February 04, 2022
With the NBA trade deadline looming less than a week from Friday, it appears increasingly likely Ben Simmons will be with the Sixers after the deadline's conclusion, according to sources familiar with the situation.
The Sixers have had at least exploratory conversations regarding Simmons with a number of franchises around the league, including the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons, Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento Kings, Portland Trailblazers, and Washington Wizards, sources say. The problem from where we sit on February 4th — the Sixers continue to wait on an offer that either significantly moves their title odds forward this season or blows them away with assets that can help them acquire the level of star they are after at a later date. So far, such a deal has not materialized.
As Joel Embiid has risen to MVP form over the last two months, the appetite for a bridge trade centered around Simmons has grown locally and nationally, with many urging Philadelphia to accept a deal that can make them better right now while retaining future upside, both on the court and in trades. The Sixers don't appear swayed by that sentiment, largely sticking to one core idea: Ben Simmons is their major trade chip and will continue to be the largest trade chip they can offer if they need to get a deal done in the offseason.
To this point, the tangible offers the Sixers have had in front of them either don't offer a big enough leap in title odds, don't help their chances to acquire a wantaway star later, or have back-end complications the Sixers would need to figure out that diminish the deal's value. Talks with Atlanta, for example, centered around players like John Collins, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and picks. Some may view that as a deal framework worth exploring or even completing, but one team source painted this as an example of the problem facing Philadelphia. Collins is a very good player, but would likely necessitate a corresponding move with Tobias Harris, and the Sixers don't view the picks they'd get back from Atlanta as especially valuable, given Atlanta's long-term nucleus in place and Simmons' fit within that group.
Even in the best of circumstances, the Sixers believe deals like that Atlanta package represent a marginal push forward this season at best. Philadelphia is focused on moves that represent a significant boost to their chances to contend, and many of the packages on offer have not met that standard in their eyes.
The concern in Philadelphia is that many of these moves to improve the team now would take them out of the running for the deal they actually want to make, which brings a running mate for Embiid to win with now and into the future. Pick value and depth are a concern on the brain in Philly. The Sixers believe, sources say, that teams with big pick war chests would be able to ultimately outbid them for stars when push comes to shove. They have repeatedly suggested that they could find themselves on the outside looking in of big talks down the road if they turn Simmons and his readymade production into younger long-term bets and/or steady vets to fill out the rotation.
"Other teams have draft picks," one source said. "Ben is our major asset."
(Editorializing here — you can certainly quibble with the idea that pick-heavy teams could beat them to deals, given that the small handful of pick-heavy teams are places that aren't exactly inspiring in-prime stars to force their way there, a la Houston, OKC, and New Orleans. In fact, the final name in that group has to simply worry about their current best player getting healthy and wanting to play for the franchise.)
Several big names have entered the trade fracas in recent weeks, most notably James Harden and Bradley Beal, the former of whom appears to be growing increasingly dissatisfied in Brooklyn with the Nets in the midst of a major funk. Were the Nets (or another team with a dissatisfied star) to reconsider their stance on entertaining talks ahead of the deadline, it's likely the Sixers would make a strong push to complete a deal prior to the February 10th deadline. As it stands, though, Philadelphia is mostly monitoring these situations around the league, much like teams are keeping a close eye on Simmons from afar.
(Among the "monitoring the situation" group is Sacramento, who has been reported to be totally out on trading for Simmons. While the Kings have balked at Philadelphia's current asking price and are exploring other moves to upgrade the team, it's my understanding that they are at least still on the periphery, waiting to see what happens over the next week.)
Down in Washington, this is not the first time Beal has sent signals that he's unhappy with the situation around him, with Beal having raised complaints behind-the-scenes back in 2020. This time around, the situation appears no closer to a conclusion that sends Beal elsewhere. Ownership in Washington is known to be relatively content to be a "competitive" team (insofar as you consider the current Wizards competitive), and Beal's name is not expected to be shopped or discussed on the trade market until/unless he goes to management and directly asks for a trade. The two sides are at a bit of a standstill — Simmons fits the profile of a player the Wizards would like to get next to Beal, and the Sixers have no interest in any Washington-based deal that doesn't send Beal their way. Should Beal ask out in the days immediately before the deadline, the Sixers would be at or near the top of the list of pursuing teams, but there has been no indication that a move like that from Beal is imminent.
One important thing to note ahead of the deadline but also looking toward the offseason — there is only one true untouchable on this roster, and that is Joel Embiid. The Sixers are not actively shopping or even discussing players like Tyrese Maxey or Matisse Thybulle in trade conversations with other teams, shooting down their inclusion in all of the deals that have been presented to them so far. But should the right deal present itself, the Sixers are willing to entertain the possibility of moving anyone and everyone outside of their franchise player, even if it means losing one of their young and promising players in the process.
All possibilities are still on the table, especially if a player like Beal decides to ask out between now and next Thursday. But evidence has been mounting to suggest Simmons will still be a member of the Sixers this time next week. If nothing else, it is a reflection of the unified stance the organization has held dating back to last offseason, with buy-in still there from all the necessary parties. Ownership, management, and even Joel Embiid have stayed in the boat together, with the MVP on the floor helping to empower the organization as they wait until they can get their guy. Whether the wait pays off is anyone's guess at this point.
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