• Alec Liebsch

5 Potential Ben Simmons Trade Destinations

The 76ers almost have to trade Ben Simmons. Here are 5 teams that may want a crack at the former No. 1 pick.

Four playoff runs, three second round losses. These early exits will define the last few years of Sixers basketball, an era headlined by two people: Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Through all the roster upheaval, front office makeovers and coaching turnover over the last four-plus years, those two remained. Embiid and Simmons have been constants in an organization of change.

That might not last much longer. For a third straight postseason, Simmons went dark when the lights shined brightest, unable to create offense when a playoff-level defense could focus in on him. His strengths as a transition force were nullified, and his glaring weaknesses as a shooter were amplified. The Sixers were worse off when he played.

It was especially painful for these problems to sprout against the Atlanta Hawks, an inexperienced bunch that wasn't equipped with the bodies that typically suffocate Simmons. The 2018 Boston Celtics, the team that eliminated Simmons in his rookie year, were an elite unit defensively,. The 2019 Toronto Raptors were an even stronger defensive group that ultimately won the championship, and Simmons' value as a defensive menace and dunker's spot navigator was tangible. 2021 was the nadir of the Ben Simmons experience: the Hawks are a notch or two below those Celtics and Raptors teams, and still relegated him to a Tony Allen type role.

The Sixers are saying all the right things in the fallout. They allegedly have a plan for Simmons to improve as a shooter over the offseason, and have given no indication that they're looking to move on from him. But the damage is done. Embiid played through a torn meniscus and dominated the first three games of the Hawks series, only needing a little bit of help from the rest of the guys after that. Over the last four games, when Embiid was less than himself, the Sixers lost three times. The team cannot go into next season with this same group.

The clearest path to wholesale change is with a Simmons trade. But it is not an easy decision, especially with him coming off one of the worst postseasons a 24 year-old max player can have. His trade value has never been lower, and the Sixers have a defined set of needs to satisfy in any Simmons trade. The amount of teams that: A) want Simmons, B) have players the Sixers want, and C) are willing to trade those players, is smaller than you'd think.

Group A is big enough to drum up a market. Other teams can definitely see the value in an offense spearheaded by Simmons and four shooters, especially with the defensive value he brings. A new situation could provide him the encouragement he needs to make those free throws, which would in turn make him more comfortable attacking the rim, and may also make him more open to shooting jumpers.

The teams in B are who I'll focus on. They are the starting points of trade talks. Unless the Sixers are trading Simmons into someone else's cap space (which would make absolutely no sense), the NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement requires incoming and outgoing salaries to be near each other.

Simmons' cap hit for next season is $31.6 million, which can be pieced together a few ways. Do the Sixers prefer another big contract coming to Philly, with some assets attached? Or would they prefer to break up Simmons' hit into multiple mid-size salaries?

Without further ado, here are 5 teams that could be interested in Simmons.

Portland Trail Blazers

If you saw the Blazers on here and thought Lillard would be part of the trade, think again. The Blazers aren't trading Lillard unless he demands to be dealt, and if they were to shop him, they could do a lot better than Simmons and some B-tier assets.

Instead, Portland has its own No. 2 that could use a change of scenery. C.J. McCollum, who played his college ball at the University of Lehigh, has been Lillard's partner in crime for almost a decade now. In eight playoff runs together, the dyad has made the Conference Finals just once, been knocked out in the second round twice, and suffered a first round exit the other five times. Four of those first round losses have come in the last five years.

Since Simmons and McCollum's salaries match up almost exactly, a one-for-one swap works under the CBA. Assets could always change hands in a deal like this, but Simmons for McCollum would probably be the general framework.

I have stipulations about this trade for the Sixers, as I explained in our latest podcast episode. McCollum is basically a better version of Seth Curry (an undersized 2-guard), meaning it would be difficult to play them together in a lot of matchups. He's also not a traditional point guard, meaning halfcourt offense could still be difficult for the Sixers' new starting lineup.

