Philadelphia 76ers: Will Cleveland intensify their pursuit of Ben Simmons?

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

Ben Simmons has long been a trade target of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Since the writing officially went on the wall that a reconciliation between the Philadelphia 76ers and their All-Star point guard was off the table, Cleveland has remained one of the teams connected to the collegiate Tiger, right up there with the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Indiana Pacers.

Before the season started, there were a few trades that made sense. The Cavs, who were coming off yet another season without a playoff berth, were reportedly open to moving any player on their roster – though Darius Garland and Evan Mobley were more protected than most – and had a few packages that made sense.

But now? Now things have changed considerably for a franchise that once won it all with LeBron James running the show.

Garland and Mobley have been playing like borderline All-Stars, players like Isaac Okoro have taken positive steps forward defensively, and the team has gotten good production out of their veteran roleplayer, even Kevin Love, who has accepted a role as an off-the-bench 3-and-D big.

That’s the good news. The bad? Cleveland has lost two players, Collin Sexton and Ricky Rubio, to season-ending injuries, which is both a massive blow to their overall depth and is incredibly unfortunate for both players, as they were set to hit the open market upon the season’s end.

The loss of Rubio specifically, who tore his ACL on December 28th, comes as a particularly cruel blow as he was an instrumental part of the team’s recent success and served as a perfect veteran foil to Garland in the backcourt. While Rubio could still fill the role of a point guard sensei on the bench, the Cavs now find themselves in a precarious spot; they either continue to fight for the playoffs with the roster they have and hope they take another step forward in 2022-23 with a few mid-level additions or they push all the chips to the table and make a play at Simmons.

This, my friends, could be interesting.

Who would the Philadelphia 76ers target from the Cleveland Cavaliers?

Alright, so if the Cleveland Cavaliers wanted to make a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers, who would they offer up?

Well, first and foremost, Evan Mobley is off the table. Since jumping from USC, Mobley’s defense has been NBA-ready, and his game looks tailor-made for the modern-day NBA. He can switch, rim protect, score in the paint, be a playmaker, and shoot from beyond the arc. Would Mobley look good playing alongside Joel Embiid? I’m not really sure, but I guess we’ll have to wait for a future All-Star game to find out.

The next player who could be on the table is one of my personal favorites, Darius Garland. Garland is an incredibly talented point guard who can shoot 3s, deliver “wow” passes a la Chris Paul, and even has experience playing off-ball thanks to his experience in a backcourt with Collin Sexton.

Two problems with Garland: 1. I don’t think he’s the best fit alongside Tyrese Maxey and 2. I doubt the Cavs want to trade their second-best player when he’s a big reason why they are so good.

On the December 28th edition of his podcast, The Hoops Collective, Brian Windhorst surmised that Garland could still be on the table in a trade for Simmons, as landing LeBron 2.0 would be incredibly intriguing for Dan Gilbert. If the owner is willing to pull the trigger on such a deal, I would assume the Cavs would do it, but GM Kolby Altman would surely price Garland out higher than Daryl Morey’s valuation.

Personally, I’d still trade for Garland, as he’s just so darn good, but I sort of doubt Morey feels the same way, and securing the 6-foot-1 point guard would limit the team’s ability to land a difference-maker at forward.

Alright, so if those two players are out, who could “headline” a trade for Simmons?

Two words: Draft picks.

Okay, okay, that’s not totally true. The Cavs have a really good young center in Josh Allen, an impressive wing defender in Isaac Okoro, and a few other nice pieces like Lauri Markkanen, who sort of splits the difference between a prospect and a role player, but outside of the “The Finnisher” I don’t really see how any of those players fit on the Sixers’ roster as presently constructed.

Could a third party really like Allen and Okoro and swap out a playmaking small forward like, say, Caris LeVert, for their rights? Sure, I guess anything is possible, but that complicates things considerably, especially with teams just struggling to field a full roster, let alone have players pass physicals after being dispersed across the association.

Still, role players like Markkanen and Kevin Love – yes, seriously – could fit nicely as contract-matching floor spacers around Embiid and Maxey, so if the Sixers either really like Garland or have another rookie-contract player they like on another team in their sights, the pieces are there to fill out a deal.

Sidebar: Would I trade for Collin Sexton? Yes, but not as the focal point of a trade for Simmons. I have always liked Sexton as a player and think he could be an elite sixth man coming off the bench, but having him as the “best player- coming back in a Simmons trade would limit the team’s ceiling in 2021-22, which would be a darn shame for Embiid and company.

Next. The Philadelphia 76ers could really use Danny Green right now. dark

If Daryl Morey really likes Darius Garland, there is a deal to be had between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Philly could ask for additional draft capital, target auxiliary pieces they like on either the Cavs or another team, or maybe even expand out the deal and get something going for Tobias Harris. If not, a deal is hard to formulate but not impossible. Either way, keep Ohio on your radar, Sixers fans.