The NBA’s worst-kept secret of the offseason became official when Philadelphia 76ers point guard Ben Simmons told the franchise he wouldn’t be returning.
Simmons has been the biggest subject of trade rumors all summer and has informed the organization he no longer wants to be a part of the team and won’t show up to training camp if he’s not dealt. In some ways, the saga is over: Simmons is officially done in Philly. In other ways, it’s just beginning: What is Simmons’ trade value? Where does he land?
In reality, Simmons’ trade demand could end up helping the 76ers score the missing piece of their championship puzzle.
Simmons and Joel Embiid have had a questionable (at best) fit since the beginning. Embiid is a throwback dominant big man who prefers to operate, for the most the part, in the post. Simmons is a 6-foot-10 point guard who can’t shoot and always wants to occupy space near the basket. This breakup was a long time coming. It’s no longer a matter of if, but when — and where — the former LSU star lands.
Ben Simmons is not returning to Philadelphia
In Game 7 of the 2021 Eastern Conference semifinals, Simmons spun past Atlanta Hawks forward Danilo Gallinari and found himself face-to-face with a wide-open dunk that would have tied the game at 88. Inexplicably, Simmons bypassed the easy points to find teammate Matisse Thybulle — not an offensive juggernaut — who was fouled and went 1-of-2 from the line. Ultimately, Philly lost to Atlanta, and its season was over.
Embiid wasn’t shy about blaming the 76ers’ loss, in part, on Simmons’ late-game decision, according to SI.com:
“I’ll be honest; I thought the turning point was when we — I don’t know how to say it — but I thought the turning point was just, we had an open shot and we made one free throw, and we missed the other and then they came down and scored. And we didn’t get a good possession on the other end.”Joel Embiid on Ben Simmons passing up a wide-open dunk in Game 7 against the Atlanta Hawks
It was by no means the beginning of the fracture between the Sixers’ two franchise superstars, but it was the beginning of the end. Eventually, the five-year pro realized he was no longer welcome with the franchise and told the team he was officially out.
Simmons is destined for Portland, but it won’t be in a deal for Damian Lillard
Simmons’ trade demand put Philadelphia general manager Daryl Morey in a bind.
He was offered when the 76ers tried to acquire James Harden at the beginning of last season before The Beard ended up in Brooklyn. That didn’t play well with the former Tiger. Once the season ended, Morey’s asking price for Simmons was “Harden-esque,” according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (h/t The New York Post). Morey asked for a young player, up to four first-round picks, and up to three pick swaps.
Now, though, as the league knows the LSU one-and-done star has both feet out the door in Philly, Morey’s asking price has to come down.
What the Sixers lack is a backcourt player capable of creating his own shot. That was the problem with the Embiid-Simmons fit and why the team went after Harden. Morey’s chances of finding that piece are growing more limited by the day.
At this point, the Philly GM’s best deal may end up being a swap with the Portland Trail Blazers for CJ McCollum. Some picks or other players might have to go back and forth depending on the value either team places on its biggest piece, but this would be a trade that could end up working for both parties.
The Sixers would get their shot-creating, 3-point-threat backcourt mate to run with Embiid, while the Blazers could form a somewhat-on-the-fly rebuild with Damian Lillard.
Dame has never had a partner with the defensive abilities Simmons has. The Weber State product prefers to play on the ball, but Simmons would allow him a break from running the entire offense on his own. The 6-foot-10 guard is a good screen-and-roll player — Lillard could play on the weak side and face a scrambling defense instead of being the opposing team’s main focus.
Philly is short on Ben Simmons trade suitors, but getting McCollum in return isn’t a bad fallback option
Clearly, Morey believes Simmons has significant value. That creates a problem, though, as the rest of the NBA believes that significant value is significantly lower. Morey will not be able to get the return he wants for the 2016 No. 1 overall pick.
Lillard would get a chance to add a kind of piece he’s never had in Portland. Simmons would get a change of scenery. It seems like a win-win for both sides.
Philadelphia likely won’t find a better option, but bringing in a guard who’s averaged more than 20 points per game since his third year in the NBA, has experience playing as a secondary option, and is a nearly 40% career 3-point shooter is a respectable fallback plan for Morey and the Sixers.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.