Philadelphia 76ers: Do the Spurs have a Ben Simmons trade package?

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

The San Antonio Spurs are not a team that typically dip their toes into making splashy moves via free agency or the draft.

Sure, they’ve signed their fair share of impactful players over the years, from Bruce Bowen, to Avery Johnson, and even a then-37-year-old Dominique Wilkins for a season in 1996-97, but for the most part, the Spurs have been a team that’s built through the draft, and not even with premium picks at that.

Of the top-12 players in franchise history according to Basketball-Reference, only three were drafted within the top-5, with prominent players like Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, and even eventual two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard were drafted outside of the lottery. And yet, when the Spurs have been good, like really good under the NBA’s longest-tenured head coach, Gregg Popovich, it’s been with a blue-chip player firmly in place as their franchise cornerstone.

It happened with David Robinson from 1989 – pre-Pop – through 2003, and that baton was immediately passed off to Tim Duncan, whose tenure overlapped from 1997-2003.

So naturally, with Pop’s tenure in South-Central Texas coming to an end at some point in the not too distant future, it’s understandable that the 72-year-old may be getting a tad antsy to take one final crack at fielding a contender before his coaching days are done.

Enter Philadelphia 76ers point guard Ben Simmons, who just so happens to be the type of player Gregg Popovich would kill to acquire. But does he have a package to actually get a deal done? That, my friends, is the $169.65 million question.

The Philadelphia 76ers would have to seriously like the Spurs’ young players.

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On the second Friday in July, Zach Harper of The Athletic NBA let it be known via sources that “Dejounte Murray and Derrick White could both be gettable from the Spurs” in a potential trade this offseason.

Now, on paper, that shouldn’t be particularly noteworthy. Pretty much every player in the NBA is technically getable if you present the correct package – think Tobias Harris at the 2019 trade deadline – and while intriguing, neither Murray nor White is what one would consider an untouchable superstar.

So, why would Harper, and by extension, yours truly, share the perceived “gettability” of the Spurs’ young backcourt if it should be implied? Well, why would anyone let anything slide to reporters in such a way other than to put the information out into the NBA oeuvre in order to get people talking?

Remember, in Gregg Popovich’s 25 year NBA career as a head coach, he’s only had three seasons with a losing record; all the way back in his maiden voyage with the clipboard in 1996-97 and in his two most recent seasons. While the Spurs weren’t too far outside of the playoff picture in 2020-21, as they took part in the play-in tournament and came five points away from beating the Memphis Grizzlies, its hard to see a path where they compete for a championship anytime soon, especially in a Western Conference in the middle of a talent surge.

Does acquiring Ben Simmons change that equation? Probably not, but it would certainly shake up the situation and make the Spurs a whole heck of a lot more compelling to watch.

With their old guard – LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan – either already gone or set to hit the open market this summer, the 2021-22 Spurs as a team will look and play a lot different this forthcoming season than in the previous few years post-Kawhi Leonard. They’ll be out their best scorer, their highest-usage player, and their only player with a Volume Over Replacement value over 2.0, as well as their premier post-up option in the paint, and thus will have to shift into a new era of Spurs basketball completely devoid of prominent players born before 1990.

Could they roll with a starting five of Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Keldon Johnson, Trey Lyles, and Jakob Poeltl – or something similar – and hope that some of their younger lottery selections put it all together a la Kawhi Leonard over his rookie contract with the team from 2011-15? Most def. Johnson has already made leaps from his rookie season to Year 2, and many an outside observer viewed 2020 first-round pick Devin Vassell as a viable 3-and-D winger, but are any of those players going to take the Spurs over the top?

For every team like the Mike Budenholzer Hawks or the 2020-21 New York Knicks who find ways to win on the power of team competency, there are scores of star-less NBA teams who crash and burn in their attempts to make it out of the lottery and into the NBA Finals.

That, if you recall, is why the Philadelphia 76ers did “The Process” in the first place; to avoid capping out as an All-Star-less first round out.

So, with that all in mind, what sort of package could the Spurs present for Simmons’ services?

Well, for one thing, it wouldn’t – or at least shouldn’t – revolve around DeRozan. While I personally really like DeRozan’s game and have a totally unrealistic trade idea involving him and Tobias Harris that you can check out here, he isn’t the sort of player that could be shipped away in a three-team deal to acquire better fitting assets or a realistic 1b to pair up with Joel Embiid long-term.

No, to field a viable offer for Simmons’ services, the Spurs would need to include some combination of Murray, White, Johnson, Vassell, and Reading native Lonnie Walker plus draft assets and/or contractual considerations to get the deal done. In that group of players, you have pretty much any archetypal modern-day NBA player to chose from, from a traditional point guard to a speedy 3 point shooting combo guard, to a pick-and-roll specialist, to a pair of wing forwards of varying flavors, but none of whom are finished products or at the same level as Ben Simmons right now.

If noted bench aficionado Doc Rivers sees more value in stocking a bench with three young players plus some future assets to make up for Simmons in a PG by committee approach, maybe that’s an offer worth considering, but realistically, that doesn’t seem to be the way Philly is looking to attack their current offseason situation.

Alternatively, maybe there’s a team like, say, the Washington Wizards who are fed up with being a first-round out and would like to re-tool around a young corps coaching up by the best in the business, and they’d be willing to ship a star player like Bradley Beal out to the Sixers in a three-team deal that nets San Antonio Simmons.

I mean, probably not, but until something actually happens, anything is possible.

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In hindsight, the perfect trade partner for Ben Simmons has long since passed. Had Daryl Morey known back in January what we know today, James Harden would be a member of the Philadelphia 76ers today, and the team may just be in the middle of an NBA Finals series versus the Phoenix Suns as we speak (basketball gods willing). But now, with the season over and no other star having explicitly requested a trade out of town – as per the time of publication – the Sixers may not be able to pull off a trade where they walk away with an MVP-caliber star. If Elton Brand and company think that some combination of players and picks that the San Antonio Spurs have to offer is just compensation for Ben Simmons, I guess we just gave to #TTP, but between you and me, I just don’t see such a deal materializing.