That being said, Morey is always on the hunt for stars, and McCollum could be the best he can get in a Simmons trade. He's a legit perimeter scorer and an excellent 3-point shooter (both in volume and accuracy). Those skills are sorely needed on the Sixers.

Chicago Bulls

What a difference a few months makes. Just before the trade deadline, Zach LaVine was a trade target of many contenders, including the Sixers. The Bulls ultimately went the other way, going all-in on Nikola Vucevic and making a push for the playoffs. That didn't work out, partly because LaVine missed time with an injury, and now they're stuck in a less-than-enviable spot.

Making things worse is LaVine's contract situation. He has one year left before unrestricted free agency, and though he can work out an extension with the Bulls right now, they'd have to make some other trades to clear the cap room first. The Bulls would have to dump some salaries to pull that off, which would cost some valuable draft picks and/or assets, leaving it weaker when it's time to actually build a core around LaVine and Vucevic. The chances of him committing to Chicago now are slim, and he could walk in a year.

From the Bulls' perspective, flipping a long-term unknown like LaVine, who they could lose for nothing in a year, for a certainty like Simmons, who is locked up through 2023-24, makes sense for sustainability. They just pushed in their chips for Vucevic, who is barely worth an 8 seed on his own, and if LaVine leaves, it won't be easy for them to replace his star power. Simmons provides a bridge to the next era.

As for the Sixers, they get the star scorer they desperately need to take the pressure off of Embiid. LaVine isn't filling the point guard hole, but he can get offense for himself multiple ways on the ball (26.4 points per game over the last two seasons) and off of it (40.0% from 3 over that span).

His defense has a long way to go, but most units with Embiid tend to do well on that end. There's also the prospect of playing Matisse Thybulle more in a LaVine-Embiid lineup, which would also help mitigate LaVine's flaws on that end. Now all they'd need is a more traditional point guard in the starting group, which could be either George Hill, Tyrese Maxey or another outside addition.

LaVine only makes $19.8 million next year, so the Bulls would have to add another salary like Tomas Satoransky or Al-Faroq Aminu to make it work.

Minnesota Timberwolves

If Embiid isn't enough of a shooter to be Simmons' frontcourt friend, Karl-Anthony Towns certainly is. The seven-footer is an offensive dynamo who's averaged 25.5 points, 10.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists while hitting 39.9% of his 3s (7.0 attempts a game) over the last two seasons. Offensively, he's as good of a 5 as you can find to be Simmons' partner in crime.

Defense is where Towns lacks. He has all the tools to be a solid fulcrum, and can even switch onto the perimeter at times, but success on that end has been sparse for 2015's No. 1 pick. He's also never had a teammate like Simmons, a truly special defender who can cover any matchup his team needs him to. That good of a defender could galvanize Towns, and engagement matters quite a bit on the defensive end.

Simmons would certainly be a better fit with Towns than, say, D'Angelo Russell. Now before you all start jeering at me for hypothesizing Russell for Simmons, consider Russell's fit with Embiid. As a finesse guard who can both run the offense and play off the ball, Russell opens up the offense much more than Simmons, and could be a nice theoretical partner for Embiid in the two-man game.

Granted, Russell's value isn't very high right now either. Everyone saw Simmons shut him down in the 2019 playoffs, when he was the Brooklyn Nets' first option, and since then, neither Golden State nor Minnesota has been better off for acquiring him. A Russell-Towns pairing is really tough to pull off if they're not crisp defensively, and Russell could also simply not be that good. Even in Russell's renaissance season with Brooklyn, he was left off the floor for a lot of closing minutes.

Russell also wouldn't be the only player coming Philly's way. Jaden McDaniels would be a tantalizing sweetener, a defensive menace cut from the same cloth as Thybulle (they both played at Washington) but with a better jumper (combined 35.4% on 3s across college and the pros) and a little less polish (he's 20 years old). Minnesota can stomach the loss of McDaniels if it's receiving Simmons.

