Thursday, February 22, 2024

Ben Simmons trade rumors: Why 76ers might be smart to start considering prospect-centric packages

The Philadelphia 76ers and Ben Simmons are almost certainly not long for each other. After trade speculation turned into Simmons threatening not to report for training camp, the only questions are where and when Simmons will be traded, and what the Sixers will get in return. 

Sixers czar Daryl Morey started off asking for the moon. Nobody bit. He was hoping Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal would become available, but that hasn’t happened yet. It might not happen at all. Even if it does, are those teams going to be looking to start a rebuild with a guy like Simmons, or might they want to go the increasingly popular route of young prospects and picks? 

If it’s the latter, Philadelphia doesn’t have a package to offer. But it might if it moves Simmons now, then uses the return for a second move down the road. The Sixers are in win-now mode and would thus prefer a return package centered on a player, or players, that can enhance their championship prospects beyond what they would be by just keeping Simmons, who is still under contract for the next four seasons. But there’s no saying they have to get that player right away. 

If it takes until the trade deadline, so be it. Even if it takes until next summer, Joel Embiid is 27 years old and signed through 2026. There’s still time for Philly to put its ultimate championship product on the floor. Yes, the title window appears open. And you don’t know when it’s going to close. Embiid, even as he’s enjoyed relative health, is always going to feel like an injury risk. But patience is starting to feel like the right play. 

The Sixers could push for a deal right now that would, in my opinion, make them a better team. CJ McCollum should be available for a player like Simmons. If he’s not, Blazers GM Neil Olshey isn’t trying very hard to put a true contender around Lillard. If the Blazers were to throw in, say, Robert Covington to replace some of Simmons’ defense, Philly would have the half-court creator it needs to properly support Embiid. 

If you don’t think McCollum paired with Embiid is enough, then you likely don’t think Collin Sexton is, either. But what if the Sixers got Sexton, Isaac Okoro and a bunch of future first-round picks, then went out and shopped Okoro and the picks for more firepower? It’s a two-phase plan. Getting rid of the distraction that Simmons is about to become once training camp starts, without compromising too much in the name of urgency, might merely be phase one. 

The Golden State Warriors obviously come to mind as a team rich in young prospects. I know we’ve heard the Warriors are skeptical to put Simmons and Draymond Green together, but that could change. That’s a team with even more urgency than the Sixers, as its superstar is six years older than Embiid, and if the Klay Thompson return doesn’t go according to the best-case scenario, if he’s, say, particularly diminished as a defender, Simmons might start to look pretty attractive. 

The Warriors don’t have a player to offer that is better than Simmons or even the type of lead playmaker the Sixers need. If Andrew Wiggins went back as the best current player and the money to make the deal work, the reward for Philly would, or could, be some combination of 2020 No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman, and 2021 lottery picks Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody.

That is a package a lot of teams would be interested if Philly wants to start flipping houses. If Lillard, for instance, were to become available, the Blazers would likely be more interested in a fresh start — with multiple high-end prospects they have no other means for obtaining — than they would in a guy like Simmons. If Philly suddenly had Golden State’s package, it might become Lillard’s next team. 

Planning for an unknown like Lillard becoming available, and then the Blazers wanting whatever package the Sixers finagled out of the Simmons trade, is tricky. This whole situation is tricky. Morey is trying to squeeze big value out of a depreciating asset, and the reminder here is that he has more than one way of going about it. 

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