The Ben Simmons Saga, and What the Philadelphia 76ers Can Do About It (If Anything At All)

September 24th, 2021

By Alan Lu

The Philadelphia 76ers have their work cut out for them in trying to find the best solution to deal with Ben Simmons in the Ben Simmons’ saga.
Nick Wass/Associated Press, via Bleacher Report)

The talk of the NBA offseason has been what will the Philadelphia 76ers do with disgruntled star forward, Ben Simmons.  The much-maligned three-time NBA All-Star has been a very divisive and polarizing figure in this league, and there are reports that he will hold out and not play for the Philadelphia 76ers this season.

There have been a wide range of opinions on him, but from what I’ve read on social media, most of them haven’t been very kind towards Ben Simmons recently.  There is no doubt that plenty of finger pointing has gone on after the 76ers’ surprising second round, playoff loss to Trae Young’s upstart Atlanta Hawks’ team, with most of the blame perhaps justifiably being put on Ben Simmons’ shoulders.  On the other hand, it takes an entire team to win and lose games, and so some of the blame can be put on the other people that were involved in that series as well. 

It can be argued that head coach Doc Rivers could’ve made better lineup substitutions and should’ve tried defensive schemes to make it more difficult on Trae Young and the Hawks.  It can be argued that Matisse Thybulle shouldn’t have bit on that pump fake to commit a late game foul that helped seal a deciding Game 7 win for the Hawks.  It also can be argued that Joel Embiid should’ve tried harder to close out on Trae Young’s floaters on the defensive end, and that he shouldn’t have turned the ball over so frequently.  It also can be argued that the other 76ers’ role players didn’t step up or provide enough offense, and that players such as Tobias Harris and Dwight Howard didn’t do enough down the stretch.

But the convenient arguments (and also valid arguments) are that Ben Simmons didn’t do nearly enough, and he’s making way too much money to skate away from this.  While he is a very good playmaker and defender, we cannot dismiss that his inability and unwillingness to shoot has inevitably lead to his inability to score, especially in the playoffs. The Philadelphia 76ers’ entire team should be held accountable for their playoff loss to the Atlanta Hawks (and the Hawks do deserve a lot of credit for getting the series win), and there were a lot of contributing factors that resulted in this outcome, but Ben Simmons also isn’t exactly blameless for the Philadelphia 76ers’ failures in the 2021 NBA Playoffs.

Undeniably, Ben Simmons has his supporters, and arguments in his favor may be underrated and under-appreciated.  It’s not often that you can find very athletic, 6-10 point guards or point forwards that have great court vision and can effortlessly rack up assists.  He also is a great defender that can guard multiple positions, and he is a terrific on-ball defender who is one of the best defensive players in the league.  In the right circumstance, his supporters argue that he could be used advantageously, and some people even feel that Simmons could be like a bigger version of Draymond Green if you surround him with a boatload of shooters and scorers that can provide the outside shooting for him.

Still, Ben Simmons was just disappointing in the 2021 NBA Playoffs.  Simmons was terrible at the free throw line, as he made just 34% of his free throws in the 2021 NBA Playoffs, and he made just 33% of them when he was at the foul line in the second round against the Hawks.  He continually was unwilling to take shots in the fourth quarter in the playoffs, and he made himself an offensive liability by continually passing up open layups and dunks, perhaps out of fear of being fouled.  Also, his stubbornness is not willing to shoot or take threes makes him easier to guard down the stretch, especially when paired with a superstar low post scorer in Joel Embiid, and it makes it easier for defenders to guard Embiid, especially if Simmons and the role players are not taking or making their shots.

What’s indisputable is that the Philadelphia 76ers lost to the Atlanta Hawks in the second round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs.  Head coach Doc Rivers seemed uncertain in answering if Ben Simmons can be a championship level point guard on an NBA team, and Joel Embiid openly shared his disdain for Ben Simmons’ passivity and shot selection in the playoffs, which may have helped widen the rift between Ben Simmons and the 76ers. Ultimately, Ben Simmons needs to take ownership of his and his team’s failures, and accept as hard it is to take criticism from coaches and players on his own team, they are valid and just criticisms, and it can help him improve his game if he opens his mind to doing so.

