Which NBA Buyers Make the Most Sense for a Ben Simmons Trade?

Eric Pincus@@EricPincusLA Lakers Lead WriterJanuary 6, 2022

Which NBA Buyers Make the Most Sense for a Ben Simmons Trade?

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Ben Simmons is still on the Philadelphia 76ers' roster, despite his longstanding trade demand. What’s with the indeterminate delay?

    The Simmons situation has already proved too complex for a quick resolution, but hope remains that the Sixers will find a solution before the February 10 trade deadline. Still, the franchise is letting teams know it is willing to let this stalemate drag on into the offseason.

    Talks are ongoing. In December, Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium reported that seven "teams [are] interested in Simmons," including the "New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers."

    This season, Simmons has refused to play for the 76ers, reportedly citing mental-health concerns. He's under contract through 2024-25 and owed $146.7 million, although game-by-game, Simmons is forfeiting a significant sum. And while he may attempt to reclaim some of the lost wages in arbitration (likely after the season), the team may let the legal battle play out as long as necessary until it gets a viable return for the All-Star forward.

    It's not difficult to reverse engineer what offers might look like from the teams in question, given the size of Simmons' salary ($33 million for 2021-22). Any hopeful franchise over the salary cap will need to send out at least $26.3 million in outgoing salary to match. Only the Oklahoma City Thunder have the means to absorb Simmons into cap space outright, but they're not one of the teams included in Charania's report.

Does Simmons Fit in New York with Julius Randle?

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Canvassing several NBA sources, none like the idea of Randle and Simmons on the floor together. And yet, the Knicks certainly have the assets needed to get a deal done if the Sixers are looking for multiple prospects. Or if they find a third team open to sending a playoff-ready veteran to Philadelphia in exchange for New York's many young players.

    Per B/R’s Jake Fischer, the Knicks “have internally discussed pathways to landing Ben Simmons, but New York has never phoned Sixers brass regarding any potential deal structure.”

    The Knicks can offer a combination that includes prospects like RJ Barrett, Obi Toppin, Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes, Kevin Knox II, Mitchell Robinson and others. The team also has sizable contracts in Evan Fournier, Derrick Rose (recovering from ankle surgery), Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel and Kemba Walker.

    The team also has all of its first-round picks plus a 2022 first from the Charlotte Hornets (top-18 protected this season, and the Hornets are currently slotted at No. 19) and a 2023 protected pick from the Dallas Mavericks.

    If the Knicks want Simmons, they may not have a singular player that pushes Philadelphia into a deal, but New York may still have the means to get a deal done. It just may take a multiteam trade to get Philadelphia on board. 

    Randle doesn't fit in Philadelphia alongside Joel Embiid. Does he work next to Simmons? Maybe not, but that may not stop New York from contemplating the idea.

Lakers Start with Westbrook

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    Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

    The Lakers only have three contracts that can work for Simmons: LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook. They can't put enough pieces together (like Talen Horton-Tucker, Kendrick Nunn, etc.) to match Simmons' salary without one of their three highest-paid players.

    While B/R broke down who the Lakers might be able to get for Westbrook, Fischer wrote, "Westbrook is not a player on the Sixers' list of hopeful returns."

    So, does that mean Westbrook would be on the list if the hopefuls aren't made available? That doesn’t seem to be the case, as the Sixers appear to be willing to wait until the offseason to solve the dilemma.

    Because Westbrook earns $44.2 million this season, Philadelphia would have to send either a player like Danny Green or Georges Niang along with Simmons to Los Angeles (or a combination of at least two lower-paid players).

    If Westbrook isn't appealing enough, the Lakers can include Horton-Tucker. L.A. has limited draft currency, with just one of its 2027 or 2028 first-rounders to offer. Either pick has upside beyond the expiration of James’ and Davis' current contracts, but that's a risk that won't have a clear answer for several years.

    The New Orleans Pelicans have the Lakers' 2024 first-rounder from the Davis trade but can delay that pick until 2025. If the Lakers can convince New Orleans to lock that selection in for the 2024 draft (perhaps for an additional second-rounder), Los Angeles would be able to send both its 2026 and 2028 first-round picks to Philadelphia.

