Ben Simmons will be a fixture of trade speculation in the 2021 NBA offseason, but the Philadelphia 76ers may be better off keeping him for the time being.
Ben Simmons’ future with the Philadelphia 76ers appears more tenuous than ever after his latest playoff collapse against the Atlanta Hawks. With All-Star center Joel Embiid firmly in his prime, the Sixers may not be able to wait for Simmons to round out his offensive game.
But unless they’re able to parlay Simmons into a significant upgrade this offseason, it might behoove the Sixers to bat away the buy-low offers they receive and keep him for now.
Simmons’ perception around the league is likely at a nadir after the playoffs once again exposed his half-court limitations. His dismal free-throw shooting made him a liability in close games, and his refusal to take open jump shots allowed the Hawks to pack the paint and send frequent double-teams at Embiid.
The 76ers don’t need to trade Ben Simmons just to make a trade
If Simmons doesn’t drastically improve over the offseason, the Sixers may find themselves staring down another early-than-expected exit from next year’s playoffs. However, head coach Doc Rivers recently expressed confidence that the All-Star can make the necessary changes to his game.
“I believe, without going into detail with what we’re doing, I believe we know what the right work is, and the right type of work, and the right way to do it,” Rivers said. “You can do the work all the time, but if it’s not done in the right way and the right type of work, you may not improve. After being here for a year, I really do believe we’ve identified what and how, and now we have to do the ‘do’ part. We have to work to do it. It’s not going to be an easy job. But it’s definitely a job that Ben can do.”
Regardless of how much work he puts in over the summer, Simmons isn’t likely to enter the 2021-22 season as a knockdown 3-point shooter. No one figures to mistake him for a Splash Brother anytime soon. That won’t necessarily preclude him from becoming more of a weapon in half-court settings, though.
If Simmons improves as a free-throw shooter, he might gain more confidence to attack the basket and draw contact. The days of him passing up open dunks would become a distant memory, as he could begin to assert himself more consistently on offense.
“We’re not hiding that Ben has to become a better free-throw shooter and a more confident free-throw shooter,” Rivers said. “If that happens, I really believe a lot of other parts of his game follows. I said that, if you remember, before the season started. First thing I said was, ‘We got to get him to the line 10 times a night.’ And to want to get to the line 10 times a night. So we’ve got to put in work so he can get there. But if we can get him there, man, his game goes to a different level.”
Simmons showed flashes of a developing post game throughout the regular season, too. He attempted a career-high 110 hook shots this year, which was tied with Atlanta Hawks center Clint Capela for the eighth-most leaguewide. But as Yaron Weitzman noted at FiveThirtyEight in late March, opponents began to catch onto Simmons’ new go-to move, which perhaps explains why he attempted only 14 hook shots in the playoffs.
If Simmons refines his post game and becomes more confident in his hook shot or adds a mid-range jumper or floater to the mix, his lack of 3-point shooting wouldn’t be as much of a liability. He just needs to be able to punish defenders for ignoring him in the halfcourt.
Simmons has an entire offseason and 82-game regular season to develop those counterpunches before next year’s playoffs again expose his weaknesses. In the meantime, he’ll continue to feast in transition, particularly against teams that aren’t as locked in defensively as they are during the postseason He’s also elite as a facilitator — he consistently ranks among the league leaders in 3-point assists — and his defensive versatility earned him a second-place finish in this year’s Defensive Player of the Year race.
Unless a team blows the Sixers away with a Simmons offer this offseason, they shouldn’t be in a hurry to move him. He’s under contract through the 2024-25 season, which means he isn’t a flight risk anytime soon. He’ll also be their best salary-matching chip for a blockbuster trade.
Given the smoke surrounding Lillard’s future in Portland, the Sixers might be better off waiting to see whether the Trail Blazers stumble out of the gates in 2021-22. According to Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer, they’re reportedly “hoping for an opportunity to land Lillard” if he does demand a trade. They also may be eyeing the Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls since both Bradley Beal and Zach LaVine are set to become free agents next summer.
All three teams may hold firm on shooting down trade offers for now, but what happens if Beal or LaVine inform the Wizards or Bulls that they won’t re-sign in 2022? What if Lillard’s unhappiness continues to fester and the Blazers eventually realize that their best path forward is rebuilding?
Simmons won’t net Lillard or Beal in a one-for-one swap, but the Sixers have most of their draft picks moving forward along with young prospects such as Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle. They can assemble a competitive offer for a star, particularly if Simmons comes back next season with an improved half-court game.
If Simmons doesn’t make major strides offensively, the Sixers could attempt to flip him at next year’s trade deadline, too. They can’t go into another postseason with his weaknesses handcuffing their offense, but there’s plenty of time between now and then to rectify that one way or another.
As unpopular as it might be around Philadelphia, team president Daryl Morey thus might decide that staying patient is the best course of action with Simmons this summer.