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Resetting the market for Ben Simmons ahead of NBA's Dec. 15 trade window

·8 min read
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Negotiations between the Philadelphia 76ers and suitors of three-time NBA All-Star Ben Simmons have "[begun] to gather momentum" ahead of the league's widening trade window on Wednesday, when almost 20% more players will be available for inclusion in deals, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe.

The New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers are among the interested teams, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania. Inquiries from all but the Knicks and Lakers have been previously reported in the months since Simmons requested a trade, skipped training camp and declared himself "not mentally ready to play."

Where once Sixers executive Daryl Morey was seeking the moon in return for Simmons and willing to wait the duration of the 25-year-old's five-year max contract to reach the asking price, that rhetoric appears to have softened of late. The Athletic has reported over the past month that Morey is working from a list of 30 players in trying to land "an All-Star-caliber player and/or multiple first-round draft picks for Simmons."

Attempts through the first quarter of the season have failed. Wednesday unlocks the trade availability of almost every player who signed a free-agent contract this past offseason, theoretically opening more avenues for the Sixers to find a worthwhile deal. Peruse the full list of players who become trade-eligible on Wednesday, and you will not find an All-Star-caliber talent outside of Chicago Bulls guard DeMar DeRozan.

Wednesday only provides an opportunity for either the Sixers or Simmons' suitors to sweeten a deal Morey has likely already pursued. Danny Green, Andre Drummond and Georges Niang — rotational contributors to the sixth-place Sixers — all become trade-eligible, but if Philadelphia were merely waiting on an available contract for salary-matching purposes, we surely would have heard about the framework of a deal already.

It seems more likely Morey is waiting on teams to up the ante on Wednesday, which in turn may spur other potential trade partners to increase their offers and generate anything close to what he deems fair value.

It is unlikely any increased offer from the Kings or Cavaliers will get them closer to a deal. The best player either team already could or would offer (respectively De'Aaron Fox and Collin Sexton) is not a top-30 option. Second-year Sixers guard Tyrese Maxey might be better than either at this point. The four contracts in Cleveland and Sacramento that become trade-eligible on Wednesday (Lauri Markkanen, Kevin Pangos, Moe Harkless and Alex Len) only serve to make salary matching easier in expanded three-team deals.

That does not appear to be an impediment at this point. Wednesday does not make deals any easier for the Timberwolves, Pacers or Blazers, either, but at least they have pathways to more palatable packages in the event of a bidding war. Few teams will see their flexibility increase on Wednesday more than the Knicks. As for the Lakers, well, we can include them in this examination of Philadelphia's options for the exercise only.

The end result here may just be confirmation that the Simmons saga will extend until Jan. 15, when even more players become available, but at least we can reset the discussion ahead of Wednesday's window. So, let's consider the market among the handful of most realistic teams rumored to be in hottest pursuit ...

If the Sixers see potential in Knicks wing RJ Barrett, New York will have the contracts to make a deal for Ben Simmons on Wednesday. (Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
If the Sixers see potential in Knicks wing RJ Barrett, New York will have the contracts to make a deal for Ben Simmons on Wednesday. (Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

New York Knicks

Sixers get: R.J. Barrett, Alec Burks, Kemba Walker, Charlotte's top-18 protected 2022 first-round pick

Knicks get: Simmons

Julius Randle's recent contract extension, which added four years and $117 million to his deal beyond this season, precludes him from being traded until just before the Feb. 10 deadline. His performance since the playoffs leaves plenty to be desired, but his ascent last season qualifies him for Morey's All-NBA standard.

Starting Wednesday, there are plenty more packages the Knicks can offer the 76ers in an attempt to pair Simmons with Randle in New York. Evan Fournier, Alec Burks and Kemba Walker all become trade eligible, making it easier for Knicks president Leon Rose to start matching salaries in potential deals for Simmons.

R.J. Barrett is not a top-30 player, but he is a 21-year-old wing with the potential to become one alongside Joel Embiid. Burks would provide the Sixers with added shooting depth, and the Knicks would get Kemba Walker's two-year, $17.9 million deal off their books. New York coach Tom Thibodeau benched Walker late last month, but the four-time All-Star might make more sense in minutes off the bench for Philadelphia.

