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January 24, 2022

Which rumored suitors for Ben Simmons make most sense for deadline deal?

If the Sixers decide not to wait for James Harden, here's a look at half a dozen potential trades Philly could make...

Short of hanging a banner that says, "We're not trading Ben Simmons until the offseason," the Sixers could hardly send clearer signals that a trade might wait until the offseason. Daryl Morey has said publicly that it's less likely a deal gets done before February 10th, and reports locally (including here) and nationally have driven home the point that they don't want to settle for less than they believe Simmons is worth.

That hasn't stopped the rumor mill from churning, or the Sixers from speaking with other teams around the league about their star in exodus. And while the meat of Monday morning's The Athletic story was about a potential deal down the road for James Harden, Sam Amick and Shams Charania also went back down the road of suitors for Simmons, noting a new suitor or two on top of some names we have heard throughout the process. In a world where the Sixers do make a deal at the deadline, it seems these are a handful of the most likely partners.

MORE: NBA Trade Rumors: Sixers prefer to wait for James Harden trade over deadline Ben Simmons deal

So I thought we'd have some fun and discuss the merits of each, alongside my personal rankings of each (theoretical) returning package. I want to make a few disclaimers clear before we get going:

  1. This is not a ranking of what I think the Sixers themselves would necessarily do if each of these offers was on the table.
  2. This is not me reporting "This team is making this exact offer to the Sixers." While I am aware of some individual offers or at least pieces of offers from around the league, I am using reports such as the aforementioned story from The Athletic on Monday as the basic framework here. Their eventual move will be judged down to the very last detail, while we are focused on the broader outlines for now.
  3. This is not inclusive of multi-team deals, which is admittedly a limiting factor. While the Sixers have suggested (even in public) that multi-team trades are a borderline requirement to get what they want in this deal, there hasn't been a credible report or rumor on a multi-team framework as of yet. 

On to the #analysis.

1. Sacramento Kings — Tyrese Haliburton, vets, and draft capital

Nobody has popped up in the rumor mill as often as the Kings have since Ben Simmons' name entered the trade market. There's good reason for that — they have reasons to shake things up, interesting young talent on the roster, and represent a good bet if the Sixers hope to make a pick-heavy deal with another team, rather than a deal for a surefire star.

If the Sixers aren't making a deal for a readymade All-Star, this represents perhaps the best version of a bridge trade they could make to get better now and leave their options open in the summer. Haliburton is very good and still short of his 22nd birthday, has looked even better/more productive when not sharing the floor with De'Aaron Fox, and he's on a rookie contract for two more seasons, potentially giving the Sixers cap flexibility for an even bigger move down the road. His length would help the Sixers with backcourt size problems in the short term, and playing next to Joel Embiid, there's a fairly reasonable chance his trade value could improve as a standalone piece even if the Sixers decide to flip him almost immediately in the summer.

The other appealing part of this deal we probably haven't discussed enough: the trainwreck potential that exists in Sacramento now and always. Simmons almost certainly makes them better in the short-term, but a scenario where Fox/Simmons is your foundational duo has a lot of shooting and spacing concerns to contend with, especially when you consider the Kings have to ship out a shooter or two with Haliburton to make the money work to acquire Simmons. Stack that on top of Sacramento's general standing in the league landscape, and future picks from the Kings might end up being huge trade chips, especially if Simmons plays this year and things don't look fundamentally different for him after his long layoff. Even if he and his new team look good together in the short term, people around the league generally don't underestimate the Kings' potential to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

In a deal with Sacramento, the Sixers would also likely be able to get a readymade rotation guy on a beneficial contract: Harrison Barnes. The UNC product would give them a credible defender of big wings for the playoffs, reliable outside shooting from the corners, and he comes on a contract that actually declines in dollar value in the final year of the deal next year. Depending on how the offseason shakes out, the Sixers would either have a rock-solid rotation forward next season or a productive player on an expiring deal they could easily trade if bigger moves are on the menu in the summer.

(A dissenting thought on what they could get back — I do not love Buddy Hield coming to Philly in a potential Kings deal as much as other people seem to. He will likely shoot the hell out of the ball as he has his whole career, but the extra year on his contract compared to Barnes is not a trivial detail if he has a rough go of it between now and the end of this season. Hield is only about 200 days younger than Barnes despite jumping to the league four years after Barnes did, so it seems doubtful there's as much untapped upside here as a lot of people seem to think.)

