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Optimism in Simmons trade talks, more takeaways from Sam Amick on the Gastro Blues pod

Amick touched on the Ben Simmons trade front, the teams involved and if Tobias Harris could realistically be moved.

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Philadelphia 76ers v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

On Sunday, our Liberty Ballers Podcast Network released a double-barreled, info-packed episode of The Gastroenteritis Blues.

The second half of the show saw the return to familiar ground of once and forever Liberty Baller Sixers Adam, now of The Rights to Ricky Sanchez, who joined Dan and me (Emily was away on her Honeymoon) to discuss the Sixers’ realistic avenues to cap space this summer, with rumors swirling that the team is in hot, clandestine pursuit of James Harden, come hell or high water.

In the first half of the podcast, Dan and I were joined for the second time by senior NBA writer for The Athletic, Sam Amick. The impetus for Sam’s appearance was, in large part, his Jan. 12 report on the state of the Sixers’ trade talks with a handful of teams in reference to embattled and inactive star Ben Simmons.

Within our conversation, Sam delved into more detail on the status of the Simmons trade talks overall, where things stand in relation to the upcoming Feb. 10 trade deadline, which teams may or may not be receptive to the Sixers’ efforts to attach Tobias Harris to Simmons at the deadline, and assorted intel from the Sixers’ talks with the Sacramento Kings, Atlanta Hawks, Minnesota Timberwolves, and others.

Here are five takeaways from the conversation:

The mood around the league is that Simmons gets traded by the deadline

“To the question of, ‘Is a [Simmons] deal gonna go down before the deadline,’ for whatever reason, the mood among every team I’ve talked to is probably ‘yes.’ That something will probably happen before the deadline.”

On the status of the Sixers’ efforts to offload Harris in a Simmons deal

Some context: within Sam’s piece, he reported that the Sixers were now making efforts to tell teams interested in Simmons, that part of the attendant price in acquiring him was also that they would need to take on Harris and his hefty contract, as well. At the time of his reporting, Sam wrote “So long as the Harris component remains part of the Sixers’ strategy, it’s not only another significant complication in the process but also the kind of thing that leaves rival executives questioning the Sixers’ genuine interest in finding a deal for Simmons now.” Earlier in the day when we talked to Sam, Marc Stein reported in his Substack newsletter, in part, that rival teams believe that the Sacramento Kings “could be convinced to take on Tobias Harris’ contract to facilitate a Simmons deal.”

Here was Sam’s read on the Kings’ current thought process in reference to paying the Tobi tax in order to get Simmons in Sactown.

“My intel at this point ... is that that’s a lot. I didn’t anticipate them doing it, but who the hell knows? We gotta wait and see.”

“If the Kings are considering Tobias — and I don’t have clarity, like I said earlier, Marc Stein indicated that they might [be considering him] — I don’t think the Hawks are. Even with losing John Collins [should they trade him in a Simmons deal]. I think [The Hawks’] interest is only in Ben Simmons. The Collins thing is very real.”

“So far, I have not heard anything about three-team scenarios. But you know how it is. These execs are always trying to brainstorm and think outside the box, so I wouldn’t be stunned if something like that ended up developing.”

On whether or not the Sixers are angling toward freeing up max cap space to sign James Harden this offseason

“[when Morey was hired in Philadelphia] unfortunately it’s just messy in the beginning, because he doesn’t land the Harden trade. And there’s this mess that he’s been staring at for months now. Stubbornly taking his time to clean up, because he wants to clean it up his way. I’m not even criticizing him in that regard ... but you talk to the Ben Simmons side, and they’re just like, ‘Listen, just get your guy. Get Harden. Send us to Houston.’ Ben was looking for houses. You’ve heard that story countless times now. There’s some people who feel like this is why the Sixers gave Daryl all this money. It was supposed to be to come to get the Harden deal done. It just hasn’t happened yet.”

On how real interested teams’ worries are about Simmons’ contract and current state of mind are

Some context: within Sam’s piece, he reported “For starters, there’s the fact that Simmons hasn’t played in an NBA game since June 20, 2021 and, well, the lasting impression from that infamous Game 7 of the East semifinals against Atlanta wasn’t exactly a good one. Accurate or not, this years-long pattern of Simmons struggling with confidence issues on the floor is seen by some interested teams as a separate matter from the mental-health struggles that he has cited as his reason for staying off it. In terms of Simmons’ eventual availability with a new team, the message has been sent that he would be ready to play after a few weeks of intensified conditioning and court action.” And, “But while making the front-office rounds to get a better understanding of the Simmons studies happening in real time here, I stumbled on this somewhat surprising sentiment: The length (and size) of his contract, which has been seen by the Sixers as a major leverage point and justification for the steep asking price because the threat of free agency delayed, is actually a concern to some.”

We asked Sam to elaborate on those concerns and how Simmons and his agency may quell them should a trade materialize around the deadline.

“It’s a bit of a staring contest. [These concerns were in reference to] not just one team...most executives have a pretty short runway. Let’s say you are Monte McNair, the Kings GM, who’s in his second year. He took a major leap going from an assistant GM role, going to this job. And, in terms of, kind of, risk-reward calculus, you’re now contemplating going all in on this trade for a guy in Ben Simmons who if he comes to town and he’s just not the guy you thought he was, and it doesn’t go well, then that contract you thought was a good thing is suddenly an albatross. And your career is shot — at least in that market. And I think that calculus applies to quite a few teams on the list.”

“I asked somebody, ‘Does it bother you that [Ben] hasn’t spoken publicly? Does that just make it harder to take a pulse?’ And you guys will not be stunned to hear this, that there’s some people close to [the situation] who say, ‘Listen, if you’re real serious, there’s probably a back-channel way to get a sense about Ben’s state of mind.’ That’s kinda the reality of the NBA.”

On the status of Minnesota’s continued pursuit of Simmons

Some context: within his piece, Sam reported that Minnesota has remained in the Hunt to acquire Simmons services in a big way, saying, “In terms of Minnesota’s level of interest, multiple rival executives have indicated that the Timberwolves aren’t expected to do anything else trade wise that might take them out of the running for Simmons so long as they’re still in it.” We asked him for some extra details.

“I think the Minnesota thing is relatively real. And they think that as well. Obviously, other teams have tried to engage with some of their players and they have essentially said that they are kind of stuck in time until the Simmons thing gets resolved. And so that’s a telling — you know, you see that from time to time. And it’s revealing about what a team’s priorities are.

“The [D’Angelo] Russell thing — I have gotten some sense that there is — I don’t know if you call it mild interest. Some background work type stuff that has been done on Russell in Philly, to the degree where you would say, ‘alright, they’re at least, kind of, vetting it out.’ You know what I mean? So I think that part checks out.”

“It’s funny how you have a lot of connective tissue between the GMs of these teams with Daryl Morey. You have Sachin Gupta who is now the head of the Timberwolves front office, he was with Daryl in Houston, he was hired by Daryl, and is fighting to keep that job. If you’re Sachin Gupta, Ben Simmons is kind of your White Whale. You’re probably gonna get a longterm contract if you bring Ben Simmons to town.”

“I do think they’re in it, for sure.”

Again, we thank Sam and Adam for their time and insight. Links to listen to the podcast are below, and you can also watch the podcast on YouTube here.

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