Possible Ben Simmons destinations as trade deadline looms
The biggest trade in the NBA this week is likely to centre around Ben Simmons, regardless of the deal the 76ers finally agree to.
The Ben Simmons to leave Philly saga has stretched on for more than a year but might finally be reaching its conclusion.
The player was the subject of trade rumours last January when the Philadelphia 76ers pursued James Harden from the Houston Rockets.
Harden instead headed for the Brooklyn Nets, and Simmons saw out the season in Philly, only for speculation to ramp up again after a deeply dissatisfying playoff exit.
Joel Embiid and Doc Rivers appeared to blame the former first overall pick for a Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in which his reluctance to take shots in big moments came to the fore. That was in June. Simmons has not played since.
Both the player and the team have pushed for a move this season without success, but Thursday's looming trade should focus minds. The 76ers, led by MVP frontrunner Embiid, remain in title contention despite having a three-time All-Star on the sideline, yet a deal this week could significantly improve their chances.
We look at four potential landing spots for Simmons that might also suit his current employers...
Contrasting reports this week have considered the possibility of a belated Simmons-Harden trade, with the Australian sent to Brooklyn rather than Houston. The Nets move has not quite worked for Harden, who has struggled for form and fitness on a team too often missing one or more of their 'Big Three'.
The Sixers' former Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey would appear to remain interested in reuniting with Harden in Philly, although whether the Nets are quite so keen on Simmons remains up for debate. Publicly, they say otherwise.
The possibility of Seth Curry also moving to Brooklyn has been raised in some reports, presumably to replace the shooting Harden offers but Simmons does not. Curry is a regular for the Sixers, but Harden would represent a clear upgrade – although he has a player option at the end of this season – while Simmons' elite defensive play would not be missed given he is not playing at all right now.
Harden appeals given Morey's desire to get an elite player back in return for Simmons. For the same reason, Bradley Beal – beaten to the scoring title by Stephen Curry last year – is an attractive option.
Beal has been less impressive this year, particularly of late, and is now out with a sprained wrist. However, a move to a contender may well motivate a player who has spent his entire career to date with the Wizards, featuring in a grand total of 11 playoff games in the past five years.
The Wizards, like the Nets, might want a second player or at least a second asset to join Simmons in the trade – moving on from Beal would surely mean a complete rebuild – so the 76ers' response as time starts to run out will be intriguing. Again, Beal has a player option for next year.
Portland Trail Blazers
For a long time, it seemed Damian Lillard was the superstar the 76ers really wanted if they were to deal Simmons. At various stages, that possibility has appeared more or less likely.
When the speculation was at its most intense back at the start of the season, Simmons was unwanted in Philly while Lillard was one of the best players in the NBA. Now, Portland are struggling horribly, Lillard has not played since December and Simmons might seem quite an attractive option for the Blazers, who look to be using the final days before the deadline to drastically alter their roster.
It would still seem unlikely Lillard would depart, rather than remaining as the centrepiece of the team for next season and beyond, and the Blazers do not quite have another asset capable of turning the 76ers into title favourites. CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic may both leave, but Morey would surely want more for Simmons.
The Kings would have to perform a significant U-turn for Simmons to end up in Sacramento, having decided late last month they were not interested in paying the sort of price Morey was looking for. The 76ers presumably would have wanted multiple players back, with the Kings lacking a Harden, Beal or Lillard.
Of course, Simmons has not played since those talks broke down, so there is little reason to believe the Kings would suddenly consider him worth the asking price, but as one of the NBA's most forgettable teams – out of the playoffs since 2006 – they surely have to take a risk at some stage.
Whether that risk is giving up multiple useful players for an out-of-favour superstar who does not score is another matter, yet the Kings really need to be active before Thursday, so it is not beyond the realms of possibility they could re-enter the Simmons conversation.