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The case for (and against) Ben Simmons

Daryl Morey can’t seem to keep opposing GMs on the phone with his demands. Here’s why Lawrence Frank should (and shouldn’t) give Morey the time of day.

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Los Angeles Clippers v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

It being the season for that sort of thing, I spent my weekend drafting fantasy football teams. I feel good about most of them; the highest I picked was second, and I went with Alvin Kamara. I briefly thought about taking Dalvin Cook, but then I remembered that his quarterback (the “YOU LIKE THAT” guy) is unvaccinated and genuinely offered to surround himself with plexiglass during team meetings so as to avoid getting a life-saving jab in the arm. So, I went the safe route. But that’s neither here nor there. Later that night, I received a trade offer: would I trade Kamara and Julio Jones for Tyler Boyd and Marvin Jones? I genuinely laughed out loud. Then, I thought about Daryl Morey.

I found myself thinking about the Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations moments after receiving this ludicrous trade request in a fantasy league because... well, you know why. Morey has been widely known to be a basketball business savant for what is approaching the better part of two decades, but when it comes to trade demands, he tends to fly a bit too close to the sun. Just like my friend Thomas. (C’mon, pal. Did you actually mean to send that trade?)

In the ongoing Ben Simmons situation — which recently saw its stakes heighten yet again when Simmons told Sixers brass that he intends to skip training camp and wants out — Morey has way of asking for the moon, only to have the line go dead before a discussion can even begin. When he tried to negotiate with the Golden State Warriors, Morey reportedly offered Simmons for both of the Warriors’ 2021 lottery picks (No. 7 and No. 14 overall), 2020’s No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman, Andrew Wiggins, and two other first-round picks. Per The Athletic’s Anthony Slater, “There was never bargaining. There was only a decline and a hang up.” Morey also reportedly called the Raptors and asked for Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and the No. 4 overall pick (which became Scottie Barnes).

If these trades sound ludicrous, that’s because they are. But just because he’s most certainly making a mockery of this thing called negotiation, by levying offers that render said negotiations moot before they even begin, it doesn’t mean Morey doesn’t know what he’s doing.

What’s more likely than Morey actually believing the Warriors would even bother to think about his initial offer is that he doesn’t actually want to (or feel like he has to) trade Simmons. At least not yet. He was merely throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what stuck, not necessarily believing anything would, but figuring it was worth a shot. That’s because he’s probably banking on Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal being upset with their current situations once the trade deadline nears; Simmons may not be the most desirable cornerstone in potential trades for those stars, but he’s certainly among those with the most win-now potential.

LA Clippers v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

But while Morey’s plan makes sense from an asset management perspective, as SB Nation’s Ricky O’Donnell wrote last week, “it comes at the cost of human element in the relationships between Simmons with his teammates and head coach. Simmons doesn’t want to wait around another year when everyone knows the team is trying to trade him. Keep in mind that Morey already tried to trade Simmons in Dec. in a package for James Harden.” What has come of Simmons’ desire to be traded? Absolutely nothing. Except that we now know where he wants to go: a California team, but one that doesn’t play in Sacramento.

What does that mean for the Clippers? The same as what has come of Simmons’ pseudo-trade request: absolutely nothing. Right now, that is. Though it’s unlikely that the Clippers would look to trade for Simmons — or would be able to live up to the Godfather offers Morey has a penchant for requesting in return for “damaged” goods, especially when they would never include Kawhi Leonard or Paul George in any hypothetical offer — it’s something worth exploring. Eric Bledsoe is hardly the point guard of the future, and while Simmons’ status as a “point guard” is rather fluid, there’s something enticing about the idea of pairing an elite-level distributor and defensive presence with two of the game’s preeminent, if ball-dominant offensive talents.

It’s particularly enticing when you think about the fact that this trio could feasibly vault the Clippers into immediate contention in the West — even more so than they were before. Yes, they competed all the way to the brink of the NBA Finals last season, losing to the Suns in six games. But for a franchise that has yet to bring home the best bacon of all, time will never not be of the essence to make the ultimate goal come to fruition. As much as he’s been able to consistently serve a Sixers team in their own efforts at title contention, the Clippers are undoubtedly a more complete team (when healthy) than any team Philadelphia has fielded during Simmons’ time there. And he would bring a vital skillset to a team that has been sorely lacking when it comes to their point guard play in recent years, as well as its defensive prowess overall.

The Clippers weren’t bad on defense last year, not even remotely. During the regular season, they ranked eighth in the league in defensive rating (110.6), ahead of teams like the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks (110.7), the Boston Celtics (111.8), and the Brooklyn Nets (113.1). But once the playoffs rolled around, while they upped the ante on offense (a rating increase of 2.5), they lacked on defense (down to 114.5). Simmons was the Clippers’ inverse in almost every facet: he had a consistently down year on offense (both in the regular season and playoffs) save his typically proficient passing. On defense, though, he was stalwart and prolific, a force when compared to the rest of the league.

Add Simmons to the Clippers group as it stands and he’s an immediate contributor, primarily on defense, which they’ll desperately need while Leonard remains sidelined as he rehabs from a torn ACL. But even his overall skillset could pay humongous dividends. Forget for a moment the fact that his 2020-21 season was statistically the worst of his career across the board; he was still an All-Star, one who finished the season the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year, and sans a horrific and forgettable playoff campaign would be viewed as one of the most unique, if not better dual threats the game has to offer. We’re so quick to jump to conclusions about players these days, rendering them useless in our minds because of an arrant play or a really, really stupid decision in a big situation.

Too quick are we to laugh at Daryl Morey for wanting a big haul, to scoff at Ben Simmons wanting some new digs. Can the Clippers make a trade for the disgruntled star(?) happen, and should they, are two different questions with two malleable answers. It’s possible that Steve Ballmer, Lawrence Frank, and Co. could put a package — even without stars and picks — that tickles Morey’s fancy, but theirs may not be as attractive as what Portland or Golden State or *insert team name here* have to offer.

And should they? Well, that’s a question the brass has to let linger a bit. What’s their best move: to continue to hope that what isn’t technically broken remains unbroken? Or do they siphon off another chunk of their future, and take out a mortgage on a disgruntled third star and a more direct championship window? That deal would likely have to include some combination of Terance Mann, Eric Bledsoe, Marcus Morris Sr., Luke Kennard, and whatever draft capital they can possibly muster. What would be even more attractive to the Sixers would be the inclusion of Reggie Jackson or Nic Batum, both of whom cannot be traded until Dec. 15 due to the fact that they recently signed new contracts with the Clippers.

Either way, it’s worth exploring. In all likelihood, that’s as far as it goes, for either side. But Simmons — the star who passed instead of dunked and can’t shoot free throws, thus the walking personification of the word “pariah” — is, in some way or another, available. The Clippers should keep their ears to the ground.