Ben Simmons was paid a then-max contract extension by then General Manager, Elton Brand, and Philly fans want a resolution.  They are growing to be increasingly frustrated with him, because they feel he’s not reaching their full potential, and they feel that their team is stalling by not advancing as far in the playoffs as they should.

Some may argue that Ben Simmons should be used like how Golden State deploys their star defensive forward, Draymond Green, as a point forward and small-ball center, and as a player that doesn’t necessarily have to take on much volume on offense.  On the other hand, the Golden State Warriors are constructed much differently than the Philadelphia 76ers.  The Warriors are built around their jump shooting guards that can really spread out the floor, as they have superstar guards in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, and so it allows Draymond to freely drive to the paint to rack up assists.  The 76ers’ primary scoring option is Joel Embiid, and he is predominantly a low-post scorer that needs the paint.  Because of this, Ben Simmons needs to take steps to improve his jumper, but he also needs to improve his free throw shooting in order to get his shooting stroke down in order for him and Embiid to be compatible together in the playoffs.

Given Ben Simmons’ stubbornness though, it is uncertain if he even wants to add a reliable jump shot to his game, or take the time to improve his free throw shooting.  Because he’s so stubborn as a player, given his unwillingness and reluctance to even attempt a few threes when he was coached by Brett Brown, this could be a troubling sign for Simmons’ development, and his stubbornness could potentially make him a secret head case and difficult player for coaches to work with.  Part of the journey for players to improve their games is the willingness to improve, and it’s uncertain if Simmons is willing to adapt his game to adjust to the rigors of playoff basketball.  At this stage, he is who he is, and it may be doubtful if he even decides to suit up to play for the Philadelphia 76ers this season. 

However, most people may be down on Ben Simmons, and so his trade value may be at an all-time low.  The Sacramento Kings aren’t willing to offer De’Aaron Fox or Tyrese Haliburton in a trade, and Golden State seems to have no interest in acquiring Simmons.  I’ve talked to a friend of mine who is a diehard Minnesota Timberwolves’ fan, and he wouldn’t part with D’Angelo Russell in order to get Simmons.  If Simmons plans to hold out, but has less than stellar trade value, you may ask, what can the 76ers do about this, which of the possible suitors might be the best fit, and what should they do?

Exploring the Options Philadelphia 76ers Have With Ben Simmons:

  1. The Philadelphia 76ers could opt to only trade Ben Simmons if they can get something very good in return.  Regardless of how long it takes, they would operate with the principle to not rush into making bad deals, that they would not make a rash move under any circumstances.

This is the most logical and practical idea for the Philadelphia 76ers, but it is uncertain if the 76ers will be able to land a trade that nets them a very good return on the deal.  I’d like to think that they will try to trade for Damian Lillard or C.J. McCollum if they were to talk to Portland.  For the 76ers, their best hope would be for Portland to implode, and to see if Damian Lillard were to want out one day.  In the unlikely event if Dame Lillard were to ever want out, the Philadelphia 76ers could then net the Blazers at least a solid offer in return, and vice versa. 

It’s possible though, that the 76ers may continually get at best mediocre offers (like Ben Simmons to Minnesota for Malik Beasley, Pat Beverley, and Jake Layman, or Ben Simmons to Golden State straight up for Andrew Wiggins, or Ben Simmons to Cleveland for Kevin Love). 

If that is the case, over time, Philadelphia will likely either decide not to trade Ben Simmons until someone offers them something very good, or they may get desperate, and trade him for something, even if it may be a less than desirable deal.

2. If the 76ers continually get lowball offers, they could opt to trade Ben Simmons and just get a deal done, even if it were not desirable at the beginning.

This would not be advised for the Philadelphia 76ers to make right now, but it could look feasible 20-25 games into the season.  If all of the other NBA teams hold firm and not give the 76ers any elite assets back in the trade offers, this could make the 76ers get more desperate to try to get a deal done.  Something may be better than nothing, especially if Ben Simmons holds out for all of eternity, but it’s not ideal for Philly if they were to make a trade that basically nets them akin to a quarter on the dollar.