Russell and McDaniels probably still isn't enough. Another pick or young player could get Philly talking, but it's not in the business of picks. Embiid needs immediate help. A third team would likely have to get involved.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Lottery luck strikes again. Cleveland managed to move up in Tuesday's Draft Lottery, winning the 3rd overall pick with the 5th-best odds. Its core of Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro and Jarrett Allen might not want to wait though; Allen is a restricted free agent this summer, and Sexton can be one next year if he and Cleveland can't agree on a new deal.

The Cavs have been bad for three years now, and they're about to get a little more expensive too. They can't be putrid and pricey at the same time; the clock is ticking on them being competitive again. In addition, the draft board looks like it will project a guard to the Cavs, who have shown to draft the best player available regardless of fit (see: Darius Garland).

But if they draft another guard, such as Jalen Suggs, it's almost impossible for them to keep all three of him, Sexton and Garland. Someone will have to go, and the indication is that Sexton will be the odd man out.

Enter: Simmons.

Cleveland can skin this cat several ways. It can send Kevin Love and his $31.2 million as the salary filler, or it can send some combination of Larry Nance Jr., Cedi Osman and Taurean Prince along with Sexton. The framework of a Sexton-Simmons trade makes a lot of sense for both sides, depending on what else either team wants to send the other way.

The Cavs get a rolling passer at the 4 who lessens Garland's and [No. 3 pick]'s playmaking load. He's never been paired with a jitterbug scoring guard like Garland, so maybe that type of perimeter talent will encourage him to embrace more of a screener's role. Defensively the fit is great, as he and Okoro are a menacing duo on the wings. The only slight hiccup would be that neither Simmons nor Allen are shooting threats, but the net gain is real. Cleveland competes for a playoff spot next year with this move.

As for the Sixers, they get a hidden gem in Sexton. 2018's No. 8 pick has scored in volume in Cleveland, averaging 24.3 points a game last year, but has also had a ridiculous amount on his plate offensively. Only 15 players attempted more shots on a per-possession basis than Sexton this year. He's put up good numbers, but since they've come as part of a horrible team, his ceiling as a primary option is under scrutiny.

Devin Booker and Trae Young disagree. Those two stars faced criticism as "good stats, bad team" guys until their respective teams put talent around them. Now? They're among the final four teams remaining this postseason. Sexton, a very competitive guy who can jumpstart an offense, could be that next breakout star.

He's not your standard point guard, but he'd be a massive jolt to this offense regardless. And despite only standing 6'1", he plays above his size defensively when he's not tasked with being the alpha and omega on offense. Embiid can also cover for him on that end pretty well.

Oklahoma City Thunder

OKC owns 36 picks over the next seven drafts, so it would be wise to assume they're in for a very long rebuild. But Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's rookie contract is almost up, meaning he can negotiate an extension this offseason. If he can't work one out, he's a restricted free agent next offseason. It doesn't make sense to do a rebuild while paying someone that much money.

So in a weird sort of way, the Thunder are at a crossroad: do they compete with SGA, or do they trade him and really lean into the tank? Either way is justified. SGA could command the motherload on the trade market, loading up their treasure trove of assets even more. But they also have so many picks now, that they arguably don't even need to tank anymore. They can get whoever they want in a core around SGA.

Kemba Walker is pretty close to the type of guard the Sixers need, but he's also pretty close to falling apart. Injuries have sidelined Walker quite a bit recently, as he's missed a combined 45 games over the last two seasons. This prompted the Boston Celtics to put him on the trade block, and the Thunder were happy to oblige as long as they got a pick out of it.

Now OKC can flip Walker and a few of its picks for Simmons. Simmons is only two years older than Shai, meaning the timeline isn't rushed too much, and provides a good on-court fit. The two can play off each other in the halfcourt, sharing the playmaking responsibilities in a symbiotic way. The defensive fit is obvious, and Shai holds his own defensively too. OKC gets significantly better without making much of a dent in its inventory of picks.

The Sixers have no need for those picks, but they could be packaged into another player who helps them win along with Walker. It's just a matter of making the extra salaries add up.