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May 13, 2019

Wild Sixers rumor mill starts with LeBron James for Ben Simmons trade

NBA speculation begins in immediate aftermath of Sixers' playoff exit

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Welcome to the offseason, Sixers fans! You want daily league-altering speculation about the future of Philadelphia's roster? You got it! Thank you, Kawhi! Thank you!

Less than 24 hours after the Sixers fell in Game 7 to the Toronto Raptors, a report with backing from an unnamed "rival" NBA executive claims Philadelphia could "very well" explore acquiring LeBron James from the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for young star Ben Simmons.

A report from NBC Sports' Tom Haberstroh examines what the Sixers might do next as they face a reckoning with their identity this offseason. Here's the relevant passage, which flows from the obvious deficiency Simmons has as a shooter, despite his many other obvious strengths:

For some league executives across in the NBA, this is not just a flaw in his game; it’s a sign that he isn’t serious about improvement. This was the one thing that he had to work on this past summer, the one skill he lacked in the sport. How can someone be so talented and yet so limited in this vital area of the game?

Well, he’s 22 years old and already one of the best players in the game. Fair or not, Simmons failing to add some semblance of a jump shot in Year 2 of his career is seen as a reason that Philadelphia has to put him on the trade block. Perhaps this is just wishful thinking by rival executives. There has been no indication from the Philly side that Simmons is being floated or will be this summer.

It’s early in that process. Leonard’s shot just fell through the net. But one Western Conference executive brought up a name that could be a Simmons trade target: LeBron James.

“I think they very well might explore that,” said a rival executive of Philadelphia.

The piece goes on to note that Simmons and James share the same agent at Klutch Sports, that LeBron James and the Lakers may conclude their now-shaky partnership isn't championship-ready, and that the two-players' vastly mismatched salaries would need to be offset with another of Philadelphia's as-yet-unsigned free agents.

LeBron James had the opportunity to sign with the Sixers last offseason. He decided he'd rather play in Los Angeles. To think that GM Elton Brand would give up not just Simmons, but also one of his in-season trade acquisitions for a turning-35 LeBron James (who missed 27 games last season) is ridiculous, even if it sounds exciting for half a second. 

At his exit interview with media members on Monday, Simmons said he was most pleased with his growth as a leader this season. He was somewhat terse and evasive about questions concerning his shot. He'll continue to work on it with his brother and improve through repetition, he said, before answering every follow-up with a one-word response. 

It sounds as though Simmons would rather focus on the aggressiveness and polish of his overall game than obsess about his shot as much as his fans and critics do. 

We'll see if the Sixers are on board with that plan, but trading Simmons at this point doesn't sound like a direction the organization would go for anything less than many years of future high-end value. 

The sting of a Game 7 defeat will unfortunately give way immediately to a feeding frenzy on how Philadelphia's roster can be poached by other teams around the league. That's the way it goes. 

The Sixers will have careful and important decisions to weigh through all the noise of the next few months, but hey, why not start with a LeBron James whopper? These fantasies should get less and less implausible from here until we've arrived at next year's team.