Could San Antonio be the best destination for disgruntled 76ers star Ben Simmons?
According to NBA insider Marc Stein, “Simmons would welcome the opportunity to play for [Gregg] Popovich if the Spurs found a way to acquire him.”
Nearly two months into the 2021-22 NBA season there are no signs that the stand-off between Simmons and the 76ers organization will be ending any time soon. Simmons remains intent on not suiting up for the franchise while Sixers president Daryl Morey patiently awaits the perfect return for the three-time All-Star.
Is a deal with the Spurs the best option for all parties involved? Let’s dive deeper into what this could look like.
Could the Spurs trade for Ben Simmons?
It’s a two-part answer.
Who could the Spurs trade for Ben Simmons?
According to a report from The Athletic’s Sam Amick, there are “approximately 30 players” the 76ers would target in a potential deal for Simmons, so the first part of the answer is whether or not the Spurs have one of the 30 players that the Sixers have on their radar.
When looking at San Antonio’s roster, fifth-year point guard Dejounte Murray is the most likely candidate to be one of Philly’s 30 targeted players around the league. Murray, 25, is a perennial All-Defensive Team candidate and has broken out to post averages of 18.9 points, 8.5 assists and 8.4 rebounds for the Spurs this season.
As good of a season as Murray’s having, he has yet to cross the All-Star threshhold as Simmons has done. And while Murray is a perennial candidate for an All-Defensive Team selection, Simmons was a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year just one season ago.
Those differences alone could cause the Spurs to seek an upgrade to accelerate the rebuild, while Murray’s reputation and numbers would be far from “settling” for the Sixers.
Can the Spurs make salaries match in a Ben Simmons trade?
Of course, the other part of the answer is making the money work.
Simmons, who is on the second year of a five-year, $177.2 million contract, is earning roughly $33 million this season, according to Spotrac. Murray, who is earning $15.4 million this season is the Spurs’ highest-paid player this season, with Derrick White ($15.1 million), Thaddeus Young ($14.2 million) and Doug McDermott ($13.8 million) coming in as the other four players to earn over $10 million this year.
To get a deal done, Young’s expiring deal is the most sensible to include unless San Antonio has a desire to get out from a longer deal like the three-year, $41 contract McDermott inked in the offseason.
Selected 12th overall by the Sixers in 2007, things would come full circle for the 14-year veteran. Because Young is on an expiring deal, he cannot be included in any trades until Dec. 15.
It is also worth noting that the Sixers do not have any open roster spots. Philadelphia would have to waive a player in order to take more players back in exchange for Simmons or get a third team involved, which would make things much trickier.
Why Ben Simmons would thrive under Gregg Popovich
This is the fun part.
Simmons’ reported willingness to play for Popovich makes sense given his standing as one of the greatest coaches to ever grace an NBA sideline. Popovich, along with his coaching staff, would undoubtedly be able to get the best out of Simmons, potentially pushing him to an MVP level even.
Your reminder that although Simmons’ last time on an NBA floor ended on a sour note, it doesn’t take away from his potential as a 6-foot-10 do-it-all player with elite court vision, defensive ability and untapped offensive potential due to his athleticism.
That’s the type of player the Spurs can get the most out of and the proof is in the results. Three specific examples come to mind:
Selected right outside of the lottery, San Antonio motioned to acquire Leonard on draft night in 2011. In seven seasons with the franchise, Leonard went from a defensive specialist to a two-time Defensive Player of the Year to a two-way ace and MVP candidate in his finial form.
It’s hard to fathom that anyone would have expected Leonard to be the type of player capable of averaging nearly 26 points a game but that’s exactly what he did in his final full season as a Spur. Assistant coach Chip Engelland, also known as “The Shot Doctor,” played a large role in Leonard’s transformation, something he could do with Simmons as well.
Could Engelland turn Simmons into a 50-40-90 guy? Probably not. But new scenery and a different approach could unlock Simmons in a different manner offensively,
DeRozan was already an All-Star and nine-year veteran by the time he got to San Antonio, so there was no way he could add anything else to his game, right? Wrong.
A complete buy-in from DeRozan resulted in him making significant strides as a playmaker, averaging 6.2 assists per game during his three seasons with the Spurs, including a career-high 6.9 dimes per contest in his final season.
Playmaking isn’t Simmons’ weakness at all, but the example of DeRozan is a reminder that under Popovich, it’s never too late to add a new dynamic to your game.
A late first round pick, Parker wasn’t necessarily expected to be a star when he came into the league — at least not to the heights he reached.
Under the tutelage of Popovich and his coaching staff, Parker developed into a six-time All-Star and in 2007, was named NBA Finals MVP. Credit to Parker for buying in and working on his game, but Popovich also laid the blueprint and put him in positions to succeed.
If a trade to bring Simmons to San Antonio could be executed, he could tap into another level of stardom.