The offseason’s endless Ben Simmons saga appears to have reached a climax. No longer should the Philadelphia 76ers be willing to enter next season with their former #1 overall pick on the roster. According to The Athletic’s Derek Bodner, Simmons “does not intend to report to training camp.” In these types of situations, we see that the team being held hostage by its player ends up losing leverage quickly. It happened with Kawhi Leonard in 2018, and the San Antonio Spurs received a suboptimal return that will haunt them forever, courtesy of your truly.
Not coincidentally, The Athletic’s Shams Charania also reported on Monday that the teams most closely linked to Simmons have been the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Toronto Raptors, however neither team’s proposals have enticed the 76ers to part with their blue-chip asset. Surely, Philadelphia’s front office is reconsidering how high their asking price should be as you read this.
Before we move forward, let’s address the elephant in the room. Ben Simmons is indisputably the most controversial player in the NBA. On the defensive end of the floor, he’s astute. Simmons is the modern, versatile, big-bodied and athletic defender that every NBA team wants one of. He can switch from point guards to big guys seamlessly, he holds opponents to under 41% shooting, and last season, he ranked 9th in the league in steals per game despite standing at nearly seven feet tall. His defense is anything but the problem with his game.
The problem is that his defense may be the only area of his skillset that keeps his trade value at a net positive. Ben Simmons has made one more three-pointer in his entire career than seasons he’s played. He’s never shot above 60% from the free-throw line, he’s owed nearly $147M over the next four seasons, and much has also been made of his lackluster work ethic, to the point where Doc Rivers publicly stated that he was unsure if Simmons could be the 76ers future point guard.
Still, the appeal in trading for Ben Simmons is obvious. He’s still just 25-years-old, and even without a jump shot, one could argue that he’s a top-25 player in the league. His playmaking skills are first class, which is what enticed Philadelphia to use him as a point guard, but if a team saw fit, they wouldn’t be foolish to try playing him at either forward spot. Although he hasn’t shown any signs of developing an outside shot over the past few years, the 76ers have never forced him to shoot, since he has perpetually been tasked with the same on-ball duties that don’t push him out of his comfort zone. If there were any place in the world where Simmons could become a reliable 30% three-point shooter, it would be Toronto, but even without a jumper, he could blossom north of the border.
With Simmons, Nick Nurse’s all-defensive lineup would be complete. A unit of Scottie Barnes, Ben Simmons, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Precious Achiuwa would be nearly impossible to score on. They would be able to switch on every action that their opponent throws at them, and even play a zone at times where arms would be dangling in each passing lane.
I won’t touch on what the offense of that lineup would look like, because outside of a few fastbreak points, it would inevitably be ugly. The upside of trading for Simmons would be having the ability to deploy the first-ever switch-everything defense, but unlike previous attempts to run the scheme, this one would offer the offense no mismatches.
How exactly do the Raptors work out a trade for Simmons’ gargantuan contract then? A Pascal Siakam swap was discussed for a while, but Bobby Webster shut down the notion that Toronto’s former All-Star would be available. OG Anunoby is arguably an even better defender than Simmons, and on a more affordable contract with a lights-out jump shot, it’s unlikely that the Raptors would include him as a centerpiece either. As far as money-matching goes, that leaves Toronto with two options as to who they could send back to Philadelphia: Fred VanVleet, or Goran Dragic. Below, I’ve built two fake trades: one circumjacent to each of them.
Philadelphia receives: Fred VanVleet, Chris Boucher
Toronto receives: Ben Simmons
An argument can surely be made that VanVleet is better than Simmons on his own. He’s a floater away from being a three-level scorer, he has the potential to drop 40 points on any given night and alleviate the pains of an already-weak Raptors halfcourt offense, and he might just be the best six-foot tall defender of all-time. If VanVleet were Ben Simmons’ height, he would probably be in perennial MVP contention. Add that to the fact that VanVleet is now the leader of the Raptors locker room, and this trade seems much less likely to come to fruition, but as far as the basketball side goes, it makes sense. Chris Boucher is included in the deal for salary-matching purposes, but also, because Ben Simmons’ trade value probably slightly eclipses that of VanVleet’s. This deal would leave the Raptors thin in the backcourt – of course, depending on how they view Simmons positionally – but typically if you’re making a blockbuster trade, maintaining positional depth isn’t the top priority.
Philadelphia receives: Goran Dragic, Chris Boucher, 2022 first-round pick, 2023 second-round pick, 2024 second-round pick
Toronto receives: Ben Simmons
This trade would be a bargain for the Raptors, and at that price, Toronto would be foolish not to pull the trigger. Goran Dragic is halfway out the door anyways, and while it seems most likely that he’ll end up in Dallas, he remains an asset under Toronto’s control. Coincidentally, he fits the exact need that Philly should be looking to fill as they head into a critical year of The Process. Pairing Dragic next to Embiid and Tobias Harris gives Philadelphia a hard-nosed culture-builder who is just a few years removed from being an All-Star. He’s on the wrong side of 30, but he can still contribute to winning, and he’s the type of player that the 76ers need. Again, Boucher is included for salary purposes, and the picks are added as sweeteners – which would likely be re-routed by Philadelphia to acquire another win-now player. Ultimately, this package is heavily contingent on where Ben Simmons’ trade value lies right now.
Executives around the league are said to believe that a Ben Simmons trade is inevitably going to occur sooner or later. All that remains to be seen is whether Toronto, Minnesota, or another team will have the best offer to pry him away.