It’s Happening! It’s Happening! Ok, nothing has really happened yet, but it seems like the Ben Simmons trade situation is moving closer to a resolution. With recent developments and the Wolves front office seemingly lusting after the Sixers’ star I want to break it all down to analyze how this could work.
Here at Ball Eyes North we (me) love to write about hypotheticals. At this point in the offseason, what else is there to write about? It is fun to think about the ways your favorite team can improve and plot out the methods to make that happen. The key is to focus on realistic moves that are plausible and have more than a 0.5% chance of happening. To this point I have kept my toes out of the Ben Simmons discourse for the most part because as much as I would love that guy on my favorite team’s roster, I chose to spend time on things that seemed more likely. Well, it is almost unavoidable now with Simmons demanding out of Philadelphia:
The pendulum on the Ben Simmons debate (mostly on Twitter) has swung way too far towards him being undervalued. I completely understand his shooting limitations and a perceived lack of intensity and reliability in big moments. Valid flaws? Sure! But, he’s a 6'11" 240lb. guard who is one of the best athletes in the league. Over the past few years, only Russell Westbrook has assisted on more 3pt. shots than Ben Simmons. The Aussie is a one-man fastbreak when he grabs rebounds and flies down the court like a freight train. Oh, and he finished 2nd in Defensive Player of the year voting last season! Did I mention he does all of this at 6'11" and 240lbs in a sport where the best players are very tall and very skilled? (I know I did I just wanted to say it again)
If acquired by the Wolves, Simmons would immediately step in as the 2nd best defender to ever play for the team. No other player outside of KG has had the combination of length, athleticism, strength, and defensive IQ while wearing a Wolves jersey. He also has a case for being one of the top 5 best Wolves players ever the second he steps on the court. Consider this, Simmons has made 3 All Star appearances already in his career. The Wolves franchise has only 7 different players that have made All Star games. They have 19 total All Star appearances overall. If you strip away KG’s 10 appearances himself, that only leaves 9 other instances in the franchise’s 30 year existence. Yes, Ben Simmons would provide much needed star power.
So how would Big Ben fit here in Minnesota? To understand that, let us first discuss the situation he would be coming from. There is no doubt that Philadelphia has had some good teams over the past few years. Having players like Simmons, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid helps! But it has certainly not been the best situation to maximize Ben Simmons’ unique talents. He has spent exactly 55 regular season games next to a high-level ball handler on the perimeter. That was Jimmy Butler a couple years ago. Because of lack of a true ball handling guard on the roster, Ben has had primary ball handling duties foisted on to him. While he is certainly a capable point guard, he is not the “floor general” that he was originally touted to be and it has sometimes lead to unfair criticisms of his game.
Simmons has shouldered these duties while playing a high percentage of minutes next to Joel Embiid. Embiid’s unique size and abilities make him most effective when isolating defenders around the elbows and on the block. He is nearly unstoppable 1 on 1, and when he is surrounded by shooters defenses are put in a no-win situation. In playoff situations this made it difficult to function at a high level with Simmons on the court next to Embiid. Once Ben passed Joel the ball, where was he supposed to go? He is not a shooter, and standing in the dunker spot only succeeds at clogging up the lane for the prodigious big man. For several seasons the Sixers have had an ill-fitting combination of stars, but have had the talent to succeed in the regular season anyway.
With the Timberwolves, many of those fit issues are negated. Operating under the assumption that DLo, Ant, and KAT would be leftover on the team when Simmons is acquired, he would seem to be a “hand in glove” fit around those 3. First off, there exists multiple perimeter ball handlers to take the pressure off of Ben in initiating the offense. Each of those players, mainly DLo and Ant, are also adept at pulling up from 3 with the ball in their hands so running actions where Simmons screens for them can still keep the lane open for Ben to roll to the rim and make plays from there. In situations where Ben is the ball handler, he will finally have a big man that can be an elite “pick & pop” player setting screens for him. If defenses drop to clog the lane for Simmons it is a good bet that Towns will receive an accurate pass for an open 3. A creative coach like Chris Finch should have no problem forming his offense to the personnel, and with a talent like Ben Simmons I am sure Finch could make a great meal out of those quality ingredients.
Defensively Simmons covers up the majority of the issues that the Wolves have faced for years. While Karl-Anthony Towns has been the scapegoat for the team’s poor performance on that end of the court, the reality is that there have been far too many complete team defense breakdowns over the past few years. This is a team that struggles to defend and matchup in transition, stop ball handlers from penetrating into the paint, and struggles to rebound the ball. KAT is not the main reason for any of those issues, but he is not a good enough defender to cover those up.
Enter Simmons. On defense, Ben seems like a “created player” in NBA 2K. Like someone made a ridiculously quick and strong player, then decided he should be 6'11" and 240lbs. He seems like a cheat code with the way he is able to stay in front of small guards like Damian Lillard and Trae Young while also bodying up on scoring forwards like Jayson Tatum and Kawhi Leonard. The best part is, he seems to really relish doing this type of work on the court. He knows what he is great at and shows it every single game. Over the past few years, the only player that has showed this type of on-ball defense in a Wolves jersey was Jimmy Butler. As much as I dislike him, it was a breath of fresh air watching him defend on the ball, especially in crunch time. Bringing in Simmons would replicate the intensity that Butler showed on the ball while also covering up much of the rebounding and transition defense issues. On a team with several offensively inclined stars, the caliber of defense that Simmons provides would be sorely needed.
I would be remiss if I did not mention Ben Simmons’ fit on the Wolves in terms of relationships. While I am sure Simmons has friends and good relationships with players on the Sixers, him and Joel Embiid have always seemed more like a business arrangement than a real friendship. That is perfectly fine! But when things go wrong it means no feelings will be spared, and boy did things go wrong. That is why Embiid had no problem calling out Simmons after the Game 7 playoff loss to the Hawks. They both had jobs to do, and Joel felt that Ben did not do his.
On the Wolves Ben Simmons would have past relationships with several of the top players. Ben and KAT have had a friendship going back years while DLo and Simmons played at Montverde Academy together in high school. Those relationships would not be business-driven. Anthony Edwards, another key potential teammate, is represented by Klutch Sports Group which just happens to be the agency that represents Simmons and is attempting to orchestrate his path out of Philly. Sharing agents usually leads to positive relationships!
This piece of Simmons’ fit here in Minnesota could possibly be overrated. Maybe him and his agency have no interest in matching him up with his friends. Many of us have really good friends that we do not want to work with. Friends can stay friends without working together! But in looking around the league we see these friendships turning into partnerships more often. Jimmy Butler just recruited his good buddy Kyle Lowry to Miami. Kyrie and KD teamed up in Brooklyn, then their friend James Harden slashed and burned his way out of Houston to join them. Even Russell Westbrook was able to get himself traded to LA to join his friend, LeBron James, and play in his hometown. So is it really far-fetched to believe Simmons wants to go and play with guys he knows well and with a rising star that is represented by the same agency?
I have no doubt that Daryl Morey, President of Basketball Operations for the 76ers, feels that he still has all of the leverage in this situation. Leverage is typically determined by who has the most pressure on them. The more pressure, the less leverage you have in negotiations. In my opinion, a seasoned basketball executive like Morey does not feel too much pressure from Ben Simmons and his camp at this time. As news bits continue to leak to the media about Simmons not showing up for camp and being dug in on his side, Morey is likely keeping the asking price high and willing to wait out the negotiating teams. He can keep that up for a while, but eventually the pressure will be on.
Morey will lose his perceived leverage once training camp starts and Simmons actually holds out. It will not be Simmons that puts the pressure on him however, it will be other key stakeholders in the organization that will get antsy. Do we really think Joel Embiid will be happy to answer non-stop questions about who “is” and who “isn’t” at training camp? How about Doc Rivers — would a veteran no-nonsense coach like Doc want to get that distraction off the team’s back and bring in new players that can help the team? I think the answer to both of those questions is fairly easy to decipher.
As this messy situation lingers on and the season creeps closer, you can bet that prominent voices in the organization are going to want to move on from Simmons and start a new chapter with guys that want to be there. We went through this in Minnesota with Butler. Thibs and Layden waited too long to deal him, so when the trade finally happened we did not care that the return was unsatisfactory. We received players that would show up and play and leave the drama behind. I would imagine Sixers fans and players would feel the same.
The leverage is not ALL in the rest of the NBA’s favor as Daryl Morey certainly is not the only one feeling pressure. Some of the teams that are reportedly interested in acquiring Simmons like the Wolves, Kings, and Cavs have pressure on them as well. The Wolves and Kings are prime examples. Both teams are in the midst of a complete lack of success since the early 2000’s with just one COMBINED playoff appearance since 2006. That is an incredible dearth of winning. Both teams have some promising young cores but need to make a move to rise up the standings. Daryl Morey knows this, and that is his leverage. While he is pressured to move the star player, he is still the one who controls the asset. He may be in a time crunch to deal Simmons, but it will not be highway robbery as he knows exactly which teams to target.
Don’t worry, I’ll spare you the fake trades from the Trade Machine. You have seen enough of those on Twitter and if you’re reading this you have probably spent time putting together deals yourself. The main thing I want to cover is what the Timberwolves would likely be giving up to secure the services of the big Aussie.
First off, it seems any potential deal whether it is worked out with Philly directly or with a 3rd team facilitating would need to include our beloved slender man, Jaden McDaniels. While he is not quite the “blue chip” prospect that teams often seek in a trade for a star player, Jaden is the prototypical “3 & D” prospect that has already established himself as a stud perimeter defender at just 20 years old. There are much worse players to build a trade package around than McDaniels! It would be painful for Wolves fans to see him go as it is exciting to imagine a sky-high ceiling and watch the growth alongside Anthony Edwards, but you have to give something good away to bring in a 25 year old 3-time All Star.
I think the appeal for a team like the 76ers or a 3rd team that could be acquiring McDaniels is that he can fit into just about any team’s lineup. All 30 NBA teams can use a low usage offensive player that spaces the floor and plays lockdown perimeter defense at 6'9". Every team would find minutes for that guy, so Jaden is a great starting point in any trade package for Simmons.
Then you need to add in a rotation player at a mid-size to high salary that fits with the Sixers or a 3rd team. It is likely that player is Malik Beasley. Beasley is on a decent contract relative to what his potential on-court production can be, and boy does an elite high-volume shooter like Malik fit well alongside Joel Embiid. Exchanging one of the Wolves’ best 3pt. shooters for a player like Simmons who is a non-shooter seems rough on paper, but obviously Simmons does just about everything else at an elite level. Beasley is a solid candidate to be included in any deal.
Now to make the money work, we need 1 more mid-size salary — preferably expiring. The Wolves happen to have 2 of those! Taurean Prince and Patrick Beverley. Minnesota would likely prefer to keep Beverley, but his inclusion certainly would not be a deal breaker. Both Prince and Bev are NBA rotation players, so I could see Philly (or a 3rd team) being fine with either player.
Finally, we come to draft pick compensation. It will probably take multiple 1st round draft picks to make this happen, and I would be willing to toss in 2 lightly protected future picks. 2 picks would be ideal for the Wolves because it could keep those future owed picks within the timeline of the current Wolves contracts. Simmons’ deal runs for 4 more years, with KAT on the books for another 3 years. If they are able to offer 2022 & 2024 picks only, that would mean they would owe no future draft pick debts after the current contracts of Towns & Simmons expire. I am not betting on those guys leaving after their current contracts, but it protects against the scenario of losing those guys, entering a rebuild, and facing another season of potentially giving up a lottery pick. When push comes to shove, I believe Gersson Rosas would offer a 3rd pick, although likely well-protected. In that situation he may be able to push to add another Sixers’ young player to the deal such as Isaiah Joe. Either way, I do not believe there are any teams that are willing to send more draft picks than Rosas and the Wolves.
So that could be a potential path to a trade package whether they loop in a 3rd team or trade straight up with Philadelphia: McDaniels, Beasley, Beverley/Prince, and a couple 1st round picks. A home run for Philly? Of course not. But it could give them the firepower to position for a future trade…
Which leads me to my next point. There are essentially 3 types of offers the Sixers could wish for. #1 would be trading Simmons for an established star or semi-star (Lillard, Beal, LaVine, Brogdon, etc…). I don’t really see any of those guys going anywhere prior to the season or even the trade deadline. Option #2 is what I laid out above, where they could get a couple of helpful rotation players along with a couple picks. Basically re-stock for now and get a little draft capital. Option #3 would be a complete shift into receiving future draft capital for Simmons.
In this case, a team like Minnesota would match the salary of Simmons with players like Beasley, Prince, and Jake Layman but then include a load of draft capital such as 4 1st round picks (varying protections) and maybe a couple of pick swaps. With this deal, Philadelphia basically says they are loading up to be a contender to deal for Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal should they become available. If one of those stars asks out, Philly would not hesitate to throw all of the Minnesota picks they have, plus some of their own along with young players like Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle. That’s a really good offer!
The offer Philly prefers depends what they thinks will be more valuable in a year or so; Jaden McDaniels or a couple more 1st round picks and pick swaps. As a Wolves fan that is probably irrationally attached to Jaden McDaniels, am I crazy for preferring to send out a massive draft pick package to Philly so we can retain Jaden? I might be a little crazy regardless, but to me a top 5 of Towns, Simmons, DLo, Ant, and McDaniels is one of the most skilled, athletic, and versatile groups in the NBA. We’ll deal with the draft pick losses in the future, I want to watch that group play basketball together!
If I were a betting man, I would say we will not have a conclusion to this Simmons Saga at least until training camps begin. Daryl Morey is ready to get uncomfortable so as to maximize his return. He will try to thread the needle to wait out some other teams and pulling the trigger on a deal just before the value plummets after an extended holdout. The Wolves and other teams in the running are likely ready to make a deal any day now, but Morey gets to make the decision.
For what it’s worth, the Wolves need to wait on a couple of dates before their new players can be aggregated in trades with other players. It sounds like Taurean Prince can be traded with other players again very soon here in mid-September, and Patrick Beverley’s date is right at the beginning of October after NBA training camps have began. The action will surely pick up around that time. As someone who writes about the Wolves and cares about the team I am looking forward to having this situation resolved one way or another so we know who will be on this team for this coming season. Can’t wait!