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July 09, 2021

NBA trade rumors: Minnesota Timberwolves 'will be in on' Ben Simmons, but is there a fit?

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The Minnesota Timberwolves, already tied to Ben Simmons in previous reports out of the midwest, are said to be "in on Simmons" as the market unfolds this offseason, according to a new report from Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. 

Krawczynski, who is as reliable as it gets when it comes to Minnesota matters, had this to say on the Timberwolves' interest:

A lot of the discussion from Wolves fans has centered on Ben Simmons. The All-Star flamed out spectacularly in the playoffs for Philadelphia, leading to widespread speculation that Daryl Morey will have to break up the Joel Embiid-Simmons core to try to reconfigure the roster and get over the hump. 

The Timberwolves pride themselves on getting involved in trade talks, and sources indicate that they will be in on Simmons in addition to a number of other players as they try to vault into playoff contention in the Western Conference.  [The Athletic]

This had been teased in previous reports, but coming from Krawczynski, there's a bit of extra weight attached. And on the surface, Simmons makes a ton of sense alongside the Minnesota core in place. Karl-Anthony Towns is a better offensive fit with Simmons than Joel Embiid is, content and capable of bombing away from three to open up the floor for everybody else, and the Wolves currently have a core filled with offensive weapons who need somebody to do the heavy lifting on defense. Within their ecosystem, someone with Simmons' defensive versatility can have a potentially huge impact, and his offensive weaknesses can be hidden a bit better while surrounded by shooters.

It's the other end of the trade where things get dicey. Acquiring Towns is not an option in any way for Philadelphia as a result of Joel Embiid's presence (and they'd be trading for Simmons to play with Towns in the first place), and Anthony Edwards is almost certainly not on the table in basically any deal after a terrific close to the No. 1 overall pick's rookie season. That leaves D'Angelo Russell as a potential centerpiece, and for a variety of reasons, he would be a pretty uninspiring return piece if Simmons is sent packing this offseason.

While Russell is not without his merits, possessing three-level scoring ability in addition to pick-and-roll ability the Sixers have sorely lacked, at 25 years old he's still a more impactful player in theory than he is in practice. Russell just finished his best ever season from deep in 2020-21, making almost 39 percent of his shots from downtown on nearly 7.5 attempts per game, but he has only been slightly above average there for his career, a disappointing arc for a guy who came into the league with high expectations on offense. Some of that can be attributed to shot selection and style of play. Russell is comfortable shooting with a hand in his face, often to his own detriment, and he has had a gargantuan usage rate over his last four seasons, embodying the "volume scorer" label. His lone All-Star season in 2018-19 was a direct product of being force-fed the ball, with Russell dominating the ball more than stars like LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, and Kawhi Leonard, without coming close to matching their efficiency.

Even if we were to concede that Russell still has offensive upside and could make life easier for Joel Embiid even if he stagnates from here, there are other warts to consider. Russell has consistently been an abysmal point-of-attack defender, and despite having the wingspan to guard multiple positions credibly, his effort and instincts have held him back throughout his career. He has also had issues staying healthy for most of his career — Russell played 81 games during the aforementioned All-Star run in 2018-19, which is the only season since 2017 where he has appeared in more than 50 games. He has had multiple arthroscopic surgeries on his left knee, in addition to various soft tissue injuries to his lower body since entering the league. Building around Embiid and Russell would be perilous even if the Sixers were convinced he'd open things up for them on offense.

And from the sound of things, even he might not be available, at least if you're asking Krawczynski:

In Minnesota, while the Wolves would certainly need Simmons to shoot more than zero times in the fourth quarter, they wouldn’t need him to be a No. 2 option on offense. Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell (the Timberwolves view Russell as a part of the core and want to keep it that way, sources said) give coach Chris Finch three accomplished offensive players to get buckets down the stretch. That would free up Simmons to do what he does best: defend every position on the floor the way an offense-heavy Wolves lineup would need him to do and get out in transition, which would be a fit with how Rosas and Finch want to play.


It is unclear if Morey would be interested in Russell as a headliner in a Simmons package. As good as Russell looked down the stretch, that max salary would give some teams pause. On the flip side, Russell is Rosas’s signature move to this point. He and Towns started to show some promising signs as the season wound down, and Rosas believes that a full summer of work followed by a full training camp with Finch at the helm will help the pair take things to another level.  [The Athletic]

Granted, these are the sort of things you're going to hear from most team-connected reporters. In more outcomes than not, the Wolves will find themselves unable to acquire Simmons, and they'd certainly like to make sure they keep one of their better players on board and happy by making Russell feel wanted.

Still, it's ugly once you get past there. The Sixers are not anywhere near desperate enough to trade Simmons anywhere that they'd send him out for packages built around role players like Ricky Rubio and Malik Beasley, a package floated in the aforementioned article, and the Wolves' draft-pick situation further complicates matters. They don't own their 2021 first (No. 7 overall) as a result of the Russell for Andrew Wiggins swap, leaving them short a valuable asset that in theory could have been used to put together a multi-team deal for Philadelphia. Even in the exceedingly unlikely scenario where the Wolves make Edwards available — and I will reiterate I don't think that's happening anytime in the short-to-medium term — he's more valuable as a chip to re-route to a third team for a readymade star, years away from being the trusty sidekick Embiid needs to try to contend right now. 

This illustrates one of the big problems with the Simmons trade market at the moment. Teams looking to make a push for the playoffs from the outside looking in have more motivation to make a deal for Simmons, whose regular-season production has been undeniable and playoff concerns would be welcomed in markets where they rarely get there in the first place. But teams like those, teams like the Wolves, have very little they are willing or can afford to give up in order to help the Sixers win right now. And with Simmons' suitability to lead a package for a legit star more questionable than ever, finding the right fit for both sides appears to be quite difficult.

Perhaps more distance from Philadelphia's second-round meltdown will change things, and all it takes is one big trade request elsewhere for the market dynamics to shift in a big way. But unless teams like Minnesota really up the ante in the weeks leading into the draft, I suspect the waiting game will continue, and the likelihood of Simmons remaining in Philly only increases.

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