Among many talking points between team personnel during the NBA's Las Vegas Summer League, the ongoing trade speculation regarding Ben Simmons potentially leaving the Philadelphia 76ers was still top of mind this past week.
Each of Minnesota, Golden State, Sacramento and San Antonio has been consistently linked as a top Simmons destination, yet the overwhelming sense among league insiders continues to be that Simmons, for now, is expected to remain a Sixer once training camp opens on September 28—barring a change of temperature with Damian Lillard in Portland.
That appears to be the ever-important undercurrent to what has been routinely described as a "James Harden-like" package Philadelphia is seeking for any Simmons return.
For the Sixers and president Daryl Morey to move Simmons, it will be with an eye toward maximizing the prime of Joel Embiid, who signed a $196 million, 4-year extension Monday night. Therefore trading Simmons now for anything short of a haul that could immediately be flipped for Lillard, in the event he does request a trade, would be a devastating blow for Philadelphia's front office, and their efforts to pair Embiid with a bonafide superstar.
But that Lillard request may not be coming anytime soon.
There's certainly a possibility Lillard arrives at training camp, looks around Portland's locker room and determines the Trail Blazers roster has not been upgraded to his satisfaction. Yet there's a stronger belief in league circles that Lillard will at least venture into the regular season under new head coach Chauncey Billups, allowing him to revisit moving elsewhere before the trade deadline.
Simmons, on the other hand, appears more than interested in playing for a new team. He expects to be traded and has not personally been in close contact with Morey, Embiid or head coach Doc Rivers this offseason, sources told Bleacher Report. Simmons' representation has further canvassed rival front offices, gauging their interest in creating a new home for the 25-year-old All-Star and this year's runner-up in Defensive Player of the Year.
But it would be difficult for Cleveland, for example, to come up with an offer that can both pair Simmons with another Klutch Sports client in Darius Garland while also satisfying the Sixers' lofty asking price.
Sacramento has no real avenue to land Simmons without sacrificing De'Aaron Fox. The Kings' star guard has drawn varying evaluations during B/R conversations around the league, but his value certainly appears higher than Simmons' at the moment.
Dating back to Morey's tenure running Houston, he has traditionally begun trade talks with offers that his counterparts deem outlandish as a means to set an extreme parameter for the ongoing negotiation. This year, several rival executives told Bleacher Report they believe part of Philadelphia's calculus behind those unrealistic offers has also been to assure Simmons' camp that the Sixers are at least attempting to move him.
Toronto, though, was never going to entertain a framework of acquiring Simmons for OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet and the No. 4 pick, which Philadelphia pitched the weekend before July's NBA draft.
And rumors that a three-team swap between Philadelphia, Golden State and Portland was gaining legitimate traction were categorically denied by Warriors and Blazers personnel. Golden State brass are considered to be quite high on the team's recent lottery picks Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody.
Minnesota officials remain motivated in landing Simmons. That would be nothing short of a home run fulfilling the Timberwolves' ongoing search for a starting forward, and Simmons could do so in a playmaking role similar to Draymond Green. But it would be challenging for Minnesota to send back enough talent for Philly to reroute in a hypothetical Lillard pursuit, while still adding Simmons to a rising young Minnesota core.
That leaves San Antonio as perhaps the most interesting potential trade partner. And there is a faction of the Spurs front office rumored to strongly covet Simmons.
There's a well-documented history of Gregg Popovich incorporating Australian talent such as Patty Mills, Aron Baynes and others, along with New Zealander Sean Marks, not to mention the connection with former Spurs assistant and Simmons' first head coach, Brett Brown.
Personnel who spent time with Team USA during the Tokyo Olympics also suggested to B/R that longtime Spurs shooting czar Chip Engelland would relish the opportunity to rework Simmons' mechanics, just as the noted assistant coach ironed out Kawhi Leonard's jump shot and others before him.
San Antonio was open to discussing Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker IV before the draft, sources said, and the Spurs added more enticing future draft capital in their sign-and-trade that delivered DeMar DeRozan to Chicago. Could the starting points of that package be enough to truly intrigue Philly? Portland's eventual interest, as always, would factor heavily into any further discussions, too.
Again, all these variables likely point to Simmons sticking around Philadelphia for the foreseeable future.
There could always be an unforeseen team that emerges in the eleventh hour of this offseason to chase Simmons. Yet the NBA's summer activity has quieted. Most teams are focused on filling out their final roster spots, looking for a fourth point guard or a rangy wing to stash on their bench.
Despite the awkward dynamic that could follow, Simmons may have no real choice but to join the Sixers in September and play his way to a new destination, regardless of the icy communication that has persisted all summer, dating back to Rivers' and Embiid's post-Game 7 press conferences.
Whether Simmons is amenable to that of course remains to be seen, but Philadelphia appears prepared for that outcome. Said one veteran front office voice, "Daryl is not afraid to go into training camp with a potentially combustible situation."
Jake Fischer covers the NBA for Bleacher Report and is the author of Built to Lose: How the NBA's Tanking Era Changed the League Forever.