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November 20, 2021

The current state of Ben Simmons trade talks and what Sixers want if they move him

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Ben_Simmons_8_Hornets_Sixers_Frese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons.

Months into the Ben Simmons saga and 16 games into the Sixers' season, we have reached a bit of a quiet stretch. The end game has not changed a whole lot — the Sixers either want Simmons back in the fold and playing for them, or are holding out for an offer that returns an impact player should they ship him out. With teams still figuring out who they are and general managers around the league weighing the cost of big, midseason changes to their roster, the Sixers have been focused more on the first option, hoping to get a good player back in the mix as they continue to deal with injuries and COVID-related absences.

In those conditions, there are opportunities to fill the void with rumors and suggestions about what the Sixers are doing and where trade talks are or are not heading. The answer right now is, well, not much of anywhere, as sources say the Sixers are mostly waiting for things to open up a bit more on December 15th. That's the day, as I'm sure many of you know and have heard by now, that most players who signed contracts in the offseason can legally be traded, creating opportunities for larger deals around the league.

In the meantime, the latest entry into the rumor mill was a report this week from the Inquirer regarding "ongoing discussions" with the Detroit Pistons, where the Sixers were said to be interested in former Philly draftee Jerami Grant. Grant, in the second year of a three-year, $60 million contract, is averaging 18.1 points per game on 40.1/30.8/80.8 shooting splits, with his numbers down across the board following a productive first year in Detroit.

According to sources, those discussions were not just old and presently inactive, they were of little interest to the Sixers. The team's list of players they'd be interested in acquiring for Simmons, recently referred to by Sam Amick in a report for The Athletic, does not include Grant, a source familiar with the situation tells PhillyVoice.

A trade centered around Grant doesn't appeal to the Sixers for a few reasons, broadly speaking:

  1. Too much positional overlap with Tobias Harris. Daryl Morey is said to be willing to overlook fit concerns if the talent return is significant enough, but the team would likely need a star-level player to make that sacrifice.
  2. Grant's contract is not viewed as a beneficiary asset if the Sixers were in a position to flip him with other stuff in another deal down the line. On the other end, the Pistons would love to move Grant and his salary either to get off it entirely (given the team's inability to compete right now) or to flip him for a more impactful player a la Simmons.
  3. Without burying Grant (a good player) specifically, the Sixers' public and private messaging has been clear: they are after a higher caliber of player than Grant represents. This saga extending into late November has not shaken Morey or the Sixers' brain trust from the conviction that they can and should go after difference-making perimeter players, a la Damian Lillard, or players of his caliber.

In some ways, the link between Philadelphia and Detroit parallels rumors from the offseason about discussions they had with the Sacramento Kings. The Kings, interested in Simmons as an addition to their core, volunteered that they'd be willing to make a trade for Philadelphia's beleaguered star but would not include either of De'Aaron Fox or Tyrese Haliburton. For Philadelphia, those terms made any discussion with the Kings moot, as they were and are not going to trade Simmons for a package centered around someone like Buddy Hield. 

In the Detroit example, sources say there's not much of a discussion to be had unless the Pistons unexpectedly decided to throw Cade Cunningham, this year's No. 1 overall pick, into the mix. Even then, the timeline Cunningham is on relative to Joel Embiid would make that a tough proposition for Philly to say yes to.

To that point, there is a world where the Sixers would embrace acquiring a younger player if they felt the overall package worked for them and the fit with Embiid was good enough to justify such a move. Targeting an ascending player on their rookie contract in a package with veterans on soon-to-expire deals would provide the Sixers with a lot of options to restructure this group around Embiid. To linger on the Kings example for a moment, Haliburton is making less than $6 million a year through 2023-24. Bundled with a guy like Harrison Barnes, whose $20-ish million comes off of the books after 2022-23,  you could in theory get current production, medium-term cap flexibility, and upside with a player who makes sense next to Embiid. 

All things being equal, it must be said that the Sixers want readymade talent to help Embiid try to win a title as soon as is reasonable. At the end of the day, Morey's public declarations have matched what the Sixers say behind closed doors — this is all about maintaining or improving their chances to win a championship.

Prior to the season starting, most believed the trade deadline was the absolute must-resolve date for the Simmons situation, but that looks increasingly less true the closer we get to February 10th. There is a belief that talk will pick up considerably between December 15th and the deadline, but Morey and the Sixers do not believe they are operating on a timeline that ends in mid-February. 

Asking around, some believe the Sixers will be happy to carry this through the full 2021-22 season and resume discussions again next offseason when a new set of opportunities will become available to them. That could take shape in the form of sign-and-trade possibilities, disgruntled stars finally asking out of their own problematic situations, or new management hires for other franchises wanting to take big swings on talent like Simmons. And publicly, the Sixers have certainly suggested an extension of this standoff is possible, with Morey going so far as to say he'd take this all four years of Simmons' deal if that's what it took to get the best deal.

Whether you think that's the smartest way to deal with this or not — and the team does not appear any closer to convincing Simmons to even pretend he'll play for them at some point — they have been steadfast in their approach. The primary concerns at this point are less about Simmons and more about the resolve of the group to wait this out until the best opportunity presents itself. 

To this point, the major power players have been "in the boat" so to speak, content to go to battle with what they have in the meantime. But Turner's Kristen Ledlow reported last Tuesday there are some in the org. ready to see Simmons hit the ol' dusty trail, and it would only take one major dissenter to change the calculus in the management suites. If Embiid demands they get something done, or Joshua Harris wants to be done with the problem, or Morey is simply tired of entertaining Simmons-centric calls, everything pivots immediately.

On the floor and in the front office, the Sixers are playing waiting games right now, with Embiid's return to the floor and the acceleration of trade talks on the not-so-distant horizon. We'll see where they land when it's all said and done.

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