As Clipper Nation anxiously awaits a decision from newly minted unrestricted free agent Kawhi Leonard, clear across the country another franchise is making the frustration around Leonard look like a yoga meditation.
Philadelphia 76ers point guard Ben Simmons wants out, according to Bleacher Report’s Jason Dumas, who on August 5 told 95.7’s The Morning Roast that the 25-year-old has broken off direct communication with the Sixers. Simmons is now directing all inquiries to his agent, Rich Paul, and refusing to answer calls from teammate Joel Embiid, Dumas reported.
This lines up nicely with the wishes of a lot of Sixers fans — they want Simmons out, never more so than in the wake of his disastrous case of the butterflies this postseason. But Philly’s front office, headed by ex-Rockets GM Daryl Morey, won’t just give Simmons away. Not by a long shot.
However, with each passing day and each report that all the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t put Simmons and the Sixers together again, Morey’s leverage with possible trading partners diminishes, perhaps creating an opportunity for teams that were once thought to be out of the running.
“[Simmons] is open to the California teams, is what I’ve been told,” said Dumas, noting that the “young socialite” is not jazzed at the prospect of painting the town red in Portland or Toronto.
The Golden State Warriors were the primary focus of Dumas’s report, but could this also open the door for the Clippers, who are without a tradable first-round pick for another half-decade and just gave their biggest trading chip, Paul George, a huge extension in December?
The answer is yes. And it could be a boon for both teams.
Deal Would Mean Relocating Several Clippers
Financially speaking, Simmons is owed $33 million in 2021-22, the second year of a 5-year, $177 million extension signed in July of 2019. According to Spotrac, the deal includes a 15% trade kicker for the remaining balance of his contract ($147 million), which is payable by the Sixers and would count against Philly’s cap space equally over the next four years.
Because the team trading for a player must include the kicker in terms of matching salaries, the Clippers would need to send back approximately $38 million to Philadelphia — unless, that is, Simmons opted to waive the kicker. Let’s assume he does not waive the kicker, though.
Obviously, this is a hefty sum and would require the Clippers to part with several players.
Ben Simmons, $38 million (including kicker)
Marcus Morris, $15.6 million
Patrick Beverley, $14.3 million
Rajon Rondo, $8.2 million
In simple dollars and cents, this trade works. (And if Simmons was willing to waive his kicker, a deal for Luke Kennard, instead of Morris, would work, too.) But the big question, for both teams, is if it works on the court.
From the Clippers’ perspective, even before Leonard returns from his ACL rehab, such a deal would potentially give L.A. the best starting defensive team in the league, featuring Simmons, George, Terance Mann, Nicolas Batum, and either Ivica Zubac or Serge Ibaka at center. Include Leonard in there, if he signs and plays this season, and it could be one of the more formidable defenses in a long time.
On offense, Simmons is terrific at getting into the paint and either finishing at the rim or kicking out for three. In fact, Simmons, who averaged 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists while shooting 55.7% last season, has consistently been one of the best in the league at manufacturing 3-point shots — a nice fit on a Clippers team that loves to spread the floor and let it fly.
However, Simmons’ own hesitancy to shoot from the outside (to put it lightly) could obviously be troublesome. It’s the reason, after all, the Sixers are looking to move him in the first place. (That and free-throw shooting.) Last season, the 6-foot-11 southpaw attempted a grand total of 55 shots from more than 16 feet, with only 11 of those coming from behind the arc, of which he made three. It’s not so much a problem in the regular season when opposing teams aren’t likely to spend much time scheming, but that changes in the playoffs as teams have all series to draw out a player’s weaknesses.
Morris, on the other hand, was second in the NBA in 3-point percentage last season. And Beverley, though often categorized similarly to Simmons — a guy who can play defense but can’t shoot — is better from behind the arc than his reputation might suggest. Last season he shot 39.7% from three and is 38.2% for his career. As a team last season, the Clippers’ shot 41.1% from 3-point territory, tops in the NBA.
But even without those guys, the Clippers are still flush with shooters. In addition to George, Batum, and eventually Leonard (assuming he re-signs), L.A. has Reggie Jackson, who just re-signed after a bonkers postseason, Kennard and Ibaka.
The deal, however, could be a tough pill to swallow psychologically for the Sixers. Simmons was the first overall pick in the 2016 draft and has been a major part of Philly’s so-called “process.” As such, Morey has been asking for a lot in return.
“Four first-round picks, an All-Star caliber player and perhaps a villa in France,” mused The Atheltic’s John Hollinger on Thursday.
But as Simmons’s desire to leave Philly becomes more and more amplified, Morey may be forced to draw a new line in the sand. Which is nothing new for Morey, who, according to Hollinger, prefers to begin all negotiations from an exaggerated position of strength.
“[Houston] always started with a sky-high asking price, making borderline absurd offers and then working their way back to something reasonable,” said Hollinger, who spent seven years as VP of basketball operations for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Trade Could Be Advantageous to Sixers Now & Down the Line
There are very tangible benefits for the Sixers in this trade, too. By getting Morris, who Morey drafted in 2011 over Leonard (whoops!), Philadelphia would add another scoring threat to a team desperate for shooters. Against Atlanta in the Eastern Conference semifinals, when former-Clipper Tobias Harris went cold, the Sixers were left to rely on Seth Curry for most of their outside production. They would’ve killed for someone like Morris at that point. Morris is also as tough as they come defensively on the wing and on the block.
Beverley, though far less dynamic defensively than Simmons, is still one of the best on-ball defenders in the league, as he showed in the playoffs this year, frequently stifling and frustrating Utah’s Donovan Mitchell and Phoenix’s Devin Booker.
Rondo is clearly the odd man out in this scenario, and his diminished effectiveness down the stretch last season is never a good sign for a player who will be 36 in February. But his basketball IQ and playoff experience could nevertheless be a nice addition — if only in the locker room — for a team that has struggled mightily in the postseason.
Not only that, both Rondo and Beverley are on expiring deals, so the Sixers would free up around $22 million in cap space after next season if they eventually chose to let those guys go. This could be hugely beneficial in a 2022 free agency market that may feature James Harden, Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal and Kyrie Irving — all of whom have player options for 2022-23.