3. The 76ers could opt to take a hardline stance and keep Ben Simmons in Philadelphia, with the intent to continually fine and suspend him if he doesn’t show up, and see how that goes.

The Philadelphia 76ers could opt to essentially pull a Cincinnati Bengals-esque move, similar how the Bengals handled the Carson Palmer situation, but in the NBA, this would not be advised at all.

This would be the worst option for the Philadelphia 76ers, because this isn’t like the other sports where players act like individuals.  In the NBA, players talk amongst one another and to their agency, and that approach could have long-term negative ramifications and effects to their team.  Other players on the 76ers would see this as well as every client at Klutch Sports, so that approach may prevent other NBA players from wanting to play or sign with the Philadelphia 76ers in the future.

4. If the 76ers are intent on trying for option 1 (only trade Ben Simmons for something very good in return), but if no other NBA teams want to trade them elite players or close to it for Ben Simmons, and if the 76ers are unwilling to try for option 2 (trade Ben Simmons for something to get something or anything in return, even if it’s a less than desirable), then I could see Philadelphia try this move:

The 76ers also could send Ben Simmons home if he continues to hold out well into the regular season (with Simmons getting his full salary) until either a trade can be worked out, or until he either comes back, retires, or until his contract ends.

This might be less than desirable for either the 76ers or Ben Simmons, but in the event if the 76ers don’t want to settle for making a bad trade that could set their franchise back, and if they are unable to get any good trade offers, than this is a move they have in their back pocket.  Ultimately, if enough time passes, this might just force Ben Simmons’ hand to either come back or to retire if Philadelphia proves to continually to be unable to make a trade.

The best move for the Philadelphia 76ers would be to see if they can get something very good in return in offering Ben Simmons in trades.  This would either ensure that they will be able to make a very good trade in the long run, and it would also be a sound tactical strategy that would prevent them from making rash moves or bad trades in the process. 

Also, if Ben Simmons holds out in the regular season, this could allow for some of their younger players to get playing time, and it may allow players such as Isaiah Joe, Paul Reed, and/or Jaden Springer get more game experience, which could enable them to grow faster while the 76ers-Ben Simmons situation play itself out.

5. Another option they have is that, the Philadelphia 76ers could attempt to call Ben Simmons’ bluff, see if he returns to them on his own, with the firm belief that he will play for them just before the start of the regular season, and see how that goes.

This would not be a recommended strategy, because Ben Simmons most likely will hold out if Philadelphia keeps him, and he is not interested in playing for the Philadelphia 76ers.

6. One more option is that, the Philadelphia 76ers could apologize for any hurt feelings they may have caused him during the playoffs and in the offseason, in order to try to smooth over their relationship so that they could try to bring him back to their team.

The 76ers could opt to pour in the time and resources and see if they and Ben Simmons would be able to find some middle ground. Maybe Doc Rivers could assert that Ben Simmons may be a championship level player, regardless of position. Perhaps Darryl Morey could find a way to make the Ben Simmons-76ers’ situation work. Most likely, this won’t work as a strategy, but the odds of this working may be the same odds that the Philadelphia 76ers have to land either Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal via trade (which would be not very high at all). Therefore, if the 76ers are intent on trying to bring him back, they might as well try to apologize and see if they can meet up with him and his demands at least half way to see if they can work together again.

In examining what the Philadelphia 76ers can do right now regarding their situation with Ben Simmons, the most logical options would be 1) if Philly tries to trade him, but only if it’s a very good offer, or 2) if they were to trade him just to get a deal done, but take a less than favorable deal, or 3) if they can’t trade him, that they were to send him home until something else happens.

Most importantly, the best thing for Daryl Morey and the Philadelphia 76ers would be to stay patient, and wait until they can make a very good move, or see if Ben Simmons would be willing to come back if no good trade options are available.

Will Damian Lillard and Joel Embiid be teammates on the Philadelphia 76ers someday? They probably won’t be teammates anytime soon, but it could be in the 76ers’ best interest to explore all trade scenarios with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images, via Fansided’s The Sixer Sense)

Which of the NBA teams might be the best fit?