Important side notes: It has been recently reported that the Kings reassured De'Aaron Fox and his agent that they're building around him and Haliburton, so make of that what you will. Also worth considering — if the Sixers were to make this deal with the idea that they could flip the assets in the summer, it would likely require them to work with a team ready to rebuild and sell off a star. That might be useful in the case of, say, the Wizards and Bradley Beal, but might be a complicating factor if James Harden and the Nets are at the center of everything.

MORE: Morey describes deadline Simmons deal as 'less likely than likely'

2. Atlanta Hawks — John Collins, draft capital, Tobias Harris outgoing

I have chewed on this a lot over the last few weeks, and I think when I first entertained the possibility of John Collins to Philly, I didn't spend enough time considering Collins the player. He's a more intriguing piece for the Sixers than I think he has been given credit for, though there are admittedly some potential kinks to work out in this scenario.

First and foremost, Collins is really damn good. He is an elite play finisher when you consider that he is basically automatic at the rim (career 74.5 percent from 0-3 feet) and has developed into a reliable outside shooter over the last three seasons. There are concerns about the first half of that equation when he's detached from pick-and-roll extraordinaire Trae Young, but his efficiency with Young off of the floor has improved greatly over time, both because he has improved as a self-creator and the Hawks have bolstered their supplemental creative talent.

Here's the big selling point of Collins to Philly in my eyes — I think he can succeed next to Embiid in the frontcourt while also opening up a lot of interesting possibilities when the franchise player hits the bench. Collins' arrival would give them small-ball possibilities both in the regular season and in the playoffs, where Collins proved last season he has both the skill and the production to thrive in that setting. Backup units centered around Tyrese Maxey have a lot more offensive juice with Collins as a foundational piece, with Philly able to spread the floor around a high-level, pick-and-roll partnership, or even allowing guys to isolate against weak defensive links with Collins as a credible floor spacer and pick-and-pop target.

There are concerns here, starting with whether Collins' alleged gripes about his role with the Hawks. While Atlanta is an especially heliocentric offense built around Young's talent, Philadelphia's offense is Embiid's world that everyone else happens to live in. Maybe he settles in here, maybe he doesn't, and that's a reasonably large risk to take in this sort of trade.

Then there's the Harris component of such a deal. Moving Harris makes sense in a world where Collins is taking over the starting four spot, but moving him for the sake of moving him at this deadline is something we've discussed already. Depending on the other pieces coming back, the Sixers might end up with new concerns on top of their pre-existing issues. Collins is very good, but likely not good enough to shrug off those problems unless the rest of the return is lights out.

Important side notes: Atlanta owns all their own first-round picks in addition to protected firsts from Charlotte and OKC. 

MORE: Checking in on the Ben Simmons rumor mill as trade deadline approaches | NBA Trade Rumors: Are Sixers attaching Tobias Harris in Ben Simmons trade talks? | How do Atlanta Hawks fit into Ben Simmons trade picture?

3. Toronto Raptors — Pascal Siakam

I hesitated before ranking a Collins-centric deal above a Toronto package because I like Siakam a good bit and think he scales well on most contenders. Siakam has a more multi-faceted skill set than Collins offensively, creative talent to supplement his own scoring, and he's a more versatile defender that would help them against wing-heavy teams in the playoffs. Having Siakam to deal with bigger forwards frees up Matisse Thybulle to deal with quicker guards, and it puts Joel Embiid in a better position anchoring the defense on the back end.

Unfortunately, I simply do not trust him to shoot, which is effectively a dealbreaker when you consider Masai Ujiri's track record. History suggests he's not going to be especially generous with the supporting assets offered up alongside Siakam for Simmons. You're likely not going to get, for example, Siakam and a high-level two-way guard like Fred Van Vleet unless you're paying an exorbitant price to make such a deal, at which point it becomes self-defeating. That means you have to be happy with Siakam and Siakam alone, and it takes a lot of squinting to get to that place.

Still, I respect him enough as a two-way player to slot him in here.

4. Minnesota Timberwolves — D'Angelo Russell, young guys, picks

Relative to Siakam, Russell is a much better fit alongside Embiid and the rest of this roster, a three-level scorer and creative passer who would add some danger and give them a credible crunch-time scorer in the backcourt. But for me, he has been in the league long enough to look at him as more of a fool's gold player, a guy who looks incredible when he's on but ultimately has too many warts and not enough consistency to be great.

