Why ‘killer’ young gun could be solution to $272m headache in ‘unpredictable’ Simmons saga

It is almost one month since prominent NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski reported Ben Simmons trade talks were “gaining momentum”.

And yet still no trade has eventuated, with Philadelphia 76ers president Daryl Morey still standing by his commitment to get a difference-maker in return for Simmons.

With the NBA’s February 10 trade deadline nearing, foxsports.com.au spoke to Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia to gauge how likely a Simmons move is at this point.

Watch the 21/22 NBA Season with ESPN on Kayo. Live coverage every week plus every game of the NBA Finals. New to Kayo? Start your free trial >

Sat, 15 Jan

Saturday January 15th

Where will Ben Simmons end up? Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images/AFPSource: AFP

WHY SIMMONS TRADE PICTURE IS STILL ‘UNPREDICTABLE’

The Indiana Pacers, Sacramento Kings and Minnesota Timberwolves are all still deeply interested in Simmons while the Cleveland Cavaliers are a “team to watch” in negotiations.

That was the word from Wojnarowski in his latest update on the Simmons trade picture late last month.

Levick said “it remains difficult to say” where the Australian could land at this stage, although the countdown towards the trade deadline may see that change quickly.

“It remains difficult to say,” Levick told foxsports.com.au.

“I think now the question is whether a deal happens before that February 10 trade deadline or whether Daryl Morey is really willing to wait this out into the off-season if he doesn’t get an offer to his liking.”

DeRozan hits ANOTHER buzzer beater! | 00:32

The Athletic’s John Hollinger reported last week that “the consensus opinion around the league” is that the Sixers are “more likely” to act at the trade deadline.

Morey though has proven himself more than willing to wait out should it guarantee a stronger deal, only complicating any predictions on an end point for the Simmons saga.

As Levick put it: “I think it is safe to say that it is still pretty unpredictable”.

The only issue for Morey — one he would be well aware of — is that the longer he waits, the more important it is he does end up getting the trade right.

As for what ‘getting the trade right’ actually means, that will revolve around maximising Joel Embiid’s prime — something Morey himself said back in October.

After all, the Sixers have Embiid signed to a four-year, $196 million ($A272m) supermax extension, so they have to make the right call.

The Sixers need to put Joel Embiid in a position to thrive. (Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

“The more Daryl Morey waits, the more that becomes the case and the more disappointed, frankly, it would be if the Sixers settle for something less than a difference-maker,” Levick said.

“I can understand it being frustrating for the fans if Simmons is on this team after the trade deadline and still not wanting to play. But I don’t think it is ludicrous to think that might be the most prudent path for Morey.

“However, I think it is a fine balance where perhaps the Sixers are able to get a player that makes them a little bit better and improves their probability of championship contention a little bit and therefore it is worth pulling the trigger.”

Ben Simmons is yet to return to the court. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

THREE MOST ‘REALISTIC’ SIMMONS DESTINATIONS

There are three teams that stand out to Levick as “realistic” landing spots for Simmons — Portland, Indiana and Sacramento.

Cleveland is also an “interesting” option, although injuries to Collin Sexton and Ricky Rubio limit its ability to offer the kind of win-now return Philadelphia is after — at least in a traditional two-team trade.

“Portland, of course, has been a team on a lot of folks’ radar because they have Damian Lillard,” Levick said.

“Indiana Pacers are another that haven’t done as well as they hoped and are reportedly quite open to making deals so they rise up the list a little as far as how likely the probability is they’d be involved in a Ben Simmons trade.

LBJ’s special NYE performance! | 01:51

“The Cleveland Cavaliers are interesting because they’ve performed better than expectations and you wonder whether Ben Simmons might be a piece that could fit there as both part of the present and part of the future, to push for contention.

“The Sacramento Kings are another where they expected to be doing better and you wonder whether some of the resistance to give up a prized young player like De’Aaron Fox may lessen a bit as that February 10 deadline approaches.”

THE $17M SOLUTION EASING SIMMONS HEADACHE

Even if the Sixers are not able to strike a deal before that deadline, the rapid improvement of Tyrese Maxey will ease the headache for this season at least — and possibly beyond.

Maxey had played just 935 regular-season minutes in his rookie season, averaging 8.0 points, 2.0 assists and 1.7 rebounds while shooting 30.1 per cent from deep.

With Simmons sidelined though, Maxey has taken on greater responsibility, averaging 34.5 minutes compared to 15.3 in his eight games this season.

It has not just seen a boost in the volume of Maxey’s output (16.8 points, 4.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds), with his efficiency also improved (shooting 38.0 per cent from downtown).

Maxey’s most recent performance before entering Covid-19 protocols — a 25-point effort against the Brooklyn Nets — is perhaps the strongest sign yet that he can coexist in the Philadelphia offence alongside Embiid.

Embiid puts up 34 points to beat Nets | 01:31

The 21-year-old’s off-the-ball work was particularly impressive, draining five of eight attempts from deep.

