The Portland Trail Blazers Just Took a Critical First Step Toward Acquiring the Maligned Ben Simmons

Ben Simmons continues to sit out for the Philadelphia 76ers with no end in sight. The Portland Trail Blazers, meanwhile, are barely treading above water while slumping superstar Damian Lillard nurses an abdominal injury.

Since word got out on Simmons’ unhappiness with the Sixers, many have linked the disgruntled All-Star to the Blazers. Up until now, those talks have failed to pick up any traction. But a change in leadership might have just opened the door for Portland to re-attempt their previous efforts to pair Simmons with Dame.

The Portland Trail Blazers fired general manager Neil Olshey

The Trail Blazers have struggled to gain any momentum with their on-court product. Thanks to a massive discrepancy between a 10-2 home record and a 1-10 road record, Portland enters the weekend a game below .500 in a competitive Western Conference.

But as disappointing as the season has been thus far, a dark cloud has been lifted thanks to Friday’s firing of Neil Olshey.

Olshey was dismissed following an investigation into workplace misconduct. According to a report by Yahoo Sports, multiple employees felt the team’s general manager and president of basketball operations was creating a toxic, hostile work environment with “intimidation and profanity-laced tirades, among other bullying tactics.” Olshey was hired as the Blazers GM in 2012 and added the title of president three years later.

While the search for a permanent general manager gets underway, Joe Cronin will serve as the interim GM. Cronin, the team’s director of player personnel, specializes in salary cap management and scouting on both the amateur and professional levels.

The window to re-engage in Ben Simmons trade discussions is back open

With Olshey in charge, talks between the Blazers and 76ers never got serious. Philly was asking for too much, while Portland was unwilling to give in to the demands. However, both teams are at a pivotal crossroads.

For the 11-11 Sixers, frustrations regarding Simmons are reaching a boiling point. On one hand, the team has exercised a great deal of patience and compassion as the three-time All-Star continues his holdout. But they have to wonder if Simmons will ever return to the team, making the idea of holding onto him and getting nothing of value in return look more and more foolish.

For the Trail Blazers, all signs point to building around Lillard instead of trading him and initiating the rebuild. But based on its mediocre record in 2021-22, Portland lacks a championship-caliber roster around the six-time All-Star. It’s especially noticeable when the 31-year-old is struggling, as he has for long stretches during this new campaign.

Portland now has a chance to hire a general manager capable of adding another superstar alongside Dame. Whether it’s Cronin or an outside hire, the new boss has to think about rewarding Lillard’s commitment to the franchise by bringing in a true All-Star who can improve everyone else around him.

Simmons and Lillard would be a dream combination for the Trail Blazers

As a team like the Los Angeles Lakers have shown, it takes time for superstars to gel together. But it’s hard to think of a better fit alongside Dame than Simmons.

For all of Ben’s deficiencies when it comes to shooting the basketball, he is elite in nearly every other area. At 6-foot-11, the 2016 first overall pick is an excellent play-maker who makes his teammates better. He is also a solid rebounder and incredible defender, earning two All-Defense honors and leading the league with 2.1 steals per game in 2019-20. That defense would go a long way in improving a Portland team that entering Friday sits 28th in defensive rating.

The most logical player to send to Philadelphia in a hypothetical deal is CJ McCollum. While not quite the impact player of Simmons, McCollum and his 20.4 points per game represent a significant upgrade over Philly’s current guard rotation of Tyrese Maxey, Seth Curry, and Shake Milton. Perhaps the new GM can build an offer around McCollum, 22-year Anfernee Simmons, and draft picks in exchange for the All-Star point guard.

What better way to kick off Portland’s new leadership regime than to form one of the most lethal 1-2 combinations in the NBA?

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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