The Philadelphia 76ers’ season ended in traumatic fashion on Sunday evening while you were all watching Game of Thrones, as Kawhi Leonard hit a buzzer-beating jumper that bounced no less than four times around the rim before rolling in. It is now Monday, and that means the questions, concerns, and rumors about Philly’s plans this offseason are already in full swing.
Tom Haberstroh of NBC Sports certainly didn’t wait too long. In a column released on Monday, Haberstroh said that some in league circles believe the Sixers would explore a Ben Simmons for LeBron James trade. Specifically, because specifics are very important when discussing such taboo matters, Haberstroh writes he talked to a rival executive who said, “I think they very well might explore that.”
The fact that a Simmons for LeBron trade was even put into digital print from a legitimate source is pretty wild, but it’s not exactly bold or insider information to say the Sixers would explore a trade for the best player of the 21st century. It is a fascinating thought exercise, though. A trade of that caliber would be downright unprecedented. The closest thing to it might be Wilt Chamberlin forcing a trade out of Philadelphia in 1968. The Lakers would require more than just Simmons, and both teams would need to work to match salaries.
But at its core, is Simmons for LeBron worth it? The Sixers get LeBron at a time in his career when he can be the best player in the world whenever he pleases, but often isn’t for the sake of conserving his energy. Obviously, he would’ve been huge during the playoffs, but his regular-season performance (especially on the defense side of the ball) was the draw of much negative attention from Lakers fans, much less the unforgiving fans of Philadelphia. He can be very frustrating to watch when it’s clear he doesn’t really care. Those are the downsides. The upside is pretty simple: with LeBron, the Sixers are a championship contender. He’d be able to take the pressure and offensive load off Embiid when he got worn down, and vice versa. When LeBron does try, he’s still a dominant and overwhelming force, something people can downplay after a lackluster first season in LA.
The most interesting aspect of the discussion even being had is the shifting of opinion on Simmons. Prior to this year, his jump shot (or lack thereof) was a concern, but it was generally agreed he was good enough to outweigh the negatives of never shooting outside the paint. Haberstroh noted in his article, though, that Simmons’ inability and apparent refusal to even give it a try is a black mark on his future development, and teams believe it’s indicative of his desire to improve. If it seems like a lot to read into for a 22-year-old, you’re definitely right, but it’s hard for an NBA team to ignore it when the stakes are this high. It’s especially interesting to hear these rumors because it could be a reflection of how the Sixers themselves view Simmons. He’s very good for someone his age, but he’s a complete non-factor during the playoffs at this juncture. Does the Philadelphia front office have enough faith in their short-term execution to trade one of their franchise cornerstones for a run at the title?
I don’t think this trade ever happens. It would probably require the Lakers taking on Simmons and giving Tobias Harris a max contract in a sign-and-trade to make the numbers work, and being the team that traded LeBron James is a stain that will never, ever fade. But the fact that it’s being considered is an interesting peek into how some in the NBA world view Simmons’ long-term prospects and the value of LeBron in a trade market. Simmons will figure it out eventually, but is Philly patient enough to wait?