on the table in a Simmons deal, keeping him past the deadline would be malpractice.

Last week, Sam Amick of The Athletic reported that the Sacramento Kings are willing to part ways with De’Aaron Fox or Tyrese Haliburton. Haliburton is still just 21 years old, and in his second season, he is shooting 44.1 percent from 3 on 4.7 attempts per game. He’s also putting up 6.9 assists per game (the same as Ben Simmons last season) despite spending a lot of time as an off-ball guard. He does not have any major weaknesses in his game, and at 6-foot-5, he has good size for the guard position, which the Sixers currently lack. Because Haliburton is still on his rookie deal, it’s likely that the Sixers would also get back a useful player like Harrison Barnes or Buddy Hield in a Haliburton trade.

According to Brian Windhorst, as a guest on The Scoop w/ Doogie podcast with Darren Wolfson, the Minnesota Timberwolves are offering a big package for Ben Simmons.

Windhorst said on the pod, “From what I understand the Wolves have offered pretty much every asset package they could possibly offer for Ben Simmons except for Anthony Edwards and Karl Towns. So you can assume that every player and every available draft pick has been offered.” Windhorst went on to say of the Wolves, “They are not holding those draft picks dear.”

D’Angelo Russell has had a very good season for Minnesota, and a package built around Russell and multiple Timberwolves first-round picks would be a significant haul for Simmons.

And Monday, The Athletic’s Shams Charania wrote that the struggling Atlanta Hawks are emerging as potential Ben Simmons suitors, with speculation that a structure of Ben Simmons for John Collins and Cam Reddish could be a possibility. While Charania mentions it’s not certain the Hawks would be interested in such a deal, he does note that Collins is frustrated with his role in Atlanta. Marc Stein also mentions the Hawks as a team to watch on the Simmons front. Collins is an uber-athletic power forward who has gotten better every season in the league. He’s just 24 years old, and he’s shot 40.6 percent from three on 3.3 attempts per game in his last three seasons. He’s a good rebounder (which the Sixers badly need), and he’s a fantastic fit in the frontcourt next to Embiid. While he’s not an ideal fit with Tobias Harris, he’s the much better player of the two, and he’d allow Harris to play more with the bench unit.

I have long been a proponent of getting whatever you can get for Simmons by the deadline so as to not waste a year of Embiid’s prime. The reasonable counterargument has always been that making the wrong trade could mean wasting not just this year but all of his prime. If the players (and picks) mentioned above are truly available, that is no longer a legitimate concern.

Haliburton, Russell, and Collins are all good players who would help the Sixers this year, certainly, but those packages also give the Sixers plenty of trade ammunition should a star such as Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal come available next summer. Trading Simmons does not have to necessarily be for the final piece, and if that final piece is not available right now, acquiring someone like Haliburton or Collins may be the best move in both the short term and long term.

Take Haliburton for example. A team trading a star is most likely ready to start rebuilding. Who would a rebuilding team be more likely to prefer this summer: a then-26-year-old floor-raising All-Star on a max contract with major weaknesses that have made him completely inept past the first round of the playoffs and coming off of a full year without playing basketball following an unprecedented playoff collapse (Simmons, obviously)? Or a then-22-year-old emerging wing still on his rookie deal without any major weaknesses in his game (Haliburton)? There’s a real argument that Simmons wouldn’t even be the best trade chip of the options in front of the Sixers for the star they eventually want to come available.

Before this past week, when the above high-quality packages became rumored possibilities, it was fair to wonder if maybe quality offers weren’t there, and if maybe the Sixers were better off holding onto Simmons into the summer. But if these reports hold water, there is absolutely no reason to get picky and waste a season of truly elite play from Joel Embiid. The options above let the Sixers compete this year and maintain optionality long-term, and it would be malpractice to pass them all up and hold Ben Simmons past the trade deadline.

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