With the Ben Simmons saga dragging on for nearly six months now, it’s obvious the Sixers’ front office will have to make a move at some point. The team is playing very well at the moment, but they’re currently just the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, and will certainly have difficulty advancing past any of the teams ahead of them (Chicago, Brooklyn, Miami, Milwaukee) in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the team seems no closer to moving Simmons for a player who could help put them in the East’s upper echelon. Daryl Morey has not changed his position on trading Simmons since his Oct. 21 comments, where he stated that he’ll wait as long as necessary — even for the duration of Simmons’ contract — which ends after the 2024-2025 season. But many observers feel that such inaction would be grossly negligent. Joel Embiid is magnificent, but he needs help.
This leads us to speculate on what kind of player the Sixers should be targeting for this inevitable Simmons trade.
Based on their documented interest in lead guards, we know that’s the sort of player that most excites the team’s front office. It was the same type of player they believed they drafted (under a previous regime) with the first overall pick in 2017, or the one who got away in Jimmy Butler (under different regime), or the three-time scoring champion whose services they nearly acquired in 2021, James Harden.
But what if no such player is available at the trade deadline?
Expanding the search
This question looms large as the Sixers hurtle toward the Feb. 10 trade deadline. By now, the Sixers certainly know who they want, or at least the player archetype they want. They’ve also heard offers for Simmons for the last five months, and have chosen to hold onto his services.
So, here are some choices Morey has to weigh:
1) Prioritize fit over value
If Morey wants a lead ballhandler (such as Damian Lillard), but if the one he wants isn’t available, he may avert his attention to someone like San Antonio’s Dejounte Murray or Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox, whom the Kings seem open to moving. Last week, Sean Kennedy wrote about Murray’s talents and potential fit with the Sixers.
Aside from Murray, who is awesome, there have been few, if any, guards available that could move the needle for the Sixers. Guys like Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, and De’Angelo Russell are all good players, but none are as good as Ben Simmons, and none of them would drastically improve the team’s chances of winning the NBA title.
Furthermore, it’s hard to argue that any of these players is a substantial upgrade over Seth Curry or Tyrese Maxey, who’ve both been excellent this year. Also, adding such a player may introduce new issues.
First, moving Curry to the bench could make life more difficult for both him and Embiid. Curry and Embiid have a blossoming two-man game. Considering how well Curry has played with Embiid this season, moving him to the bench would likely be a non-starter for coach Doc Rivers. Anyone you replace with Curry would need to shoot the three well.
Here’s Curry and Embiid in action against the eventual NBA champion Bucks last season. Moving Curry to the bench means less of this and more of something less awesome in the offense. Seth is super fun, so no thanks. H/T to Harrison Grimm for the video.
Nice two-man game between Curry and Embiid: pic.twitter.com/cynRfOFnFn— Harrison Grimm (@Harrison_Grimm) April 22, 2021
Since the Sixers need Curry’s shooting, the other option is to move Maxey to the bench. This too would be a tough sell, since he’d be deprived the opportunity of building his rapport with Embiid. Also, Maxey has shown tremendous growth as a the starting point guard this year, and is the only other guy on the team who is capable of consistently getting a bucket.
There are several wings who could help the Sixers, but it seems none of them are available. The Celtics — who are 10th in the East and remain a dumpster fire — seem uninterested in breaking up Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Maybe that will change. Likewise, New Orleans’ Brandon Ingram is a very good offensive player and could help the Sixers in myriad ways. But there have been no recent reports of his availability.
2) Prioritize value over fit - and take the best player available - who is probably a big
While there have been no clear examples of guards who are both available and would definitely help the team more than Simmons returning would, maybe Morey considers going big with the Pacers’ Domantas Sabonis. While he’s not the same player Simmons is, Sabonis does some of the same things well. He is a better interior and mid-range scorer, and is a similarly excellent rebounder. He’s also a fantastic passer, possibly on the same level as Simmons.
Here are some Sabonis passing highlights. H/T to Jackson Frank.
Watching Domantas Sabonis further assert himself as one of the best offensive big men in the NBA this season was quite fun and his passing was particularly delightful: pic.twitter.com/biTMt7XDL4— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) June 24, 2020
On the flip side, Sabonis is not a great fit next to Embiid. Like Joel, he frequently operates in the mid-range, and posts up frequently as well. This would cause issues with spacing — defenders would be able to clog the paint with an extra defender. Furthermore, Sabonis isn’t a great three-point shooter, making just 32 percent of his threes, matching his career average. These factors make it likely that Jo and Sabonis would often get in each other’s way on offense.
Ultimately, I believe a Sabonis-Embiid pairing would help the team win some regular season games, but would present many of the same issues the Simmons-Embiid combo did in the playoffs.
3) Hold Ben until the Summer
The third option will probably be the least appealing to most Sixers fans: To hold onto Ben until the Summer. The rationale for such a move could be explained in two ways. First, they could argue that it’s better to “waste” one year of Joel’s prime than trade Ben for a lesser player — which would effectively squander all of his prime. Another argument in favor of holding onto Ben is that, the Sixers are unlikely to win it all anyway this year, so they need to keep the long-view in mind. Kyle Neubeck laid out his case for why the Sixers will likely not win this year, regardless of who comes to the Sixers in the Simmons swap. It’s a good read and worth thinking about. With that said, it seems almost criminal to not bring back players who can help the team this year.
The trade deadline is Feb. 10, and you should expect to hear the Sixers mentioned in all sorts of trade rumors. It remains to be seen whether Daryl Morey prioritizes fit over value. We may have an answer in the coming weeks.