As Philadelphia 76ers president Daryl Morey attempts to find a solution to the Ben Simmons situation, his primary goal is clear. Regardless of what happens with the former No. 1 overall pick, he must maximize Joel Embiid’s prime years by keeping his team at or near the upper crust of the Association.
Playoff meltdowns and funky second-round exits won’t cut it — Embiid and his crew need to be contending for titles.
As relates to Simmons, Morey essentially has two avenues toward reaching that goal. He can trade the Aussie, ensuring that he wins the deal by bringing back another elite player. Or, in the event that Simmons somehow remains in Philly, he and Doc Rivers need to fix the point guard’s jumper and restore his confidence, utilizing whatever dark pact or voodoo magic is necessary to do so.
Given the weirdness that now exists between the Sixers and their floor general, as well as the reports that Simmons is officially on the trading block, the first option is likely the way to go. Alas, Morey could have a tough time getting something of equal or greater value back for Simmons.
Buddy Hield, D’Angelo Russell, Collin Sexton, et al. aren’t cutting the mustard.
But if this guy asks for a trade, as True Hoop’s Henry Abbott says will happen soon, things could change.
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A Damian Lillard Deal Would Get the Job Done
One player that would check all the boxes is Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard. According to league insider Marc Stein, Morey “longs” for Lillard. And Lillard may be longing for a new team, too, after the Blazers failed to get out of the first-round once again in 2020-21 and followed that up with a controversial head coaching hire that may or may not have drawn Lillard’s ire.
Actually getting Lillard to Philly could be a daunting task, though.
In a league where stars win championships, Portland is doing better than most with Lillard as the tip of the spear. He’s a top-five scorer in the NBA, he’s a crunch-time assassin and he’s one of just a handful of players league-wide with the skills and the swagger to be the face of a franchise.
Unfortunately for Morey and the Sixers, nobody wants to let a player like that go when they’re still playing prime-level basketball and are locked into a long-term contract extension. This is especially true of somebody like Blazers GM Neil Olshey, whose job is already looking less secure by the day.
Missing on a Lillard trade could seal his fate — if it isn’t sealed already.
Olshey in Trouble?
When Olshey first joined the Blazers in 2012, he was riding higher than most. He had just helped flip the script for the L.A. Clippers, springing the franchise from basketball jail and snagging a seat at the winners’ table by putting together the Lob City crew. If anybody could get Portland back into the title conversation, it was him.
Nearly a decade later, Blazers fans are still waiting for it to happen.
The Blazers got close two years ago, winning 53 games and eventually making it to the 2019 Western Conference Finals. However, the team was subsequently swept by the Golden State Warriors. That was the only time in the last five years that the Blazers were even able to get out of Round 1.
That level of underperformance in and of itself is probably enough for Portland to consider a change in leadership. Olshey’s mishandling of the Chauncey Billups coaching hire may end up being the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Although Billups makes a ton of sense from a basketball standpoint, he comes with some serious baggage in the form of a 1997 rape allegation. And according to an investigative report by OPB, Olshey may have dropped the ball on vetting Billups’ account of what transpired despite claiming that the Blazers did everything in their power to do so.
Olshey claimed that the team “corroborated Chauncey’s recollection of the events that nothing non-consensual happened.” However, several key people connected to the ’97 case — including Billups’ accuser — reportedly weren’t even contacted by the Blazers’ investigators.
How Olshey’s Situation Could Open the Door for a Simmons-Lillard Swap
Clearly, the Blazers have more reasons than ever to move on from Olshey, who doesn’t want to be the guy that traded Lillard. That’s not to say that his replacement would be champing at the bit to send the six-time All-Star on the first flight out of PDX, but that person could absolutely be more willing to turn the page.
As it stands, the Blazers are nowhere near competing for the title and Dame isn’t getting any younger. It may just be a matter of time before he looks to secure his exit. If that’s the direction things are going, Portland needs to make a move.
To that end, Morey and the Sixers could have the best trade return to offer in Simmons. As it stands, most of the names that have been connected to a Simmons deal have underwhelmed. The Blazers could face a similar predicament if they’re forced to part with Lillard.
Ultimately, there may not be a deal to be made between the Sixers and the Blazers. But if Morey can hold off on moving Simmons and the Olshey drama results in a new GM entering the fray, the chances of Blazers-Sixers swap probably becomes a nonzero number.
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