Things have been rather quiet on the Ben Simmons front in recent weeks, as COVID-19 dominated the news and Joel Embiid put the Philadelphia 76ers on his back. But as the Feb. 10 trade deadline approaches, the focus is starting to shift back to Simmons, who has still not played this season.
Little has changed in regards to the key points: Simmons does not want to play for the Sixers; the Sixers are only interested in trading him if they can get an All-Star-caliber player in return; opposing teams have thus far not been willing to meet the Sixers’ valuation.
There have, however, been a few updates on where things stand with Simmons’ readiness to play and which teams might be interested. Here are the latest reports and rumors:
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Simmons would need weeks of conditioning in order to play
While Simmons has no intention of playing for the Sixers again, he doesn’t want to retire. That being said, it doesn’t appear as though he would be ready to go immediately if he does get traded. Simmons would need at least a “few weeks” of conditioning and on-court work before suiting up again, according to Sam Amick of The Athletic.
Generally speaking, you can understand why someone who hasn’t played in an NBA game since last June would need a chance to get acclimated to a new team. At the same time, there are some things that don’t add up here, and this report isn’t going to increase Simmons’ trade value.
First and foremost, teams already have to weigh so many different questions when considering a Simmons trade. Would his unique talents fit on our roster? Will he ever become an effective playoff player? Does he actually want to play for us, or would he try to force his way out again? Adding “when will he be able to play?” to the list isn’t encouraging. There are only eight weeks between the trade deadline and the end of the regular season, so he would miss a huge chunk of the stretch run. How does that help a team looking to add Simmons for a playoff push?
In addition, it’s hard not to feel cynical about the mental health aspect of this situation. Per Amick’s report in November, Simmons’ camp did not mention any sort of mental health issues when they initially asked out of Philadelphia. That concern was not raised until later on, after the Sixers had started fining Simmons for not showing up to training camp. Notably, a clause in the CBA prevents teams from fining players for failing to fulfill their contract “if such failure has been caused by the player’s mental disability.”
Since then there’s been various accusations from both sides that make it seem like “mental health” has become a pawn. Simmons’ camp has maintained that he’s not mentally ready, and offered no timeline for when that might change. Yet all of a sudden, if he was traded to a different team, it would just be a matter of conditioning until he could play.
Some teams are scared off by Simmons’ contract
Star players demanding trades is nothing new in the NBA, but most of the time a player asks out toward the end of their contract, and the team feels compelled to trade them rather than losing them for nothing in free agency. Simmons, on the other hand, tried to make a power play with three years and $108.8 million left on his deal.
That’s one of the main reasons this saga has dragged on for so long. The Sixers have the ability to wait until they get a deal they really like, and their steep asking price is due in part to the fact that Simmons is signed until 2025. But per Amick, some other teams have been scared off by the years and money left on Simmons’ deal:
But while making the front-office rounds to get a better understanding of the Simmons studies happening in real time here, I stumbled on this somewhat surprising sentiment: The length (and size) of his contract, which has been seen by the Sixers as a major leverage point and justification for the steep asking price because the threat of free agency delayed, is actually a concern to some.
Most of the time, opposing teams would be enthusiastic about trading for a player who was locked up for the long term. With Simmons, though, it’s understandable that some teams don’t feel that way. First of all, you’d have to give up a huge haul to get him. Then you’d be committing a massive part of your cap space to someone who hasn’t proven they can be one of the best players on a championship team. Plus there’s the fact that he’s already tried to force his way out of one city, and could do the same on your team down the line.
Timberwolves waiting to see what happens
Despite all of the reasonable questions and concerns about Simmons, there are still teams interested — for the right price. Veteran NBA reporter Marc Stein noted earlier this week that the Atlanta Hawks are a team to watch given their disappointing start and John Collins‘ discontentment.
Another team to keep an eye on is the Minnesota Timberwolves. They’ve long had interest in Simmons, and it’s notable that Amick reported they are currently putting all other potential moves on hold until they see what happens with him. Any potential Simmons-to-Minnesota trade would likely require a third team to be involved, however, given that the Wolves aren’t going to give up Karl-Anthony Towns or Anthony Edwards.