The Philadelphia 76ers are no doubt uncomfortable with the notion of honoring Ben Simmons’ trade demand as he continues to publicly flaunt their irreparably damaged relationship.
Daryl Morey wants to win at everything, and placating a player in open breach of a max contract with four years and $147 million on it doesn’t exactly sound like a pill the Sixers’ notoriously competitive president of basketball operations would be willing to swallow easily. The same dynamic surely applies to owner Josh Harris–billionaires pretty much never have to end up on the losing side of fraught business negotiations if they don’t want to.
Trust that Philadelphia isn’t proud enough to let a trade that would widen the team’s championship window fall by the wayside just to spite Simmons, though. If the superstar playmaker Morey so badly wants in return for Simmons was readily available, a deal would already be done.
Ben Simmons Trade Not Gaining Traction?
Settling for a lesser trade package that doesn’t necessarily improve the Sixers’ title chances, though, isn’t just suboptimal due to the potentially fleeting nature of Joel Embiid’s prime. That type of deal would further dent Philadelphia’s marred public image, allowing for the appearance of Simmons and agent Rich Paul strong-arming the front office into total submission. Does that sound like an outcome Morey and Harris would be comfortable with?
Unfortunately for the Sixers, all recent momentum points to that endgame being the only realistic one for the foreseeable future, and maybe longer. The All-Star guards they covet aren’t currently available, and ESPN’s Zach Lowe said on Tuesday’s edition of The Lowe Post there’s “a whole lotta’ nothin'” about potential Simmons trades being discussed among executives league-wide.
Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob didn’t help Philadelphia’s fading leverage earlier this week when he went on the record casting doubt about his team’s interest in Simmons. Another favorite theoretical suitor, the Minnesota Timberwolves, could be out of the running for Simmons now after parting ways with head front office honcho Gersson Rosas.
How About A Ben Simmons-CJ McCollum Swap?
According to Kyle Neubeck of Philly Voice, the Sixers—perhaps feeling the pressure of Simmons’ holdout—are “open” to trades that would merely maintain their championship odds instead of increasing them. Would a return of CJ McCollum, Robert Covington and two future first-round picks keep Philly competing at the top of the Eastern Conference?
ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said on Wednesday that even though the Portland Trail Blazers have “been willing to offer” that package in exchange for Simmons, the Sixers have “not been willing to bite.”
Wow! What a mess in Philadelphia right now with the @Sixers. Seems like Ben Simmons is not playing around. So what should the @Sixers do? pic.twitter.com/36BYgasIVj
— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) September 22, 2021
Smith’s reporting always comes with a grain of salt, and his qualifying language here deserves stressing. But parameters of a Ben Simmons-CJ McCollum swap have been circulating ever since Philadelphia crumbled in the second round of the playoffs four months ago. As much as Neil Olshey believes in the unrealized ceiling of the Blazers’ core, it’s also obvious that acquiring Simmons could go a long way toward keeping Damian Lillard in Portland beyond this season—and help the Blazers’ embattled president of basketball operations keep his job.
The more important question for management to consider, though, is whether moving McCollum and Covington for Simmons is the right basketball decision. On the surface, the answer seems like an easy one if you’re a believer in Simmons’ all-court two-way impact.
The Blazers’ biggest roster flaw has long been redundancies in the backcourt, and they doubled down on it at last season’s trade deadline by acquiring Norman Powell and signing him to a pricey extension in free agency. Sliding Powell up to shooting guard and affording Anfernee Simons additional minutes off the bench would significantly blunt the impact of losing McCollum’s scoring punch from the perimeter.
Covington was always a possible part of any Simmons trade, valued across the league for his positional versatility, elite off-ball defense, and high-volume 3-point shooting. Simmons offers just as much lineup versatility as Covington does and is a better point-of-attack defender–Portland’s biggest weakness defensively. It’s not like Nassir Little would be thrust into a role that could be too big for him if the Blazers deal two impactful starters for Simmons, either. The trade for Larry Nance Jr. makes that equation much more palatable for a win-now team like Portland.
The stench of Simmons’ playoff performance lingers, and it’s worth remembering that there were reports this summer indicating he had no interest in playing for a small-market squad like the Blazers. Maybe those factors plus the looming issues of Simmons’ broken jumper and shaken confidence—alleviated by Lillard’s brilliance, the optimistic hope goes—make Olshey hesitant to officially extend an offer to Philadelphia based around McCollum and Covington.
A vocal segment of Portland’s fanbase has no interest in acquiring Ben Simmons. Lillard’s personal affinity for McCollum matters here, too.
But if the Blazers are committed to winning at the highest level, a necessity to keep Lillard in Rip City, this is the type of franchise-changing deal Olshey MUST try to get done. It really should be that simple for Portland.
If only the Sixers, mired in a drama they could end anytime, could come to that same sense of clarity.