“Maxey’s emergence is an interesting factor in all of this,” Levick said.

“He has been a bright spot this season. I think a lot of this for Morey is about doing what is best for Joel Embiid, who at 27 years old, is in his prime and one of the best players in the world.

“The idea of Maxey and Embiid potentially being a long-term partnership to build around is exciting.

Tyrese Maxey has been a shining light. Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images/AFPSource: AFP

“But then you have to wonder with the Simmons situation, how should Morey play it such that Embiid has the best chance to win a championship in his prime.

“I’m not sure there’s an easy or quick answer there. I do think Tyrese Maxey changes the calculus here and the Sixers have a player who at 21 years old looks like a legitimately good starting point guard.”

It has been a rapid rise for Maxey, who is in the second year of a four-year, $12 million ($A17m) deal.

He struggled early on with the challenge of both being himself and a leading point guard.

But as teammate Georges Niang put it earlier in the season, Maxey has quickly transitioned into a “killer”, with the most growth coming beyond the arc.

“What stands out most with his improvement is the 3-point shooting,” Levick said.

“The willingness and confidence to shoot continues to grow as he has success.”

That is not all.

Tyrese Maxey has been much-improved. Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images/AFPSource: AFP

“I’ve also been impressed how he’s made strides defensively with some of the nuances of the game,” Levick added.

“How he’s taken on the challenge of facing stars like Trae Young and Damian Lillard and other guards around the NBA who are dynamic scorers.

“For the most part, he has held his own in those match-ups and looked like a promising player. Not to say he’s flawless or he has a lot of experience under his belt, but there are a lot of reasons to be genuinely optimistic about his future.”

It could change how the Sixers approach a Simmons trade too.

“Perhaps the player they get back in a Simmons trade hypothetically does not need to be a starting point guard,” Levick added.

“It could be a wing, it could be some other sort of perimeter shot creator. But Tyrese Maxey has, in my opinion, been one of the most-improved players in the sport this year and that is certainly something the Sixers are very pleased about.”

Tyrese Maxey’s emergence could shake up the Ben Simmons trade picture. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

THE AREAS SIXERS HAVE FALLEN BEHIND WITHOUT SIMMONS

Maxey is a different point guard to Simmons too.

The 21-year-old may not have the same passing abilities but he is a greater shooting threat, opening up space on the floor for the Sixers offence and freeing up Embiid from double-teams.

Without Simmons though, Philadelphia has lost some of its ability to punish teams on the fast break and transition — the numbers show it too as Levick pointed out.

“Offensively I think the lack of pace and creativity has stood out [as areas of weakness without Simmons],” he said.

Ben Simmons pushes the pace. (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

“The Sixers last year were 12th in pace, as we speak [prior to the Houston game] they are dead last. Transition frequency, per the website CleaningTheGlass, they were fifth last season, they’re now 15th.

“The team has had to play slow and play more halfcourt basketball and I think Ben Simmons’ absence is particularly felt in that regard.”

That is not the only area Simmons’ absence is felt either.

The defence has also struggled without the three-time All-Star, although fellow Australian Matisse Thybulle has helped to somewhat fill the void.

“There has been more on Matisse Thybulle and Joel Embiid’s plate,” Levick said.

“The Sixers have now in most games started a back-court of Maxey and Seth Curry, which is two rather small guards and therefore we’ve seen some vulnerabilities defensively trying to cope with some of the bigger guards in the NBA.”

Ben Simmons also lifts the Sixers’ defence. Patrick Smith/Getty Images/AFPSource: AFP

THE ‘TWO BASIC REASONS’ PHILADELPHIA IS RIGHT TO BE PATIENT

Philadelphia has done well to overcome a string of injuries and Covid-related absences to hold its own in the Eastern Conference, sitting in sixth place on Tuesday.

Competing with Western Conference heavyweights Golden State and Phoenix will be another challenge entirely should Philadelphia consider itself a genuine title chance this year.

In saying that, Levick said the patient approach to the Simmons trade “has been appropriate” so far.

Again, that comes with a caveat — the end result should make the Sixers a stronger championship contender.

The Sixers want pieces to work with Joel Embiid. Dustin Satloff/Getty Images/AFPSource: AFP

“The patience of a lot of fans has been tested and that would certainly be the case if this goes past the trade deadline,” Levick said.

“But Embiid is such a great player and Ben Simmons does have these years remaining on his contract.

“For those two basic reasons, it is not mandatory to make a deal before the deadline.

“But whatever the deal is, it needs to be a good one because he is a three-time All-Star and this is a player who has yet to play this season.

“Whatever the trade is, the Sixers better hope it meaningfully boosts their roster.”

Soruce: https://www.foxsports.com.au/basketball/nba/nba-2022-trade-news-ben-simmons-philadelphia-76ers-joel-embiid-tyrese-maxey-damian-lillard-future-contract/news-story/a9ff999eb1d3dbc14f85eb20e24ff151

By Malvi