The Whiteboard: The Ben Simmons trade saga is a lose-lose-lose

Philadelphia 76ers, The Whiteboard

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Ben Simmons (or someone in his camp) delivered another emphatic message to the Philadelphia 76ers yesterday through ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, saying he would never play another game for the team. Everyone’s cards have been on the table for weeks now but as this drags on it’s hard to see how anyone actually wins a Ben Simmons trade.

The Philadelphia 76ers aren’t going to get equal value in a Ben Simmons trade

At this point, all the 76ers’ trade leverage has evaporated. They can simply refuse to trade Simmons until they find a deal they like but that doesn’t mean one is actually going to present itself. There is no team out there who needs Simmons enough to eventually raise their offer if the 76ers hold firm. And if the 76ers call his bluff and throw some fines at him while he refuses to report, they’re getting exactly zero value from that roster spot (along with dragging out a PR nightmare).

Per a report from Marc Stein, the Raptors, Cavaliers, Spurs, Timberwolves and Kings have “engaged” in trade talks with the 76ers on Simmons. Assuming they’re all still interested and have made at least somewhat meaningful offers, the 76ers are probably choosing between Goran Dragic, Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker, Malik Beasley or Buddy Hield as the centerpiece of a package with some small draft assets and filler around it. There may be some addition by subtraction in the case of Simmons, but all of those players come with considerable talent or fit limitations and it’s not clear any of them get the 76ers closer to championship contention, let alone representing a step down in future value.

There just doesn’t seem to be any way this works out as a win for them. It’s just choosing a path where they lose the least.

Ben Simmons is going to be sacrificing something

Simmons has said he would prefer to be traded to one of the California teams but it’s likely he wasn’t thinking of Sacramento when he said that. The Lakers and Clippers have never really been in the picture here and comments from Warriors’ owner Joe Lacob yesterday seem to make it clear they aren’t interested in Simmons.

One would assume, his interest in the California teams was about visibility, climate and contention but none of the five teams above who are still in the mix check all three boxes. He’s almost certainly going to a smaller market and one with much less talent than the roster he’s currently playing on. San Antonio and Sacramento are at least warm but neither has the same luster as the California coast.

And then there is the issue of role. Simmons said the right things in 2020 when Shake Milton entered the starting lineup at point guard. But his reluctance to shoot makes him a liability off the ball and he certainly seems to prefer to operate with the ball in his hands. Each of those teams above probably have even more invested than the 76ers in other players who need the ball to be effective as well — Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro, Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson, Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, D’Angelo Russell, De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton. All that is to say Simmons may end up in a situation with just as much pressure to adapt and evolve his offensive game.

Whoever trades for Ben Simmons is getting all the same problems

And while Stein has reported that those five teams have engaged with the 76ers on trade talks, that doesn’t mean they’ve convinced themselves that they’ll actually be better off with him. Four years into his pro career there’s no reason to think Simmons will ever become an accurate or enthusiastic jump shooter. In the best-case scenario, a team will be trading for someone who can make plays for his teammates with the ball in his hands, defend multiple positions at a high level and has been suitably shamed so that he’ll no longer be passing up wide-open dunks.

But for Toronto, is that an improvement over what they hope to get from Scottie Barnes and Pascal Siakam in the frontcourt? How does Simmons fit into a Cleveland frontcourt that already features two bigs (Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen) who will be mostly effective around the rim? Does Simmons have any value to the Kings if Haliburton and Fox are orchestrating the offense on the ball? Are the Spurs willing to tie their rebuild to Simmons? What if the opportunity to acquire another top-tier player who doesn’t mesh with Simmons arrives? And are the Timberwolves sure adding Simmons to an already fragile situation is worth it, especially when keeping Karl-Anthony Towns invested in the organization is the most important thing?

All that is to say, even the teams who could be trading for Simmons aren’t trading from a position of strength. Each has more leverage than the 76ers because they can simply walk away from a deal but they’re interested because they are all teams who need to make a gamble and have it pay off to jump their mediocre tier they’re currently in. But there’s a not-insignificant chance that acquiring Simmons causes as many problems as it solves.

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J.J. Redick will always be remembered for his elite outside shooting. But he carved out a 15-year NBA career by making himself into much more.

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