With Philadelphia 76er Ben Simmons reportedly refusing to show up to the Sixers’ training camp and aiming to get to one of “three California teams” via trade, per the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey, it seems that the LA Clippers should at least explore the idea of a Simmons trade (assuming they’re one of the three California teams he’s targeting, with apologies to Sacramento).
What would a Simmons trade look like for LA? Let’s get the obvious untouchables out of the way first: under no circumstances should the Clippers even think about including Kawhi Leonard or Paul George in a package for Simmons, unless Philly’s returning package also includes Joel Embiid (and even then, it’s a tough sell). Simmons is simply nowhere near the caliber of player that either of the Clippers’ All-NBA wings are, and they’d be further away from a title than they are now if they executed such a blunder of a deal.
This goes without saying, but it is important to remember that since these two ball-dominant wings are the Clippers’ franchise cornerstones, it would behoove the front office to acquire players that fit well around them.
So, beyond Leonard and George, what does LA have to offer? Their two most enticing young assets are Terance Mann and Ivica Zubac, both of whom are 24 years old (a year younger than Simmons). Mann is making $1.7 million this year and will likely become a restricted free agent next offseason, and Zubac is making $7.5 million each of the next two seasons, the latter year being a team option. If Sixers GM Daryl Morey does entertain a deal with the Clippers (and that’s a huge and unlikely IF), these two will no-doubt be the first players he asks about. Is Simmons worth these two cost-controlled assets? In a vacuum, probably. He’s a better, more versatile defender than Mann, though he lacks the corner three-point shooting that Mann offers. LA would be short a backup center without Zubac, but the idea of Simmons as a backup power forward for second units alongside a small-ball center in Nicolas Batum is intriguing.
The issue is, Simmons makes $33 million next season, so these two assets would not be enough to get the deal done. The Clippers would have to throw in either Marcus Morris Sr. or a combination of Luke Kennard and one or more of their 2021 draft picks (Keon Johnson, Jason Preston and Brandon Boston Jr.). Let’s assume the latter is the deal that Morey chooses, as Kennard is younger and would fit well as a spot-up shooter next to Embiid.
Another interesting wrinkle is the timing of the newly-signed contracts of Reggie Jackson and Nicolas Batum. These players cannot be traded until Dec. 15, but they should both be enticing for Philly. Jackson is a great off-ball fit next to Embiid as a point guard, and Batum’s defensive versatility and floor-spacing are ideal for any contender. Perhaps, if Morey is willing to hold out for a deal until then, they could be included in a package as well.
If any of these are deals that for some reason the Golden State Warriors or Los Angeles Lakers can’t beat (the Warriors absolutely can) then the Clippers should at least consider a trade given Simmons’ age and defensive versatility. LA would be a defensive juggernaut with the combined length of Leonard, George and Simmons swarming opponents on the perimeter. However, the offensive dead weight that Simmons brings might make this a tough trade to swallow. Until he develops some semblance of a jump shot (it’s looking less likely every postseason that this will ever happen), Simmons is only a useful offensive player when he has the ball in his hands. And as much of an offensive genius as Tyronn Lue is, any basketball novice can tell you that Leonard and George are better offensive creators than Simmons, even at his best. As a Clipper, Simmons would run into the same issues he’s had every postseason when Embiid was in the post. Teams will ignore him on the perimeter and send extra bodies at Leonard and George.
These deficiencies make him quite a perplexing piece, and while a team built specifically around him could be successful, the Clippers already have their core intact and would not be wise to adjust their style (which has proven successful when everyone is healthy) just to incorporate Simmons. Combine this with the fact that they’d be giving up quite a bit of their depth to get him, and the trade begins to seem inadvisable.
While picturing Simmons in a Clippers jersey is a fun exercise, it’s extremely far-fetched. Simmons’ value is probably at an all-time low, but a package built around Mann and Zubac should be easily beatable. Morey doesn’t necessarily have to adhere to the ‘California teams’ parameter, and has already proven he’s willing to hold out for the right offer. It’s also worth noting that unless the Sixers wait to do the deal until Dec. 15 when Jackson is eligible to be traded (or they’re interested in Eric Bledsoe for some reason), they wouldn’t be getting a point guard back in return for Simmons.
The Clippers should be in no rush to break up a squad that looked like a potential Finals team prior to Leonard’s ACL injury. Their offseason moves point to them being willing to stay patient while Leonard recovers before taking another shot at the title with the team they have.