Will LeBron James force a Ben Simmons trade to Lakers?
Philadelphia 76ers “guard” Ben Simmons is represented by Klutch Sports. As are Los Angeles Lakers stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis. So are Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, Talen Horton-Tucker, Andre Drummond and Ben McLemore for that matter.
The Sixers will explore trading Ben Simmons this summer. Daryl Morey has to at least gauge the market. The Lakers, who faltered all season without James on the court, are in search of a third star to form a Big 3with LeBron and AD. Ideally, that star can then become a championship-caliber second-banana when James’ contract expires in 2023.
Rich Paul does not run the Lakers, though he has an outsized presence within the Lakers’ orbit. And there’s no doubt that Klutch ties have driven past moves since LeBron arrived, as was the case with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Most notably, of course, came in 2019 when Paul ruthlessly engineered the Anthony Davis trade.
All that begs the question: will LeBron and Paul attempt to leverage the Lakers into bringing Simmons to Hollywood? (In other words: should you place that +650 wager?)
How Ben Simmons pulling up to the Lakers facility pic.twitter.com/6L3VKdE2Pa
— Josiah Johnson (@KingJosiah54) June 21, 2021
Lakers fans will initially recoil at the idea. For one thing, a Simmons acquisition is utterly antithetical to the team’s stated agenda this offseason. The Lakers need to emphasize shooting and spacing, which, you may have heard, Simmons is not good at. In general, the Lakers need to modernize their offense and open up the floor around LeBron and Davis, as GM Rob Pelinka acknowledged in exit interviews.
“You can never have enough shooting,” Pelinka said. “So it’s something that is always at the top of our mind whether we’re building or constructing a roster. And I think it’s important, too — part of shooting is having special players that create the shooting space. And for us, that comes primarily from LeBron and Anthony… The success of our shooting is driven by those guys creating the space, and because of the things we faced with injuries, some of that space was altered.”
By contrast, the Sixers’ antiquated style, under both Brett Brown and Doc Rivers—largely a consequence of Simmons’ insistence on playing point guard—has repeatedly caused a crippling offensive stagnation in the playoffs.
On the other hand (a notion Simmons should consider, btw): the value for the 24-year-old three-time All-Star and First Team All-Defense selection has literally never been lower than it is at this exact moment.
"There's no sugarcoating it: the Simmons thing is an ongoing disaster unfolding on a national stage. … The bottom line is the only time the Sixers looked like a real championship threat was when Jimmy Butler was there for that one season."
— Get Up (@GetUpESPN) June 21, 2021
Frank Vogel prioritizes defense, and Simmons would certainly fit the mold in that regard. Plus, for all his limitations as a point guard, he’s usually effective at pushing the pace, which the Lakers need to do more of. And for all the talk of him and Joel Embiid not fitting well together, the stats don’t always back that up:
With Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid on the court together in the regular season, the Sixers outscored opponents by 16 points per 100 possessions played (98th percentile).
In the playoffs?
+19.2 per 100 possessions (99th percentile).
— Cleaning The Glass (@cleantheglass) June 21, 2021
Plus, I could see the Lakers stars and brass talk themselves into this one, if the price is right. Simmons clearly needs a change of scenery, and some front office is going to think their organization offers the greenest grass. Superstar players, especially someone like LeBron who thrives at making everyone better around him, are typically confident in their ability to excel alongside fellow stars, regardless of fit. (“Give us talent. We’ll make it work.”)
Back in 2019, James trained with Simmons and he heaped praise on his fellow Klutch client’s ethic and potential.
“He worked his tail off,” James says. “The sky’s the limit for Ben. His size, his strength, his vision, his IQ … he carries himself as someone who believes he’s the best, as you should…As long as he doesn’t care about what other people say, he’ll be fine. Nine times out of 10, people who criticize you have never done anything in their life. Either that or they’re jealous ’cause you’re better than them.”
Whether James still believes those words two years later is impossible to know.
For Simmons, it’s easy to imagine him and Paul seeing the appeal of taking the third lead for the LakeShow as he rebuilds his star status, like Vinny Chase in “Smoke Jumpers”.
Financially, there are few pathways to matching the $33 million Simmons is owed for 2021-22—the second of a four-year, $177 million deal. Los Angeles could package their offensive scapegoat, 25-year-old Kyle Kuzma ($13 million in 2021-22), along with Caldwell-Pope ($12 million) and Montrezl Harrell (should he pick up his $9.7 million player option and agree to the trade), plus the no. 22 overall pick in the upcoming draft (roughly $2.4 million).
They could explore trickier but doable sign-and-trade scenarios involving Dennis Schroder (likely to earn around $20-$25 million this summer) or Horton-Tucker, their 20-year restricted free agent that could receive a “poison-pill” contract under the Gilbert Arenas provision that pays him $9 million in 2021-22, then hefty sums in later years. Because both players are free agents, they would need to approve a sign-and-trade.
The Lakers can offer their 2027 first-round pick, second-round picks, and first-round trade swaps down the road to sweeten the deal. Marc Gasol is on the books for $2.7 million, should they need him to match salaries.
Even if the Lakers did talk themselves into resuscitating Simmons—or Paul and James talked Pelinka and Jeanie Buss into it—it’s hard to envision the Sixers playing along.
Philly, too, needs perimeter shooting and playmaking. Daryl Morey will want a star-caliber player in return (especially after missing on James Harden) rather than a package of decent assets. For painfully obvious reasons, the Sixers are in no position to rebuild. They are in win-now mode and already possess a few quality young pieces, like Matisse Thybulle and Tyrese Maxey. Ultimately, any Lakers package is mediocre.
Morey and the 76ers know Simmons’ value is at an all-time low, and you can already see the organization working to change that. Less than 24 hours after further depleting Simmons’ trade value by questioning whether he can be a point guard for a title team, Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said he’s expecting major development this summer (eye roll emoji).
As for Paul’s leverage, I would never be so foolish as to underestimate his power broking ability. But unlike with Anthony Davis and the Pelicans, Simmons’ extension just kicked in and he’s coming off a historically awful postseason performance. Paul can’t pressure Morey to deal Simmons to his preferred destination as he did to David Griffin.
In closing: I wouldn’t bet on it, but I would never rule it out.