Philadelphia 76ers: Sans trade exception, it’s all about Ben Simmons

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

Trade exceptions are a valuable thing in the NBA.

While teams can technically go over the salary cap as high as they’d like and deliver onto their ownership groups luxury tax bills that could rival the GDPs of a small country, once one closes the “salary cap ceiling,” the ways in which a team can build out their roster becomes rather limited.

The draft? Check. Plenty of capped-out teams still find value in the draft, even if they are often picking outside of the lottery. How about the mid-level exception? Yes as well, the MLE and all of the other exceptions allowed under the NBA’s rules can provide a valuable boost to both the Association’s middle class of players and teams looking for a fifth starter/sixth man off the bench.

But trade exceptions are just different. They allow a team to take back a contract worth a specific amount of money plus $100,000 without having to provide matching salary, which is incredibly valuable, as any fan of the Trade Machine will tell you.

So naturally, when the Philadelphia 76ers allowed the $8.19 million trade exception generated from trading Al Horford last year to expire without so much as a rumor connecting them to a potential player, it left many a fan both confused and upset by the sheer lack of action from Daryl Morey and company.

With no real efforts made to fill out the roster with rotation-level talents, the Philadelphia 76ers’ present and future will ultimately go down to how they handle the Ben Simmons situation moving forward and what sort of return any hypothetical trade can muster.

The Philadelphia 76ers’ offseason comes down to Ben Simmons.

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$8.2 million can buy you a lot in the NBA.

It’s enough for the Denver Nuggets to pay JaMychal Green, the Boston Celtics to employ future Adam Sandler movies star Juan Hernangomez, and for the Houston Rockets to pay roughly a third of their roster.

Could the Philadelphia 76ers have used any of those players? How about D.J. Augustin, Daniel Theis, David Nwaba, or even long-time Daryl Morey favorite Danuel House, all of whom make less than $8.29 million?

In short, yes, yes they could have, but now, that is no longer an option.

… okay, I guess technically, all of those options are still on the table. For all of the Sixers’ financial issues, they can pretty much make any trade on the market if they are willing to part with valuable players like Seth Curry, Danny Green, Furkan Korkmaz, and their Big 3, but how would any of those moves make the team better?

Yes, I understand the allure of bringing back the same core that won the East last regular season; I really do. The Sixers were darn good in 2020-21 because of Morey’s offseason efforts, and risking that chemistry for marginal improvements may not be worth it.

But here’s the thing: The Sixers aren’t going to run it back in 2021-22.

No matter how much they would like to try again in Doc Rivers‘ second season in South Philly, Ben Simmons reportedly intends to sit out camp and any games while he waits to be traded and won’t allow that to happen.

Did the Sixers see this coming? … for the sake of argument, let’s say no. Let’s say they didn’t think Simmons would take the team’s very public trade search and/or the notorious post-Game 7 comments personally and was willing to happily come back until his (basically) trade demand became public.

Even if that’s the case – it’s not, but let’s say it is – Simmons’ intentions to play for anyone but Philly came out well before the team’s trade exception expired on September 7th, where they could have addressed the situation with a contingency of sorts.

But now? Now the entire fate of Embiid’s supermax contract falls on how good of a deal Morey can piece together before camp opens up on September 28th.

Overly dramatic? Maybe so, but imagine, if you will, how horrible the Sixers’ fate would become if they mess this one up? If the team makes a move and then quickly realizes they simply aren’t as good of a team with a player like D’Angelo Russell at the controls, there really isn’t a path to right that ship without getting increasingly desperate a la Morey’s final years in Houston.

If this ends with the Sixers trading four first-round picks plus Russell to the Bulls for a player like Zach LaVine, they will never win a championship.

Next. CJ McCollum is far from a consolation prize. dark

Who knows, maybe everyone’s favorite social media savvy GM will pull a rabbit out of his hat. Maybe he’ll land another Seth Curry-level steal of a deal, and the Philadelphia 76ers will shine at a level they haven’t since the glory days of the Allen Iverson-era. But otherwise, the team just blew a golden opportunity to add a quality player to their rotation in order to maintain optionality for a trade situation slowly slipping through their hands. From a negotiation standpoint, this isn’t ideal.