What can the other teams offer the Philadelphia 76ers in return?  Here are the possible suitors.  (Also, it is rumored that super agent Rich Paul would like Tyrese Maxey to be included in a possible Ben Simmons trade if Philadelphia trades Simmons. In making these trades, I went to FanSpo to try out these trade ideas. 

Hypothetical Trade Scenarios with these teams:

The Portland Trail Blazers (Scenario #1 with Damian Lillard, Hypothetical Trade #1):

Ben Simmons, Tyrese Maxey, a 2022 1st Round pick, 2024 1st Round pick, and a lottery protected 2026 1st Round pick to the Portland Trail Blazers for Damian Lillard.

Likelihood of Trade Happening: Extremely Unlikely/Almost Zero Chance of Happening.

In the unlikely event if Portland ever is willing to trade Damian Lillard, the Philadelphia 76ers would be wise to jump on the chance to trade for him, if they make him available.  Of course, the 76ers probably would have to give up plenty more than just Ben Simmons, but Damian Lillard would give the 76ers the elite shooter, scorer, and shot-creator that could jumpstart a stalling offense in the playoffs.

For Ben Simmons, he’d get a fresh start in Portland, and he gets a situation where he’s mostly surrounded by shooters, and he would get to play a more playmaking, defensive anchor type of role similar to Draymond Green, which may suit his skills more.  Also, Tyrese Maxey would give Portland a promising, speedy, scoring playmaker that has high upside, and the Blazers would find room to give him plenty of playing time.

The Portland Trail Blazers (Scenario #2 with C.J. McCollum, if they can’t get Damian Lillard, Hypothetical Trade #2):

Ben Simmons and Tyrese Maxey to the Portland Trail Blazers for C.J. McCollum, Anfernee Simons, a 2022 1st Round pick, and a 2024 1st Round pick.

In the event if Philly can’t get Damian Lillard in return, then they could try to trade for C.J. McCollum to make their team fit a little better by getting a sharpshooter that excels at scoring the basketball.  Also, Anfernee Simons would give Philly a very athletic combo guard that could make back most or all of what Maxey could give them, as they would swap one guard for another.

The Minnesota Timberwolves (Hypothetical Ben Simmons Trade #3):

Ben Simmons to the Minnesota Timberwolves for D’Angelo Russell, Jaden McDaniels, a 2022 1st Round pick, a 2024 1st Round pick, and a 2026 1st Round pick.

Likelihood of Trade Happening: Unlikely/Very Slim.

Technically, D’Angelo Russell is a former NBA All-Star, as he once made the All-Star team when he was with the Brooklyn Nets, and he is an agile scoring guard that can provide shooting and playmaking skills.  On paper, this might be a solid fit for Philly, which would give Minnesota fans pause and make them hesitant to make this trade.

On the other hand, Russell is also years removed from that appearance, and there hasn’t been much to suggest that he could return to that form.  Golden State had their worst season with him on board, and he just hasn’t been healthy in Minnesota, so his stock is down, too.

Jaden McDaniels is coming off of a solid rookie season, and he is a very athletic, versatile combo forward that has shown promise as a shooter and defender, and his length, athleticism, and versatility could bolster Philly’s bench.  Tyrese Maxey could make back some of the offensive production that Minnesota would lose in trading away Russell.  Also, Leandro Bolmaro will play for the Minnesota Timberwolves this season, and he could be another player that could potentially be thrown in to make this deal work. if Leandro Bolmaro plays well this season, Philadelphia could also look to trade for him as another player that could be thrown in the deal. In that case, Bolmaro could provide shooting and playmaking skills off the bench, similar to Shake Milton.

There are significant concerns about Ben Simmons’ shooting, scoring, and reluctance to shoot, and the idea of him playing on another team where the center is the team’s best player (Karl-Anthony Towns) may make it a questionable fit, but his strong playmaking and defensive skills would fill a void and could make Minnesota a team that could be in a better spot to compete for the playoffs in the short-term.

The Indiana Pacers (Hypothetical Ben Simmons Trade #4):

Ben Simmons to the Indiana Pacers for Domantas Sabonis, T.J. Warren, a 2022 1st Round pick, and a 2024 lottery protected 1st Round pick.

Likelihood of Trade Happening: Unlikely/Very Slim.

