The Trail Blazers connected with the Pelicans and proposed a deal. The Kings connected with the Pacers and proposed a deal.
And when those transactions were settled and multiple players were swapped Tuesday, it raised a logical question: Did the Blazers and Kings call the Sixers first and offer those same pieces for Ben Simmons?
That is the strong suspicion here, mere days before the NBA’s Feb. 10 trade deadline, when 13 players changed addresses and the biggest player on the trading block stayed with his current address. Well, so to speak; Simmons officially belongs to Philadelphia but we all know the unhappy guard is as far away from Philly, in so many ways, as humanly possible.
It would be naive to think Portland and Sacramento didn’t run those offers past general manager Daryl Morey and the Sixers if only because Simmons, even with his flaws, even with his unknown wants and desires, is better than any player the Blazers and Kings received in return.
Simmons is an All-Star, a centerpiece you can build around, a young talent — only 25 — on a contract with three years remaining, and those factors make him a wanted man. Yes, he crumbled in the playoffs last summer. Absolutely, he pouted upon being criticized both within and outside the organization in the aftermath of that stunning exit. And sure, there are issues that remain unresolved about his love for basketball because, if that passion was strong, he’d put all the stuff behind him, show up and play even for a team he dislikes, and let matters take care of themselves.
But Simmons was, and still is, the most valuable trade chip in the league, and the Sixers’ reluctance to send him to Portland or Sacramento is further evidence that Morey is sticking to his guns and holding out for a much better deal.
Question is, were those deals the best the Sixers could’ve hoped to receive for Simmons? How many other GMs would’ve pounced if put in that same position?
The four teams involved in Tuesday’s trades, unlike the Sixers, have all but surrendered this season and are busy building for the future. It was perhaps a wise decision for everyone. The Blazers have been without Damian Lillard due to abdominal surgery and struggled even before he was injured. The Kings, still running on the same treadmill to nowhere of the last decade and a half, are about to embark on yet another rebuild. The Pacers are a complete head-scratcher as a team with obvious talent and a championship coach in Rick Carlisle yet spent this entire season stuck in cement. And the Pelicans are sifting through bodies and stockpiling draft picks — and defeats — as they await the fate of Zion Williamson.
So: Who did what Tuesday?
The short answer is this: Those teams didn’t change much for this season. They just rearranged the table.
The Blazers finally pulled the plug on the Dame-CJ McCollum era; that smallish backcourt tandem appeared in only one Western Conference final together. None of the players the Blazers received from the Pelicans are as proven as McCollum; they’re mainly role players and none are guaranteed to even be on the roster next season. The value for the Blazers isn’t Josh Hart, Tomas Satoransky or even Nickeil Alexander-Walker as much as it is the protected 2022 first-rounder and the cap space produced by the trade. Portland will evidently keep Dame (and perhaps extend his contract as well) and enter the summer looking to sign free agents and/or hope to package a trade for a disgruntled star to pair next to him.
The goal apparently is to rebuild around Dame and maximize his remaining prime years, which is somewhat risky considering his approaching twilight and the massive contract extension he’ll command. Evidently, Dame told the Blazers he’d rather stay and try to win in Portland rather than bail.
The Pelicans had the cap space to add McCollum and now they can put a respectable starting lineup on the floor: CJ, Brandon Ingram, Jonas Valanciunas, Devonte’ Graham and Williamson. Of course, this vision is on hold until Williamson returns from his injury, and there’s no timetable for that. He could miss the entire season.
The Kings, stuck with pieces that didn’t quite fit, were all but guaranteed to be busy at the deadline. The key addition in their deal with the Pacers is 25-year-old Domantas Sabonis, a solid low-post center and an All-Star last season.
However, Sacramento sacrificed Tyrese Haliburton, a second-year guard with tremendous upside and exactly the type of talent that rebuilding teams such as the Kings are desperate to find and keep. Apparently, by unloading Haliburton so quickly, the Kings are very high on rookie Davion Mitchell, who now gets more playing time next to De’Aaron Fox. And by adding Sabonis, they’re also ready to say goodbye to Marvin Bagley III, the former No. 2 pick who was selected ahead of Luka Doncic and Trae Young.
The Pacers are thrilled to add Haliburton with Malcolm Brogdon and Chris Duarte, giving them a solid three-guard rotation. Also, by shedding Sabonis, this gives center Myles Turner a chance to play closer to the rim — assuming he has those skills and that mindset, and also assuming he isn’t traded as well.
But, back to the Sixers.
Would Philly be better off today with Haliburton and also Buddy Hield, who was included in the Kings-Pacers deal? This is of course assuming the Kings didn’t demand more than Simmons. Neither Haliburton or Hield are in Simmons’ league on defense, and with the ascent of another — Tyrese Maxey — the Sixers weren’t pressed to find another offensive guard. Still, those are two assets that could’ve helped.
Would Philly be better off today with McCollum and also Larry Nance Jr., who was included in the Blazers-Pelicans deal? Again, there’s a significant drop off defensively from Simmons to McCollum, but McCollum is a consistent 20-point scorer while Nance is a good utility player.
By sitting out Tuesday’s action, the Sixers are now on two separate timepieces with regard to trading Simmons — a stopwatch leading to the Thursday deadline, and a calendar leading to the off-season. And with two potential deals suddenly off the table, it’s becoming increasingly clear the Sixers will wait and address the Simmons situation this summer.
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