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Hornets have reportedly entered Ben Simmons fray — are they a viable suitor?

The Hornets placed “a Simmons inquiry.” Do they have the pieces that could entice the Sixers?

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Charlotte Hornets v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

You’re forgiven if Monday’s “Daryl Morey loves James Harden” update didn’t do much for you. The Sixers’ president of basketball of operations has been linked to the former MVP since he accepted the job in Philadelphia. It’s no surprise Morey could look into every avenue possible to reacquire Harden.

The interesting nugget from The Athletic’s Shams Charania’s report on Monday is that another team has entered the Ben Simmons fray:

“Between now and Feb. 10, the 76ers will continue taking calls and examining potential framework of offers presented to them. The Charlotte Hornets have been among new teams placing a Simmons inquiry to the 76ers, but there’s been nothing substantive, sources said.”

Obviously, every team that inquires only helps the Sixers. The more teams that make offers, the more leverage the Sixers could theoretically have.

Simmons makes sense as a fit for Charlotte. It’s not an organization that attracts All-Star-level talent in free agency. The Hornets are also one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA, ranking 25th in defensive rating (112.5) and 28th in opponent points per games (114.2). Adding a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate could help bring their net rating out of the red.

But what can a team like the Hornets offer the Sixers in exchange for Simmons?

LaMelo Ball is clearly untouchable, but there are four players that could have varying degrees of attractiveness to the Sixers:

Gordon Hayward ($29.9M this season, over $30M the next two seasons)

If Hayward got to play against the Sixers every night he’d be an All-Star. The 31-year-old wing has scorched Philly to the tune of 24.3 points and 7.7 assists with a 63.1 true shooting percentage. While he hasn’t quite performed at that level on a nightly basis, he’s turned in a solid season (17 points per game, 58.4 true shooting percentage). Hayward’s contract is hefty and you run into a similar issue with the C.J. McCollum discourse — paying a non-max player max money. But Hayward’s ability to create off the dribble and shooting are extremely attractive for a team starving for both things. His ability to guard threes, albeit not at a high level, would make him a more attractive option than someone like McCollum.

Miles Bridges ($5.4M this season; RFA this offseason)

Bridges bet on himself and it seems to be paying off. He didn’t accept an extension offer from the Hornets this past offseason and has taken a sizable leap in 2021-22. The fourth-year wing is Charlotte’s leading scorer at 20.1 points a game. He’s also added 7.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists, all career marks. His shooting is down (57.7) from last season (62.5), but his usage has also increased to 22.6 — up from 17.3 last season. Bridges is a freak athlete that’s flashed serious improvement as a creator. He’s still just 23 years old. It’s not crazy to think Bridges could soon fit into the “top-40” category.

Terry Rozier ($17.9M this season; four-year, $96.2M extension kicks in next season)

Rozier is having an excellent offensive season. “Scary Terry” can be a streaky player, but seems to have found more consistency over the last three seasons in Charlotte. He’s averaged over 19 points a game on 56.2 shooting in that span. Like Hayward, his creation ability is welcomed, but his volume shooting (eight three attempts a game) is what could make him even more appealing than Hayward.

Cody Martin ($1.7M this season; RFA this offseason)

Martin isn’t the biggest name on this list, but he could be a very useful player as part of a bigger package. Martin is sort of a Swiss army knife. He can handle the ball decently, he’s shot the three ball well this season (43.3 percent) — granted on low volume (2.3 attempts) — and he doesn’t turn it over. Defensively, he offers decent versatility on the perimeter to defend different types of players. He’s just a smart player and he’d be a very solid depth piece.

Analysis

The Sixers and Hornets are ideal trade partners in that Charlotte needs defense in its playoff push and Philly desperately needs playmaking and shot-making surrounding Joel Embiid. There is no top-40 or All-Star player on this list. Hayward was an All-Star — and is still damn effective — but is nowhere near that player. As mentioned, Bridges has a chance to be that guy, but isn’t there yet.

Hayward plus a king’s ransom of picks could make sense. The Sixers fill an immediate need and also get ammo for a future deal. An interesting wrinkle to that — both Hayward and Tobias Harris will come off the books ahead of the 2024-25 season. That will be Embiid’s age-30 season. I understand NOBODY wants to think about this, but that 2024 offseason would have a chance to be even more franchise-altering than an eventual Simmons trade.

Hayward and Bridges would likely be too rich for the Hornets, who likely still have hopes of signing the young wing to a long-term extension to play alongside Ball. Though that would be a deal the Sixers should have interest in, even if it meant kicking in another decent piece. Hayward and Bridges could be hugely impactful for the Sixers right now — and Bridges could be a candidate for a long-term extension here.

Getting Rozier and/or Martin would only help the Sixers’ depth, which has actually proven to be decent when not ravaged by COVID or injuries. Rozier’s microwave scoring would be a very welcome addition to the starting unit or bench.