    That would lock the Sixers into the $47.1 million Westbrook is owed for 2022-23 (a player option, but one he's highly likely to exercise). If the question is the fit with Joel Embiid, Westbrook as a non-shooter with a significant price tag makes the Lakers a true long shot for Simmons.

Would the Timberwolves Move D-Lo?

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    If the Timberwolves were willing to move Anthony Edwards, along with filler contracts, the Sixers would probably jump at the prospect. Edwards is one of the NBA’s brightest young players, but he's believed to be quite untouchable by sources around the league.

    The prospect of pairing Karl-Anthony Towns with Embiid probably doesn't make much sense for Philadelphia, and until there's any indication the Wolves are changing course, Towns also isn't available.

    That leaves either D’Angelo Russell, whose $30 million salary this season is an easy swap for Simmons, or a collection of players to Philadelphia. Russell is close to Simmons, dating back to their prep school days together at Monteverde Academy. The goal in Minnesota is probably to add Simmons to Towns, Edwards and Russell.

    To that end, it's unclear if Minnesota offered Russell or a package built around players like Malik Beasley, Taurean Prince, Patrick Beverley and/or Jaden McDaniels. At least two of Beasley, Prince and Beverley would need to be included, and while the Timberwolves have other young prospects to offer, none are the kind of top-tier talents the Sixers are looking to acquire.

    "The 76ers are currently asking teams for an All-Star-caliber player and/or multiple first-round draft picks for Simmons," Charania wrote.

    The Timberwolves can send up to three first-rounders and any required pick swaps. What would better suit the 76ers? A deal built around Russell or a combination of Beasley, Prince and McDaniels with draft considerations? If Minnesota isn't offering the former, the latter may not be enough to move the needle.

Is CJ McCollum the Solution?

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    The Blazers recently let go of their top basketball executive, Neil Olshey, promoting Joe Cronin in the interim. While Cronin will run the team until an official hire, it's unclear if that hire will happen before the trade deadline. Sources indicate he'll have an opportunity to keep the position long-term, but Chicago Bulls general manager Marc Eversley, G League president Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Boston Celtics vice president of player and organization development Allison Feaster are the front-runners.

    Does Cronin have the power to trade All-Star Damian Lillard? The consensus is no, and there's no expectation Portland will move Lillard. If that's the case, the Trail Blazers would need to include McCollum's $30.9 million salary to Philadelphia for Simmons.

    Naturally, the 76ers would prefer Lillard. McCollum is an excellent player, but Lillard is the headliner in Portland. McCollum is already 30 and is under contract for $100 million through 2023-24, which may also deter Philadelphia.

    Some executives around the league view McCollum as a negative trade asset, one the Blazers would need to send with compensation to get him off the team’s books.

    While the Blazers can get to enough salary with players like Jusuf Nurkic, Robert Covington, Norman Powell and Larry Nance Jr., none are as good as McCollum (let alone Lillard). Complicating matters, the Blazers sent their 2022 first-rounder to the Chicago Bulls in the deal that brought Nance from the Cleveland Cavaliers. Protections leave Portland with absolutely no firsts to offer unless the team can convince Chicago to take the pick unprotected in 2022 (perhaps with a second-rounder as compensation).

    As far as young prospects, the Blazers can offer Anfernee Simons or Nassir Little, but any legit offer centered around McCollum doesn’t appear to have any momentum.

Sacramento Has Potential

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    José Luis Villegas/Associated Press

    Before the season, De'Aaron Fox was a nonstarter for the Kings. But the mood has changed now that both Fox and the franchise have underperformed.

    According to Sam Amick of The Athletic, the Sacramento front office “has the green light to do whatever is necessary” to improve the team. That could include letting go of Fox, but would Philadelphia still be interested? Tyrese Maxey has averaged 16.8 points per game on a $2.6 million salary for the current season.

    With Fox at $28.1 million, do the Sixers view him as a significant upgrade?

    The Kings have a long list of interesting veterans like Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes and Tristan Thompson, along with prospects like Marvin Bagley III, Davion Mitchell, Terence Davis and Tyrese Haliburton. The team also has all of its first-round picks.