For the 76ers, they would get a skilled, offensive big man in Domantas Sabonis that might be able to play alongside Joel Embiid, and they also would get an athletic, skilled scoring forward to add to their team.  The Pacers would forge a defensive identity by having Ben Simmons to go along with Myles Turner and Malcolm Brogdon, and they would try to be a similar team to the Utah Jazz, but perhaps more versatile.

Also, it would be the logical move to split up Turner and Sabonis, because they haven’t played too well together.  There’s no indication that the Pacers’ executive Kevin Pritchard would consider this though, so this trade idea probably would be off the table.  Also, it might not fit Ben Simmons’ personality to play for a small market team like Indiana, as he is known for living a higher-profile life off the court.  On Philly’s end, it would be uncertain as to if Embiid and Sabonis would team up well, because Sabonis is not really an outside shooter nor an elite defender, so their weaknesses might end up getting magnified if they team up together.

The Cleveland Cavaliers (Hypothetical Ben Simmons Trade #5):
Ben Simmons to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Collin Sexton, Kevin Love, 2022 1st Round Pick, 2024 1st Round pick, 2026 1st Round pick, and a 2028 lottery protected 1st Round pick.

Likelihood of Trade Happening: Unlikely/Very Slim.

The Cavaliers would most likely offer Collin Sexton, while dangling the contract of Kevin Love, but it’s uncertain if those two could make a difference onto a playoff team right now.  Though Kevin Love is a shooter that was once a key player on a championship team, he is coming off of his worst year, and has been on a sharp decline.  Collin Sexton is a speedy scorer, but there are significant concerns about his playmaking and his defense.  There’s not a guaranteed upper-tier player in this trade, so it probably wouldn’t be worth Philly’s time to make this deal.

The Houston Rockets (Hypothetical Ben Simmons Trade #6):
Ben Simmons to the Houston Rockets for Christian Wood, Kevin Porter Jr., Eric Gordon, a 2022 1st Round pick, a 2024 1st Round pick, and a 2026 lottery protected 1st Round pick.

Likelihood of Trade Happening: Unlikely/Very Slim.

The 76ers could make this trade with the intent of getting multiple solid players and many first round picks, but like some of the other trade scenarios, there does not appear to be an elite All-Star caliber player that the Philadelphia 76ers would get in return.

This might be a solid trade for Houston, as they could build their team around both Ben Simmons and Jalen Green, and both of them could team up to provide a potent backcourt duo in the future.

Also, the Golden State Warriors are rumored to not want to trade for Ben Simmons right now, as they feel his game is too similar to Draymond Green’s, and they are perfectly content with having Green on their team.   I also do not anticipate the Washington Wizards or the Boston Celtics trading for Ben Simmons. Also, that the Sacramento Kings would not trade either Fox or Haliburton for Ben Simmons would likely automatically eliminate them from contention to get Simmons, because they wouldn’t have anywhere close to elite assets to give the 76ers in return.

 With this in mind, the strongest suitors for Ben Simmons in terms of the ability and desire to make a trade from Philly’s end look to be:

  1. The Portland Trail Blazers
  2. Minnesota Timberwolves
  3. Indiana Pacers
  4. Cleveland Cavaliers
  5. Houston Rockets

In analyzing all of these scenarios, I am going to go ahead and make the prediction that the Philadelphia 76ers will not be able to find a trade to their liking anytime soon, and so Ben Simmons will likely hold out well into the regular season.  The angle for other NBA teams in lowballing the 76ers is that they may hope for Philly to grow desperate in trying to trade Ben Simmons, which would lower their trade demands.  Similarly, the Philadelphia 76ers could wait until the start of the season, or even as long as up to the trade deadline, and try to see if they can get an NBA team that is desperate to win the title and/or to make it to the playoffs so that they can get far more in return out of a Ben Simmons trade than expected.  If the 76ers do make a trade soon, their most logical angle may be to try to make one with the Portland Trail Blazers.

The Philadelphia 76ers do not have to make a trade right now, but certainly they are probably feeling pressured to make one.  It will be up to them to decide what the best path will be for them to handle the Ben Simmons situation.  If they can stay patient, it could be the best thing to happen to them and Ben Simmons in the future.

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