The Sixers dropped another high-profile contest to the Boston Celtics on Christmas day, sparking another uproar from fans and media alike, openly wondering about the precarious fit between the Sixers' big three of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler. With Embiid clearly emerging as a bonafide MVP candidate and Butler's impending max-contract extension this summer, Simmons and his missing jumpshot appear to be the obvious potential trade chip to deliver a more cohesive third star to Philadelphia. In this week's Open Floor podcast, special guest co-host Rob Mahoney and the Washington Post's Ben Golliver opened a debate of their own.
Listen to the latest Open Floor podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
GOLLIVER: When should Philly consider trading Simmons for maximum value and what returns would be worth trading away a player of his quality? There's a lot to unpack there. I will say first: Look, Simmons struggles the most against the most elite defenses. Boston is very, very perfectly-geared to frustrate him with their personnel, with their intelligence, with their overall aptitude defensively, so I think Simmons looked worse on Christmas than he's looked on the average game.
Now that being acknowledged, I've had serious questions about his fit in Philadelphia ever since the Butler trade happened. I think that they can still be a second round playoff team with this group, but I'm not sure if the best team built around Joel Embiid, if you've also got Jimmy Butler locked in—and look, they have to re-sign him or else that trade was an absolute mess—I tend to agree that Simmons isn't a part of this group moving forward. And I would seriously explore tradng Simmons next summer, because he'll still be on the rookie contract, because teams would view him as being capable of being a No. 1 option. I think teams would say he's just not a perfect fit with Embiid and there'd be significant trade value. I wouldn't drag this thing out. I think it has to be Jimmy or Ben when they do their roster planning. Is that too hard a line?
MAHONEY: I think it's really reasonable to look at the Sixers and think that those pieces don't fit quite right, or at least they're not 100 percent in alignment with one another. But I think teams can win that way, though. When you look at the Chris Paul-Blake Griffin Clippers, what held that team back was that it didn't have the supplementary pieces, much like the Sixers don't. That's a really shallow team. It wasn't that Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan took up the same places on the floor. Talented players can make those things work. If you have enough playmaking on a team and just enough shooting on a team, you can keep things clear and keep things flowing. I think the Sixers have a lot to learn as far as that stuff goes.
And some of it, too, is not just is Simmons a bad fit for this team? It's, is Simmons a bad fit for what Embiid wants to do? If you look at Embiid against teams like the Celtics, obviously Horford has had some success against him in the past in terms of slowing him down. And if you have a guy like Simmons who isn't going to be a shooting threat, who's still figuring out when he can cut and kind of make moves off the ball and when he should be more of an outlet, that's really tough for a guy like Embiid who wants to power-post his way to 20 shots and 30 free throw attempts a game. That part of it is kind of a rough fit. Butler is caught in the middle here as a guy who could serve either style. If Embiid were to miss a month due to injury, a fast team built around Simmons and Butler could make a lot of sense. All thre of their skillsets and where they intersect, things get a little tricky. Where I would want to pump the breaks a little bit on a potential trade discussion, is just on the fact that Simmons has the kind of talent where, if you trade him and he blows up somewhere else, that's the kind of trade where you regret it for the rest of your life and might cost you your job.
GOLLIVER: The Sixers front office is really good at things that will cost you your job. Sorry, that was a little corny. My thing though is that Embiid is not going to be healthy forever. I think that we have already moved into this mindset where we take his good health for granted, because he's been really, really healthy this season and so productive and logging huge minutes and playing the back-to-backs. I'm also concerned how long his window as an elite-level player will last. It wouldn't shock me if he hits 30, and he goes from a top-10 player to a top-20, top-30 player just because of how big, big guys might age in this modern game. So, I think there's a lot of urgency in Philadelphia. It's sort of like the time is now. I do wonder if that sets the situation up that the timeline Joel and Jimmy are on is more accelerated than Simmons. If you go out to the Celtics in the second round again, and your feeling this local heat to kind of get over the jump and deliver on all the hype with these superstars. I can see it happening.