On Friday, a report surfaced that the Philadelphia 76ers turned down a Ben Simmons trade proposal from the Indiana Pacers, who offered a package that included Malcolm Brogdon and a first-round pick. The report came from Jason Dumas of Bleacher Report and KRON news in Philly. It didn’t come from Woj or Shams or any of the other heavy news hitters. So make what you will of the specifics.
That said, this is a trade package likely in line with the opportunity teams see to potentially steal Simmons, whose value has never been lower after he went into offensive hiding, again, in Philly’s second-round loss to the fifth-seeded Atlanta Hawks.
A few months ago, trying to get Simmons for a 28-year-old non-All-Star like Brogdon and a future first-round pick would’ve been a joke. You were going to have to bring a player like James Harden or a young stud and multiple first-round picks to get Daryl Morey’s attention.
If Harden actually was an option at one time (I still have my doubts Houston owner Tilman Fertitta ever truly intended to do business with Morey), and Morey honestly passed on the deal because he didn’t want to give up Tyrese Maxey in addition to Simmons, then I don’t know what to say. Morey blew it. Either way, it’s a new world now, and in this new world, as it currently exists, there is no way Simmons is fetching a superstar or a superstar package.
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So the first question becomes: Can Simmons repair his basketball reputation to a point where his value returns to previous highs? If so, the Sixers would be smart to keep stiff-arming these Brogdon-type low-ball offers on the chance that a Bradley Beal or Damian Lillard eventually becomes available.
The second question is whether that’s at all reasonable. To me, short of Simmons showing up next season with a legitimate jumper that he’s actually confident enough to consistently deploy (not likely), it’s going to take a full postseason run in which he showcases an ability and willingness to impact games as a scorer before a team is willing to part with an unhappy star of its own when there will surely be a plethora of competing offers.
Which raises a third question: Even if you believe Simmons’ value can get back to a level where he could fetch a player the caliber of a Beal of Lillard (and this is assuming one of these players actually becomes available) can the increasingly desperate Sixers wait that long? Is it even a risk worth taking?
If Simmons doesn’t come around offensively, is the current version valuable enough to pass on good-but-not-great offers that might be out there right now? Maybe it’s not Brogdon, but I’m thinking about a Portland Trail Blazers player who is basically Lillard light: CJ McCollum.
To be clear, a McCollum-for-Simmons swap discussion hasn’t been reported or really even rumored beyond social speculation. But it makes too much sense for both sides to not be seriously considering it as we speak.
This isn’t going to take much more than a couple of sentences to break down. McCollum, an elite half-court shot creator, fills the exact gap that exists between the Sixers and honest championship contention. Simmons, an elite defender and a tailor-made playmaking forward alongside Lillard, is everything the Blazers need. The money works almost down to the dollar. Both teams are desperate to address these specific roster holes but lack, really, any other meaningful resources to do so.
And the clock is ticking on both franchises. Neil Olshey nuked whatever benefit of the doubt his small-market underdog the Blazers were still clinging to with the hiring of Chauncey Billups, whose 1997 rape allegation has forced Portland into a title-or-bust place, because absent that, there’s no justification for the PR flame he lit and continued to flame with his dismissive Billups introductory press conference. For the first time, Lillard leaving feels like a real possibility.
Meanwhile, Morey has to figure out how to make this work right now for the Sixers. Joel Embiid is ready. And he might not age all that well. The Sixers brought in a new GM and coach and ran into the same problems anyway. That city slogged through years of purposeful losing to get to a championship point, and the idea of standing pat as one of the Process’s prizes proves not worth the sacrifice is an unacceptable outcome. If Simmons isn’t the guy he was supposed to be, they have to cut losses at some point.
I understand that McCollum is older while Simmons still packs growth potential. I also understand that the Sixers would be taking a significant step back defensively by flipping Simmons for McCollum. Perhaps they demand Portland include Robert Covington, who is on an expiring deal, and send back George Hill, as our Sam Quinn suggested here.
The details can be figured out. But the bottom line is this: You put a half-court creator like McCollum on the Sixers, and even with a defensive decline, they’re closer to a championship than they are right now. If they were to somehow get Covington back in the deal as well, a closing lineup up McCollum-Seth Curry-Tobias Harris-Covington-Embiid is no joke. Depending on matchup or Curry isn’t shooting well, Insert Matisse Thybulle for Covington or Curry if you want. You’ll miss Simmons, but Embiid is the one who really anchors the defense, and Thybulle, in my view, is every bit the defender Simmons is anyway.
And let’s just be honest about the Blazers. If Olshey believes they’re going to turn into a championship contender without significant roster changes just because he switched coaches, he’s out of his mind. He can try to sell the story that the roster is good enough all he wants, but nobody’s buying. Least of all Lillard, who can hold down the offense but is powerless to change the defense. Simmons changes everything.
The defensive upgrade speaks for itself. But what Simmons brings offensively is almost as big a deal. People are acting like he’s worthless on that end right now, but some of that, perhaps much of that, is a product of his place in Philly, where the absence of actual shot creators exposes Simmons for what he can’t do.
Alongside Lillard, with plenty of supporting shooting and a pretty big-time secondary creator in Norman Powell (assuming Portland re-signs him), it becomes about what Simmons can do. He should’ve been a playmaking four from the start, rebounding and pushing before ceding control in the half-court. He can be the Draymond Green of the Blazers, making downhill plays with 4-on-3 advantages and shooters on both sides after Lillard sucks two defenders out of the play.
In a perfect world, Portland would have a shooting big man to offset Simmons’ spacing crunch and open up the lane, but Jusuf Nurkic isn’t a stiff and his contract is expiring in 2022 anyway. Don’t let perfection get in the way of progress. Portland isn’t in a position to have its cake and eat it too. They are better with Simmons than they are with McCollum. Bottom line.
And that’s based on Simmons in his current form. That’s not factoring in unreliable improvements into the model. You’re not asking him to be something he’s not. If he does somehow find a jumper or even just become a 70-percent free-throw shooter, where in the world is Portland, with no cap space and no young players anyone really cares about, going to get a 25-year-old player like that who’s also under team control through 2025?
If Lillard does leave, you can do a lot worse than starting a rebuild around Simmons. If you’re a Blazers fan and you wouldn’t jump on this deal in a heartbeat, you’re crazy. I don’t know what you think you’re getting for McCollum that’s even in the ballpark of Simmons, and you already know what you are if you keep him.
The holdup would be on Philly’s side. Again, if Simmons balls out over the first few months next season, and somehow, by some miraculous stroke, Lillard or Beal becomes available at the trade deadline, perhaps there’s a way they could get in that mix. But I doubt they’d end up having the best package unless Simmons suddenly morphs into an All-NBA first teamer, in which case, why would you want to trade him anyway?
These are all tough questions to answer, and uncertainty is difficult to face as a franchise. But both the Blazers and Sixers are at a point where risk has to be figured into their future equations. McCollum wouldn’t be the only player available if the Sixers were to truly start shopping Simmons. But you’d be hard pressed to find a player more perfectly suited to address the Sixers’ exact needs who is within the realm of realistic targets. Win-win trades are rare, but this one has all the makings of being exactly that for both Philly and Portland. Who knows if either team would ever actually pull the trigger, but as I said at the top, it’s too perfect to not at least be strongly considering behind closed doors.