Philadelphia 76ers: What if the Clippers traded for Ben Simmons?

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

If the Los Angeles Clippers targeted Ben Simmons instead of Paul George, what kind of package would the Philadelphia 76ers have expected to land?

Last weekend, the Los Angeles Clippers tendered one of the biggest hauls in NBA history to bring two superstars to the Staples Center.

To procure Paul George – and by extension Kawhi Leonard – the team gave up five future first-round picks, two future first-round pick swaps, and former first-round selection Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the expiring contract of Danilo Gallinari.

While this move could conceivably change the NBA for years to come both in the short-term for LA and down the road for OKC, it’s clear Doc Rivers, Jerry West, and Steve Ballmer identified their guy and made sure to get him no matter the cost.

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But what if the player they pined after wasn’t PG13, but Philadelphia 76ers point guard/power forward Ben Simmons?

If Simmons had approached Elton Brand and requested a trade to Los Angeles, what kind of package would Philly have accepted for their star guard, would such a move have made Philly better, and most importantly would the Sixers even do such a deal?

Let’s hypothesize, shall we?

First the parameters of the deal: To procure Paul George and his $30 million cap hit, the Clippers first had to get near matching salaries with SGA accounting for $3.4 million and Gallinari accounting for $21.5 million. Now in a typical rebuild, a 30-year-old 10-year vet like Gallinari would not be a particularly high priority, but under the current CBA, his contractors required to get a deal done.

The Sixers might not have been in that situation.

You see, while the team could have conceivably sign-and-traded Simmons after extending him to a max contract a la Jimmy Butler, the team could have also conceivably executed a trade under the parameters of his current deal – handing Los Angeles a soon-to-be restricted free agent making about $8.1 million in 2019 – 20.

If this were the case, the Sixers wouldn’t need to take back a big contract to get the job done and would instead only need about $7.5 million more dollars to make the trade legal when operating as an over-the-cap team.

Though conventional wisdom would suggest that the team would try their darndest to get back Landry Shamet, as his inclusion in the Tobias Harris trade will go down as a black spot on Elton Brand’s GM tenure, that seems mildly unlikely. However, Sixers could conceivably have requested both Jerome Robinson, the 13th overall pick out in the 2018 NFL Draft out of Boston College, and Sindarius Thornwell, the team’s unlikely postseason small forward along with presumed starting point guard Gilgeous-Alexander.

And then we have the picks.

Now one could argue which player is better, Simmons or George (probably PG), but if a team were to trade Simmons without first extending him, it would seem likely that Philly would receive less draft compensation because of the opportunity for Simmons to walk at the end of the season.

Whether it be through stronger protections, more swaps, or just fewer picks, it seems more likely that a Simmons haul will include no more than three first-round picks with potential for swaps in off years.

So, if the team were to trade Ben Simmons for call it four total first-round picks, Thornwell, Robinson, and Gilgeous-Alexander would the team be better off in the short or long-term?

I guess that depends on your talent evaluation skills.

To some, Simmons already has what it takes to become a perennial All-Star who could conceivably be the best player on the Sixers for the next year. However, others believe he’s a profoundly flawed player who will never be more than a third offensive option on a playoff team because of his lack of an outside shot and lackadaisical commitment to getting better from season to season.

Which party ends up being correct would all but define this hypothetical team’s future.

If Simmons, in fact, does fail to develop a useable outside shot then yeah, flipping him for picks, picks, and another big, defensive focused point guard in SGA makes a lot of sense – especially when paired with a duo of quality scoring reserves in Thornwell and Robinson.

But that’s more or less Gilgeous-Alexander’s ceiling.

Simmons again has the ceiling to become the best player in the NBA and is already a better player at 22 than SGA has the potential to become in virtually every category except 3 point shooting percentage (36.7 vs. 0). While Simmons’ tendencies may be maddening at times, he is without a doubt a universal max player and could be pair off effectively with virtually any player in any scheme.

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While adding a slew of draft picks, young reserves, and a high-upside big point guard in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is incredibly enticing, doing so at the cost of Ben Simmons would have been a move the Philadelphia 76ers would have regretted almost immediately, as he’s simply too good of a prospect to give up on after two incredibly productive seasons.