Los Angeles Lakers

Sixers get: A few laughs out of the phone call

Lakers get: A dial tone

Almost everyone on the Lakers not named LeBron James and Anthony Davis will become trade eligible on Dec. 15, save for Talen Horton-Tucker, whose offseason extension prevents him from being dealt until Jan. 15. That is not much help for the Lakers, considering Horton-Tucker might be their third-best trade asset.

Even if the Sixers were interested in Malik Monk and Kendrick Nunn as throw-ins to a deal, the Lakers lack the talent and salaries to obtain the four years and $147 million left on Simmons' deal — unless they can find a third team to take Russell Westbrook's contract and facilitate the trade, which also is not happening.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Sixers get: D'Angelo Russell, Minnesota's lightly protected 2023 and 2025 first-round picks

Timberwolves get: Simmons

Following a fifth straight loss, Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns vented his frustration with the franchise's failures on Friday, telling reporters, "I’ve lost for a long time here and I’m not trying to f***ing lose anymore. It’s pretty simple as that. Food don’t taste good, life don’t feel the same … I’m just tired of coming up here and saying a bunch of stuff, at the end of the day, because it never translates to the next game."

The Wolves have long been among the most active Simmons suitors, but the reason they're losing again is the underperformance of players who may have intrigued the Sixers. D'Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Josh Okogie and Jaden McDaniels are shooting a combined 37% from the field and 32% from 3-point range.

If there was a deal to be made, it probably would have been done by now, since no Minnesota player is restricted by the Dec. 15 deadline. A deal looks no better to Philadelphia now than it did in October, but perhaps Towns' frustration could be enough for Minnesota to sweeten the pot with multiple first-round picks. That would help the Sixers expand the deal to a third team or flip draft assets for more down the line.

Portland Trail Blazers

Indiana Pacers

Sixers get: CJ McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., TJ Warren, Anfernee Simons, Jeremy Lamb's expiring contract

Pacers get: Ben Simmons, Robert Covington, Jusuf Nurkic, Jaden Springer, Portland's 2024 first-round pick

Blazers get: Domantas Sabonis, Tobias Harris, Caris LeVert, Paul Reed's non-guaranteed contract

We have discussed Sixers-Blazers deals ad nauseam since Simmons requested a trade from Philadelphia and Lillard made clear in Portland, "I don't see how you can say this is a championship team." News of a similar logjam in Indiana was met with all sorts of speculation, so let's see if we can shake up the Blazers and Pacers and find the Sixers some value in return for Simmons to resolve everyone's issues in one deal.

The Sixers do not get their All-Star, but McCollum is close to one when healthy. (Philadelphia would need reassurance that McCollum's collapsed lung is not a long-term issue. Likewise, the Sixers must determine if the foot injury that has sidelined Warren for the past year is indeed close to being resolved.) Barring medical complications, Philadelphia would bolster its wing depth in this deal and replace the $113 million left on Harris' contract with greater flexibility to continue improving the roster in the months and years to come.

The Pacers get the "real star" their front office wants, assuming Simmons can return to All-NBA form. Myles Turner, Malcolm Brogdon, Chris Duarte and Covington provide the spacing Simmons needs to thrive, and the lot of them could forge a monster defensive lineup. Neither LeVert, Warren nor Lamb are monumental losses. Let Nurkic work behind Turner and alongside him for stretches, or cut ties with him at season's end. A recent first-round pick and a future one also help Indiana look to the future while remaining competitive.

The Blazers rework their roster to keep Lillard engaged. They get an All-Star center in Sabonis and a pair of established playmaking wings, all while maintaining a clear path to remaining under the luxury tax. A lineup featuring Lillard, Sabonis, Harris, LeVert and Norman Powell could be exceptional offensively. Defensively, they at least have the size and flexibility to piece together a unit closer to middling than the league's worst.

Nothing here is so far off kilter that the difference could not be negotiated through draft compensation. There are plenty of other paths to finding the right balance between these three teams, but the general principle of reshuffling their rosters and avoiding impediments to future maneuvering is what's important.

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach