Following the Philadelphia 76ers’ Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday, All-Star guard/forward Ben Simmons could be on the move.
CLEVELAND — Editor’s note: the Locked On Cavs podcast in the video player above is from June 17, 2021.
It didn’t take long until after the Philadelphia 76ers’ loss to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Sunday for people to begin speculating about Ben Simmons’ future in Philadelphia.
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With that in mind, here are five reasons why the Cleveland Cavaliers should consider trading for the 76ers’ three-time All-Star.
There’s no denying that Simmons has flaws as a player — more on those later. But instead of focusing on what the LSU product isn’t, let’s first take a look at what he is.
The No. 1 recruit in the 2015 class, Simmons was selected by Philadelphia with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. After sitting out the 2016-17 season with a foot injury, the 6-foot-11 guard/forward earned Rookie of the Year honors in 2018 after averaging 15.8 points on .545 shooting to go along with 8.2 rebounds and 8.1 assists.
In the three years since, Simmons has been named to three consecutive All-Star Games, two NBA All-Defensive First-Teams and the All-NBA Third-Team in 2020. In 275 career regular-season games, in which he’s primarily played point guard for Philadelphia, he’s totaled averages of 15.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.7 assists. His 32 career triple-doubles rank sixth among active players and 13th all-time.
Regardless of his potential downside, the 24-year-old Simmons is inarguably one of the most accomplished young players in the league. And such players don’t become available often, putting non-traditional free-agent markets such as Cleveland in a unique position to potentially acquire such talent.
While Simmons was reportedly considered to be the centerpiece of a failed trade in which the 76ers would have acquired James Harden as recently as earlier this year, his trade value has since plummeted to a point in which it’s tough to gauge. That rings especially true considering the four years and $146.68 million remaining on his contract and Philadelphia’s apparent need to trade him.
As for what kind of offer — if any — Cleveland would be willing to make for Simmons, that too, remains unclear, although that hasn’t stopped social media from coming up with its own offers. Most notably, the Cavs could offer fourth-year guard Collin Sexton, who it may make sense for Cleveland to trade rather than paying him his own max contract extension.
For what it’s worth, a trade package of Sexton, Taurean Prince and Cedi Osman for Simmons works under the NBA’s salary cap rules, although Philadelphia would likely also ask for at least one draft pick. While the Cavs’ 2021 first-round pick would be off the table, what Cleveland would be willing to give up in the future will depend on how much they value Simmons.
For all his faults, Simmons is, if nothing else, an elite modern defender capable of guarding all five positions on the floor. He’s also a proven playmaker with ideal size who isn’t bound to playing any one position in a lineup, even though Philadelphia has primarily used him as a point guard.
Contrast that with Cleveland’s current lineup, which has primarily consisted of smaller guards, traditional centers and wings incapable of creating their own shot. Surround Simmons with shooters — something it would take additional roster work for the Cavs to do — and Simmons would immediately raise Cleveland’s floor (and also its ceiling) after a three-year stretch in which it has amassed a league-worst 60-159 record.
Philadelphia, meanwhile, has totaled the NBA’s third-best regular-season record (214-133) since adding Simmons to its lineup, despite star center Joel Embiid missing 80 games in that span.
Barring LeBron James craving another Northeast Ohio homecoming, the Cavs’ path to acquiring star power is limited. At this point, Cleveland either needs to get lucky in the lottery, find a hidden gem in free agency or pull off a trade for a distressed asset and hope for the best.
While Tuesday night’s Draft Lottery will give the Cavs’ their next chance at Option A, Option C seems much more likely and there’s reason to believe a change of scenery would be in Simmons’ best interest. While extremely talented, the duo of Simmons and Embiid never seemed to mesh and appeared to hold each player back from reaching his full potential.
While there’s no way to tell what a team built around Simmons would be capable of, the reality remains that there are worse ways for franchises to rebuild than by betting on pure talent. Simmons certainly qualifies as just that and would bring a newfound star power that Cleveland has lacked since James’ departure for Los Angeles in 2018.
So if Simmons is so great, why can’t Philadelphia seem to get rid of him fast enough? It’s a fair question to ask.
While the 76ers have found plenty of regular-season success with Simmons, their track record in the postseason has been nothing short of spotty. And a big part of why Philadelphia has failed to advance past the Eastern Conference Semifinals in the past four seasons could be pinned on Simmons, whose lack of ability as a shooter has routinely been exploited.
In fact, it’s not just Simmons’ lack of shooting ability, but his unwillingness to take shots that has seemingly hurt the 76ers. Furthermore, he’s been a liability at the free-throw line, shooting .597 for his career in the regular season and .520 in the playoffs, including a brutal .342 from the charity stipe in this year’s postseason.
While he’ll almost assuredly never become a knockdown shooter or long-distance threat, the reality remains that he’s accomplished everything he has in his career to this point without that skill set being a part of his game. Sure, his performance against the Hawks, in which he was seemingly passing up wide-open layups, was particularly alarming, but a four-year sample size seems more representative of Simmons’ ability than a seven-game series.
Any team that trades for Simmons will have to cater to his deficiencies, surrounding him with shooters that he can create for, be it in transition, on the perimeter or out of the post. And considering his offensive limitations, any team built around Simmons may simply face a ceiling that falls short of reaching the NBA Finals.
That being said, Simmons is the type of player who could reenergize a Cavs rebuild that has seemingly become stagnant. Perhaps Tuesday’s NBA Draft lottery will change that.
But if not, acquiring an All-NBA-caliber talent might make for the best consolation prize.