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December 13, 2021

NBA Trade Rumors: Lakers, Knicks enter field of suitors for Ben Simmons

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Ben_Simmons_shot_2_Hornets_Sixers_Frese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons.

With December 15th approaching, the Sixers will soon have a clear picture of all the teams in the hunt for Ben Simmons before the trade deadline. And according to a new report from Shams Charania at The Athletic, two prominent teams on opposite coasts are circling the waters trying to get in the mix for Simmons.

Alongside a handful of teams we've addressed in some form or fashion over the last few months, the Knicks and Lakers were named as teams interested in Philadelphia's beleaguered star:

The 76ers are ramping up their efforts to spark multi-team trade scenarios to move Simmons, sources said, and a fresh pool of teams has emerged as potential destinations. 

The New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers are among the teams interested in Simmons, sources said, although it’s unclear how much traction Philadelphia truly has on any move. 

Simmons has yet to play this season after reporting late to the 76ers’ training camp and informing teammates, coaches and front-office officials that he is not mentally ready to rejoin the team on the floor and needs to receive help. Simmons has sought help from a personal mental health specialist and gave the 76ers’ team therapist permission to speak with his own therapist, sources said.

But it’s clear 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey has his eyes set on a potential trade scenario to ship Simmons out of Philadelphia — whenever a rival team can meet his asking price. The 76ers are currently asking teams for an All-Star-caliber player and/or multiple first-round draft picks for Simmons, sources said. [The Athletic]

We've had refresher course after refresher course about the other five teams and what they have to offer, so at the very least we can be thankful for an opportunity to assess two new entrants to the race. The shared DNA between the two teams is that, well, they've disappointed out of the gate, and so they find themselves in search of solutions with around a third of the regular season almost done.

The Lakers have had the more noteworthy struggles out of the gate, sitting at a decent-ish 15-13 but looking a mess on their way there, and barely scraping above .500 in spite of the league's easiest schedule to date (for reference, the Sixers sit around middle of the pack in SOS rankings). Though Russell Westbrook has found his footing after a brutal start, LA's thin and old depth and Anthony Davis' up-and-down start have left them exposed, particularly when LeBron James has had to miss time due to injury.

To say the Lakers have nothing to offer might actually be overstating their position as a trade partner, unless you believe Davis or LeBron is inexplicably on the block. Westbrook's uptick in play notwithstanding, his contract is preposterous given his slide down the league's hierarchy in recent years, and Philadelphia's brass is intimately familiar with Westbrook, with Daryl Morey and CEO Tad Brown both having worked with him in Houston. To my knowledge, the Westbrook experience is not something the Sixers are inclined to sign up for, especially not at the cost of a huge chunk of your salary cap.

Search up and down the roster and there is not a blue-chip acquisition in sight, even if you squint and look for future upside. The Lakers made a medium-size gamble betting on Talen Horton-Tucker this summer, giving him one of their only non-minimum deals of the summer and crystalizing him as an important chip in any potential trade talks. Though his volume is up slightly in an expanded role, Horton-Tucker's efficiency is down across the board, and he represents a profile of player that makes no sense in Philadelphia, an off-guard with no track record as a shooter or a free-throw generator. His secondary playmaking skills are probably better than they've been able to look next to multiple ball-dominant players, but he's just too clunky of a fit to make sense at all in Philly, let alone as a potential trade centerpiece for Simmons.

To make matters worse, the Lakers have a poor pick situation as a result of residue from the Anthony Davis trade. Los Angeles owes this year's first-round pick to either New Orleans or Memphis, swap rights to New Orleans in 2023, and their 2024 first also belongs to the Pelicans. Though that looks like the end of the road on first glance, the Pelicans actually have the right to push back that obligation another season to 2025 if they choose. So unless the Lakers and Pelicans can come to an agreement to waive that right to change years, the earliest the Lakers can for sure offer a first-round pick is in 2027. Maybe that would be an appealing asset if you scooped it from some other team, but six years down the road in L.A., you'd have to assume the Lakers will pull their next megastar free agent out of thin air like they have for most of my life.

Oh, and one more thing — it's basically financially impossible to do a Lakers-Sixers deal. Short of trading Davis, which I reiterate isn't happening, the Sixers would actually have to add another player to make the money work in a Simmons-Westbrook deal, and the Lakers simply don't have the money to add up elsewhere to make it happen if Westbrook isn't involved. Simmons would almost certainly love playing where he bought a megamansion in the summer, but the Lakers would have to pull off some strange voodoo to make that happen. 

As for the Knicks, it would be harder to imagine a funnier next step for Simmons, whose main message to the team in the offseason was the environment in which he developed and the expectations on him compared to other No. 1 picks because Philadelphia won as soon as he got here. I don't need to tell anyone reading this that New York fans (and specifically Knicks fans) are cut from a similar cloth as Philadelphia fans, and a continuation of his career-long trends would be even more devastating under the glare of a NYC spotlight.

In any case, they don't offer more appealing options for immediate help if Philly turns to them. Kentucky product Julius Randle is ostensibly their best player, and after his breakout All-Star campaign last season, Randle has fallen back to Earth some this year, his efficiency dropping considerably after an outlier shooting year. Randle's three-point numbers are more in line with his career averages, and his dip from between 10 feet to the three-point line has left him missing the majority of his shots from a dead area of the floor. Teams are daring him to beat them as a shooter more often, and the impact has been felt in other areas, with Randle posting a free-throw rate lower than any season in his career-to-date. And even if Randle was playing better, the positional overlap with Tobias Harris would make a corresponding move necessary, and the effort isn't worth the end product.

Beyond Randle, the Knicks are basically just a bunch of guys, with even their young talents looking uninspired this year. RJ Barrett is a big wing in a defensive mold that could help them get a bit tougher, but on top of currently being in the health and safety protocols, he just hasn't been very good this year, with Tom Thibodeau even taking a side swipe at Barrett for failing to get as many practice shooting reps in as he did last year. Immanuel Quickley made some noise last season, but ultimately he's a guard shooting under 39 percent from the field who hasn't shown a whole lot this season, certainly nowhere near as much as former teammate Tyrese Maxey. At best, those are guys who perhaps are more interesting to other teams in a multi-team package, with their youth and theoretical upside more valuable to teams who don't have a need to compete right now.

The good news? They have a ton of draft capital to offer, a rarity in the last two decades of Knicks basketball. The Knicks currently have no outstanding picks owed to other teams, with incoming assets from the Hornets (sliding protections on a first-round pick from 2022-2025), Mavericks (1-10 protected from 2023-2025), and a handful of second-round picks from other teams. Any pick package the Knicks have might not be enough on its own to get something done for Philly, but depending on what they'd be able to make available, they could be an interesting three-way partner with the Sixers immediately flipping an asset haul elsewhere. New York also has a handful of medium-sized contracts to match for a big salary on top of that, which makes them a heck of a lot more useful than the Lakers, at least in theory.

Neither team profiles as a one-to-one partner for the Sixers ahead of this year's trade deadline, but extra suitors certainly don't hurt as Philadelphia's long and winding quest to reshape the team continues.

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