It is November, so there is no need to panic, of course. NBA seasons tend to look a lot different by New Year’s Day than they do here in late November. Still, even with the small sample size here in late November, there are two seemingly intractable situations that are dragging down potential contenders.
The first, is obviously a problem: Ben Simmons with (or without) the Sixers.
He’s not playing for the Sixers, and has no plans to play, while the team has no suitable trade offers at the ready and is not actively compiling them. This has devolved into a chess match between Simmons’ camp and the Sixers’ front office, a series of public-relations tactics designed to sway the opinions of fans, who seem universally turned off by the whole thing.
The second is the imploding Russell Westbrook experiment in Los Angeles, which appeared to be a bad idea on paper and has appeared to be just as bad an idea on the court.
Injuries have largely held back the 10-11 Lakers, but it’s become evident that Westbrook is not a good fit with this team, despite decent enough numbers—20.4 points, 8.7 assists and 8.5 rebounds. He is making 43.8% of his shots and only 31.2% of his 3-pointers. He is making 59.1% of his shots within three feet, according to Basketball-Reference.com, his worst finishing number since 2017.
These are two very big, very expensive problems. After talking with several executives around the league, though, combining those problems could be the best solution.
“I think the only thing that makes sense, that could be OK with everyone in the short term, that’s acceptable, is you send out Russ for Ben Simmons,” one NBA front-office exec told Heavy.com. “There’s enough talent going both ways, enough positive for both sides, there is history there on both sides, connections, enough common ground that maybe you could get that one over the finish line. Maybe.”
Would Westbrook’s Shorter Contract Entice the Sixers?
It is a big maybe, of course. Any such deal would depend largely on the Sixers and their willingness to take back Westbrook as the chief prize for Simmons, especially with Tyrese Maxey on board and in need of playing time. Maxey has a bit of young Westbrook in his game, and it would be difficult for the Sixers to play both together at the same time.
But there are two factors that could nudge the Sixers into such a deal. The first is Westbrook’s contract, which potentially runs up this year. He has a $44 million option for next season, though, and it’s likely he will pick that up. Simmons is signed for four more years and $130 million, so one advantage for the Sixers would be getting out of the final two years of that mess.
The other factor is that Sixers president Daryl Morey does have a fondness for Westbrook, having traded for him in Houston in 2019 to pair him with James Harden. Westbrook had a slow start to the season then, too, but hit his stride in December and was garnering MVP talk by the end of January. In Houston in 2019-20, from December 9 through the suspension of the season because of COVID-19, Westbrook averaged 30.9 points on 50.8% shooting.
Westbrook is 33 now, and his struggles this season may be a sign he has lost a step. But he has put up good numbers lately (26.5 points, 9.0 assists, 9.8 rebounds in his last four games) and more of that could make him more palatable in a trade.
“I think Morey still likes Westbrook and there could be a deal in there,” one East GM told Heavy. “I think you would need a third team to make the money work because the Lakers do not have a lot of middle-tier guys or draft picks they can add to get the Sixers’ interest. But really, it would come down to, would Russ be enough of a return for Simmons? They’re holding out for the (James) Hardens and the (Damian) Lillards now, and it’s a matter of whether that changes.”
Lakers Would Likely Welcome a Swap
On the flip side, the Lakers would likely leap at a Simmons-Westbrook swap. The team will be stubborn about making the Westbrook experiment work—we all know the players and potential deals they passed on to make Westbrook happen—but the opportunity to land Simmons would be just too tempting.
And it would be ideal for the Simmons camp, as Simmons just happens to be represented by Klutch Sports, which represents LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Talen Horton-Tucker. Rich Paul is the face of the company, but it is believed that James has significant sway within the group, and James would surely like to rescue Simmons from the Sixers mess and try to lift him up in L.A.
“That’s Option 1 if you’re Klutch, get him to LeBron,” the GM said. “That would be at the top of the list and everything else would be down well below that. I’m sure they’d feel they could get his career right back on track if he was with LeBron day in and day out.”
But what could the Lakers add to the pile to make a deal worthwhile for the Sixers? The do not want to move Horton-Tucker. Kendrick Nunn would not likely move the needle for the Sixers. Everyone else on L.A.’s roster is a minimum-contract player. Malik Monk? Austin Reaves? L.A. could include a first-round pick, but they’re not able to trade one until 2026.
The involvement of a third team could, potentially, serve to sweeten the Lakers’ position by giving the Sixers a spot to park an unwanted contract for a draft pick.
It would be difficult, and it might not be the solution the Sixers want. But something has got to give. And a Simmons-Westbrook swap would at least bring to an end two significant early-season problems.