    Hield would provide the Sixers with high-volume three-point shooting. He's shooting a career-low 37.9 percent from deep, but he owns a 40.3 percent career average. Hield and Bagley are enough to match salaries for Simmons, but that may not be enough for Philadelphia.

    The Kings may not have the top-of-the-list stars the Sixers may crave, but they could be one of the best fallback options.

An Indiana Pacers Package?

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    The Pacers certainly have players they can offer with several of their top playerson the block. Unfortunately, two—Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner—may not be ideal fits with Embiid. The Sixers could look to double up on size, but that is probably a stretch.

    While Caris LeVert could help the Sixers, is he enough to satisfy Philadelphia's stringent demands? Perhaps a solution has Sabonis or Turner routed to a third team with the bounty going to Philadelphia along with LeVert?

    The Pacers have a few young players like Chris Duarte, Isaiah Jackson and Goga Bitadze, but at least the first two are believed to be building blocks in Indiana. The more challenging aspect is the typically risk-averse Pacers—a team that tends to collect value contracts—taking a chance on Simmons, who apparently is going through a difficult situation.

    The Pacers would need some serious assurances Simmons seriously wants to play in Indiana long-term.

Cleveland Cavaliers All-In?

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    Nick Cammett/Associated Press

    The Cavaliers are one of the better stories of the 2021-22 season with their 18-12 start. Darius Garland has been tremendous, and Evan Mobley may win the Rookie of the Year award. Multiple sources believe the team to be a buyer, looking to bolster a playoff run.

    The challenge is finding what they have to offer Philadelphia if Garland and Mobley are unavailable. The Sixers wouldn't seem to need a big like Jarrett Allen or Lauri Markkanen. Kevin Love could be the necessary salary ballast, and while he can help space the floor for Embiid, he's not enough to get Simmons.

    Unfortunately, Cavs guards Collin Sexton and Ricky Rubio are out for the season with knee injuries. Some teams may value Sexton’s restricted rights in the offseason enough to trade for him before the deadline. But a win-now franchise like Philadelphia would need more.

    The rest of the roster, like Isaac Okoro, Dylan Windler, Cedi Osman, don't seem enough for the 76ers. Cleveland does have possession of all of its first-round picks, but even with their surprise run, the Cavaliers shouldn't be sending out multiple selections for Simmons.

    Cleveland may need a third team to take on Sexton for something significant to interest the Sixers.

Anyone Else?

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Including Philadelphia, that's eight NBA franchises. Which of the other 22 might have a shot at Simmons?

    The Thunder can have him if they want to swap Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, but that doesn't appear to be the case. Perhaps a team like the Knicks could give enough to the Thunder to inspire a three-team trade for Simmons. But Gilgeous-Alexander is a significantly better fit in New York. The Sixers would probably get squeezed out altogether if the young guard were available (he isn’t).

    If the Boston Celtics are open to moving Jaylen Brown for Simmons, they could be in business. To date, there's no indication Brown is available.

    In November,Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote that the Detroit Pistons were open to moving Jerami Grant and pieces for Simmons but were shot down. As the deadline nears and Grant heals from thumb surgery, that’s worth keeping an eye on.

    The Golden State Warriors appear to be holding fast with their younger prospects (James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody). Still, they may not have an ideal two-team package for the 76ers. If the Warriors decide to change course (likely needing Andrew Wiggins included for salary-matching purposes), Golden State could be an ideal partner in a multiteam trade.

    The 76ers don’t have interest in John Wall from the Houston Rockets. If Eric Gordon, Christian Wood and some of the team’s picks and prospects (but not Jalen Green or Alperen Sengun) aren’t enough for Philadelphia, perhaps a third team could help Houston generate a path to a Simmons deal.

    The San Antonio Spurs could offer several of their young wings, but Philadelphia would probably need to covet Dejounte Murray (if San Antonio were even willing to make the guard available) for Simmons.

    Finally, Fred VanVleet has been tremendous for the Toronto Raptors this season. They may not be open to moving him, and he may not quite have the superstar power for Philadelphia. Still, he’d be an incredible get for the 76ers in the unlikely event Toronto decides to shift its roster in a radically different direction.


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