NBA Trade Buzz: Philadelphia 76ers Unlikely to Trade Ben Simmons Despite Daryl Morey's Arrival
The Philadelphia 76ers continue to shakeup their front office in the hopes of finally getting over the hump and recover from a dismal playoff exit last season. The 76ers suffered a first-round sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics in the 2020 NBA Playoffs. Following their early exit, the 76ers fired Brett Brown and hired Doc Rivers as their new head coach starting next season.
It did not end with the coaching change, as Philadelphia also made a huge splash by hiring former Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey as their new president of basketball operations. The arrival of Morey could be synonymous to arranging big trades in the near future, which raises questions about 76ers superstars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, who are continuously being mentioned in trade rumors.
During his tenure with the Rockets, Morey made a lot of big moves in the hopes of turning the franchise into a title contender. He struck deals to acquire superstars like Chris Paul, James Harden, and most recently Russell Westbrook. Now that he is in Philadelphia, John Hollinger of The Athletic said that he is not expecting drastic changes on Morey's philosophy, which means there will be a lot of trades involving Philadelphia.
"The one thing I can guarantee is that there will be trades," Hollinger said. "Houston made 77 of them in Morey’s tenure, and no deal was too small to escape his attention. In 2017, for instance, the Rockets made six cash trades for marginal, low-salaried players with non-guaranteed minimum deals, because it gave them the required salary match for the Chris Paul trade. I can’t emphasize this enough, for those who were on the outside: Houston was the most aggressive team in the league as far as calling about trade possibilities."
This early, Simmons is already being tagged as the most likely to be dealt soon because Morey prefers players who can knock it down from beyond the arc. It is no secret that Simmons is not a three-pointer shooter, and in fact, he is hesitant to take shots from beyond the arc. In the three seasons he played in the league, the former first overall pick has only attempted 24 three-pointers, making just two, which all came last season.
However, Hollinger believes that Morey's arrival does not mean that the time of Simmons in Philadelphia is about to end. He thinks that while Simmons is very reluctant to extend his range, the 24-year-old point guard has the ability to create open three-pointers for his teammates. Hollinger also added that Morey has the reputation to collect stars, and not send them elsewhere unless he is getting another star in return.
"I don’t see Simmons’ reluctance to shoot 3s as some automatic signal that Morey will trade him," Hollinger said. "Simmons is one of the best in the league at generating 3- point shots for others, for one, while his truly unique defensive talents argue for keeping him in any event. Besides, Morey’s defining attribute in Houston was his relentless focus on obtaining stars, not getting rid of them. In fact, one important and underrated, factor that Morey brings to the table in Philadelphia is called patience."
Rohad Nadkarni of Sports Illustrated agreed that the 76ers are unlikely to part ways with Simmons anytime soon. One of the main reasons why he is continuously being mentioned in trade rumors is the question about his fit alongside Embiid because their partnership has not produced significant results for the 76ers.
However, Nadkarni pointed out that there are tons of proof that the duo of Simmons and Embiid can work. The struggles and early playoff exit of the 76ers are well-documented, but he believes that it has nothing to do with their superstar duo, saying that the disaster was brought by the questionable moves in recent years.
"There's actually plenty of proof Simmons and Embiid play well off of each other," Nadkarni said. "All the way back in 2018, the Sixers had one of the best five-man lineups in the NBA. You’ve heard me and 100 other people recap what happened then and what happened next. Philly kept making trade after trade, putting together another solid group in 2019, until ultimately settling on a team that made no sense in 2020. The problem was not Simmons and Embiid. The problem was everything happening around them."
The 76ers have invested a lot in the current roster, as proven by the huge contract for Al Horford and Tobias Harris, which are two of the most questioned moves from the 76ers in the past several years. While breaking up the Embiid-Simmons duo would mean a new start for the 76ers, Nadkarni does not see it coming simply because the 76ers are now run by a new front office and new coaching staff, who are willing to go all in.
"They’ve brought in one of the most respected coaches in the league, and one of the most forward-thinking GMs ever to run their front office," Nadkarni said. "This franchise is going to have a different feel next season no matter what. While it may be tempting to really throw a wrench into the whole operation after making moves at the top, Philly has already thrown too much at Simmons and Embiid over the last two years."
If the 76ers decide to make drastic changes on the supporting cast for Embiid and Simmons, Harris and Horford are expected to be mentioned in numerous trade talks. But among the two veterans, Derek Bodner of The Athletic thinks that Harris will likely stay in Philadelphia because the odds are in his favor.
Teams, even those who are looking to contend for a title, would be very hesitant to absorb the huge contract of Harris, who will be playing in the second season of his five-year, $180 million contract with the 76ers. Bodner also thinks that Harris is still a good fit to the current roster, as he can complement their two superstars. It is also worth noting that Harris had the best years of his career while playing under Doc Rivers with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Harris played two seasons under Rivers in Los Angeles. In his first season with the Clippers, the veteran forward averaged a then-career-high 19.3 points per game. He then took it to another level the following season, where he posted 20.9 points in 55 games with the Clippers before he was traded to the 76ers midway through the season. He averaged 19.6 points last season but struggled mightily in the playoffs, where he posted 15.8 points on a measly 38.3 percent shooting from the field, including a 13.3 percent clip from beyond the arc.
"Rivers' experience with Harris makes him a familiar face for the new coach, and likely gives Rivers some confidence he can get more out of Harris than what the Sixers have seen to date," Bodner said. "Now, will this answer be the same at the deadline or next offseason? That may be a more interesting question. But, for now, there’s a solid chance that Harris returns."
As for Horford, while his contract is also unattractive, his experience might be a factor for contending teams and could still excel given the right situation. Bodner feels that the 76ers will eventually find a taker for Horford, where they will get a guard or a wing player in return, who would be a better fit with Simmons and Embiid. There's also a chance that Horford will be dealt for a backup center.
"Horford feels like the more logical trade piece than Harris for a few reasons," Hollinger said. "While his contract is negative value, it’s less punitive than Harris’ in terms of total money and years. Number two, Horford still has the skill-set to affect winning when placed in the right situation. And the major reason is that unlike Harris, Horford should be playing center full time and is an extremely poor fit on offense next to Embiid."
Most of the contracts of 76ers are players are hard to trade this offseason, considering the impact to the revenue brought by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, Bodner said that aside from Horford, fans should not be surprised if the 76ers eventually decide to trade Josh Richardson. He thinks that among the players who could be made available in trades, Richardson might be the one to get a lot of interests on the market.
"Josh Richardson is one of the few exceptions," Bodner said. "Combine the Sixers’ need for more shooting and shot creation with Richardson being one of the few contracts of significance that the team would be open to trading, along with the high probability that he will opt out of the final year of his contract, and Richardson seems like a logical choice if the Sixers do look to make a significant trade to reshape the roster in Rivers' vision."
Richardson averaged 13.7 points to go along with 3.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game last season. In their four games against the Celtics in the playoffs, the 27-year-old guard turned out to be one of their most productive player after averaging 16.8 points on top of 3.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. The former Tennessee standout will earn $10.87 million next season and holds an $11.62 million player option for the 2021-22 NBA season.