Ben Simmons' Paradoxical Trade Value by Matt John

Ben Simmons is on the trade block...

Aug 9

It's over between Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers. There were some good times, and they had a few laughs; It was far from a bad experience. But after that embarrassing loss at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks back in June, it was clear that this fling was never going to turn into a long-term commitment.


The Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons era has by no means been bad. Since the 76ers cashed in the process, they've made the playoffs every year and, they've made for some entertaining playoff series. Unfortunately, even after putting up their best regular-season output since Allen Iverson's MVP campaign, they couldn't get past their playoff demons. They somehow failed to do this even when the odds were in their favor. From that, it's clear that, with Embiid and Simmons, the Sixers are good. But not good enough.


It's one thing to fall short of expectations in the playoffs. It's another not to make any noticeable progress three years after it looked like the sky was the limit. The 76ers are still a solid team that, should they run it back, they'll probably be a top-four team in the Eastern Conference. However, it's becoming more evident that their ceiling is limited. They failed to take advantage in a postseason with an unprecedented number of injuries to star players, and now the conference is poised to get better this coming season. Between their underwhelming postseason performance and a tighter conference, it's clear that they need to make a move to raise their ceiling. Factoring in that Embiid and Doc Rivers threw Simmons under the bus, all signs are indicating that the 76ers best move would be to trade Simmons.


But how do they approach that? First, let the record show that teams try to give up as little as they possibly can for a young star who's on the trade market. That's just a fact. Especially when the star is coming off a pretty porous playoff performance as Simmons did, he was supposed to play a significant role in beating the Hawks when instead he played a substantial role in why the 76ers lost to the Hawks. That was low-lighted by that one crunch-time play in Game 7 when Simmons infamously passed up a wide-open dunk that could have changed the course of the game (and series) only to pass to Matisse Thybulle. Thybulle was fouled, and went to the foul line, his one missed free throw played a pivotal role in the 76ers blowing the game and series at home. But no one blamed him. Instead, the Sixers' choke job was on the head of Ben Simmons. Yikes.


It goes beyond a lousy playoff series and lack of progression that hinders a potential Simmons trade market. Simmons is only 25 years old, and many speculate that he could be the centerpiece for a superstar that would go on the market for a team that's probably looking at a potential rebuild - The popular name nowadays is Damian Lillard- Here's the problem with that logic. Teams that trade their superstar do so under the mindset that it's time to rebuild. A team that starts a rebuild initially tries to lose in the hopes of winning later with an accumulation of young talent from losing. If you trade your superstar for Simmons, you're not rebuilding. You're retooling.


That may sound odd after all that went down back in June, but even if Simmons hasn't taken the steps we expected him to take by Year five of his career, he still is a pretty accomplished player in the NBA. The resume speaks for itself. He's a three-time all-star, made an all-NBA team last year, made NBA All-Defense for the previous two seasons, and was in the running for Defensive Player of the Year this past season. Oh, and for the last four years, he's played over thirty playoff games. If you aim to win years down the line, Simmons is not who you want to bring in because, among his faults, he'll help you succeed right away (in the regular season). He's young. But not young enough.


The 76ers can't upgrade from Simmons at this current moment because teams that could potentially trade their superstar to start fresh won't get that because Simmons has established himself as too good to go along with a rebuild. So the other option is to trade him for lesser talent that fits better around the 76ers. But there's the problem with that idea.


Even before Simmons played a game of college ball, he was pegged as a can't-miss prospect. The league's next superstar. Now, of course, he hasn't lived up to that yet for various reasons - like his still non-existent jump shot - but he has proven himself pretty well in other phases of the game. He's an elite passer and defender, and he has phenomenal footwork. He's also a nightmare in transition. If it weren't for that darn jumper, he'd probably be a top-10 player in the league. Unfortunately, his entire scoring prowess revolves around being 0-5 feet from the basket. That problem gets exacerbated in the postseason when the best player he's played with also dominates that area.


Embiid has a much more expanded scoring prowess than Simmons, but anyone who's watched him knows that he's at his best down low. While the 76ers have made it work well enough with those two that they can win a playoff series, the spacing issues those two create are a playoff elephant that the 76ers can't keep ignoring because they'll keep losing otherwise. Hence why Simmons is on the market; however, Simmons' limitations with Embiid should make you wonder how Simmons would do if he didn't have to play with someone who not only is at his best posting up but also someone who needs the ball to be effective. That's why among his faults, many wonder if Simmons could reach that superstar gear if he ran his own show.


And you know who's more aware of this than anyone? The 76ers. They know that it's a significant risk to sell a 25-year-old all-star for lesser players when it's a strong possibility that we haven't seen him completely unleashed yet. Suppose the 76ers traded for players with lesser talent that would fit better with Embiid than Simmons would. That could help them function better in the playoffs on paper. But if Simmons reaches that superstar level that many think he can if he was in the driver's seat, then the team who gets him could get exponentially better. That, in turn, would make it look like the 76ers got ripped off, especially if the players they acquired don't change their playoff fortunes much.


That's why the 76ers not only don't want to acquire lesser talent in a potential Simmons trade, but they want any interested party to sell the farm for him. They hope to mitigate the risk of Simmons coming back to bite them. Keep in mind that even if Simmons work ethic remains in question, there's not a whole lot that motivates a player more than knowing his team has given up on him.


So here's the paradox in a nutshell. If Simmons is available, first and foremost, you're trading him when his value is at the lowest it's ever been. It only gets worse since you can't trade him for an upgrade because the team that trades their established superstars do so because they are starting over, and he's too good to comply with that plan. And if they downgrade in a trade for Simmons for players who fit better with the 76ers, they're taking two big gambles that he won't improve as the alpha dog of his new team and that the return they got for him will make them better. Both of which are far from guaranteed.


So yeah, you can say that the Sixers management is stuck between a rock and a hard place with Ben Simmons. That's not going to get better if this saga drags itself out for weeks. If the Sixers plan to let this simmer throughout the offseason, the more complicated this conundrum could conceivably create for them.