Throughout his career, Russell has struggled to find a balance between high volume and high efficiency, illustrated perfectly by his numbers this season. His regular old field goal percentage (41.1) is not good, and his ranks in stats that measure shooting efficiency by accounting for free throws and threes line up with that number. Russell ranks 74th in true shooting percentage and 77th in effective field goal percentage among 126 players with at least 10 field goal attempts per game. He has a remarkably high ceiling when he has it going, rendering basically any defense thrown at him useless, but he is prone to wild swings in effectiveness from one game to the next, which is why a player with his talent has bounced around so much early in his career.

One point in his favor? Russell's ability to be part of a better defensive effort in Minnesota this season. He's far from the most important piece there, insulated by a few flexible athletes on the perimeter more often than not, but the Wolves have been better with him on the floor than not on that end, which is a positive development for him. That said, you're not banking on him coming here to be a stopper, and the hope would have to be he can simply play passable on-ball defense while leveraging his length (his wingspan is nearly 6'10") to serve as a useful cog in the machine there.

If the Sixers were enamored with Russell, it feels like a deal would have been made already, because the Wolves made no secret of their interest in Simmons. Perhaps a final-hour push is what it takes, and there's some upside in both the Wolves' role players and future picks, but unless the Wolves suddenly change course and make Anthony Edwards available, doesn't strike me as all that likely.

MORE: Sixers mailbag: When will a Ben Simmons trade happen? | Does it actually matter if the Sixers trade Ben Simmons this year?

5. Charlotte Hornets — ???

Charlotte had not really come up in real reporting until Monday's piece from The Athletic, and it's pretty easy to see why. There are a lot of decent role players the Hornets could throw together in a package, with guys like Gordon Hayward and/or Terry Rozier offering readymade talent alongside any young players who might come with, but the future upside isn't really there unless a multi-team deal comes to fruition. Hayward is a relatively interesting piece in that he would give the Sixers more wing size and a bit of creative talent alongside his floor-spacing and scoring ability, but not enough of it to justify this being your big move.

The only reason this doesn't rank last for me is that they have a bunch of players who at least make sense alongside the current Sixers' core. They could amplify what they're already doing well, which would be the point of making a deadline deal for a non-star in the first place. 

Important side notes: The Hornets own a 2022 protected first-rounder from New Orleans that will turn into two seconds if it does not convey this year (pick is protected 1-14).

6. Indiana Pacers — Domantas Sabonis, ???

You could make a compelling case that Sabonis is the best player currently available on the trade market that isn't named Ben Simmons. I also think he's easily the worst fit of any of the rumored names on the trade market and suspect the Sixers have little-to-no interest in putting another true big next to Joel Embiid.

Let's start with the good. Sabonis has lived up to his family name with multi-faceted skills on the offensive end, serving as a devastating rolling target while offering excellent playmaking from the middle of the floor, frequently picking out cutters and shooters with zippy passes between or over defenders. He has great hands, with Sabonis capable of making tough one-handed catches in traffic on his way to the rim, and he's an ultra-reliable scorer around the rim with either hand (he's a natural lefty). 

Here's the harsh reality of Sabonis — he is a career 32.2 percent three-point shooter on low volume who is only marginally better than that this season, six years deep into his career. The Pacers are able to get more value out of his contributions in the middle of the floor in part because his current big-man partner, Myles Turner, is used as a constant floor spacer in a way Embiid never will be. 47 percent of all Turner's field goal attempts this season are threes, a huge number compared to just 18 percent for Embiid. To make an Embiid-Sabonis partnership work, you would have to ask one or both players to make considerable changes to how they play, and at that point, you are almost certainly better off looking at a different player. You don't want to clog Embiid's space up, you don't want Embiid to spend an abundance of time just standing on the perimeter, and you're going to be forcing Sabonis into a suboptimal role for the sake of getting one of the best "name" guys available.

Inclusive of multi-team deals, Sabonis could be an interesting player to re-route elsewhere in order to get what they're ultimately looking for. His high skill level and intelligence could juice up a number of teams looking to contend around the league. But even if the Pacers attached other notable players and assets to him, a straight-up swap for Simmons makes little sense to me. We have seen what Embiid can do if you simply create an ecosystem where he has room to operate. Don't screw it up.

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