Ben Simmons Trade Rumors: Execs Think 76ers Holding for Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 5, 2022

ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 31: Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers looks on during the game against the Orlando Magic on December 31, 2020 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)
Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Ben Simmons has yet to play this season, but that has apparently done little to lessen the Philadelphia 76ers' trade demands for the three-time All-Star.

The Athletic's Sam Amick reported the Sixers "have continued to ask for a massive haul in return while frustrating some suitors along the way." To that end, the perception outside Philadelphia is that the franchise remains hopeful of getting the Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard or the Washington Wizards' Bradley Beal.

The game of chicken being played by Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey makes sense to some degree. As teams underperform, their resolve can begin to crack and they become resigned to losing one of their best players.

The Blazers, for example, are 14-22 and 12th in the Western Conference. 

Lillard can't become a free agent until at least 2024. However, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported in December how the star guard's desire to get a new two-year, $107 million extension might present a bit of a problem:

"Among several top-level GM candidates who fit the profile of Portland's applicant pool, there's no enthusiasm to grant Lillard his massive extension contract through the 2026-27 season. In fact, several executives told ESPN they would be far more interested in the Blazers job with ownership's blessing to move Lillard sooner than later."

Portland is boxed in as to how it can improve the roster around Lillard, so trading him is increasingly becoming the easiest way out.

For the Wizards, Beal's $36.4 million player option for 2022-23 looms large. One presumes he'll opt out in order to collect a bigger payday, at which point he'll become an unrestricted free agent.

Washington is on pace to qualify for the play-in tournament at 19-18 but might struggle to make a deep playoff run. Trading Beal at least offers the opportunity to start over or widen the window for contention if he's exchanged for a younger star with more years on his contract.

The trouble for the Sixers is that they still don't seem to have much leverage, at least in terms of swinging a Lillard or Beal trade.

By not playing at all, Simmons has done nothing to boost his value from that disastrous postseason run. The 25-year-old is averaging 15.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.7 assists for his career, yet his aversion to shooting places a clear ceiling on his potential. He probably can't be the No. 1 or even secondary star, like a Beal or Lillard, on a team with title aspirations.

Trade suitors might also see the Sixers' 20-16 record and fifth-place position in the Eastern Conference as a source of vulnerability.

The Athletic's John Hollinger reported "the consensus opinion" is that Philly is "more likely to act at the trade deadline than carry this all the way through ’til next summer."

The team sits 11th in net rating (1.0), per NBA.com, and could sure use reinforcements for the second half of the season. For Morey, trading Simmons at what he believes to be a loss is still a better outcome than maintaining the status quo and getting nothing from a player earning $33 million.