Should Knicks trade for 76ers’ Ben Simmons?

Ben Simmons treated image, blue Sixers shirt with black arena background

Off the heels of another disappointing postseason exit, the Philadelphia 76ers are primed to shake things up this offseason. It’s become apparent that trying to compete behind the young pairing of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons won’t yield the championship they richly desire, and there’s no move on the margins that can change that reality.

That leaves breaking up the two All-Stars, with Simmons being the likely candidate for trade. Embiid is the face of the franchise and just came off an MVP-level season before tearing his meniscus in the postseason. Meanwhile, Simmons just averaged under double-digit scoring in the semi-finals against the Hawks.

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Many teams are sure to jump on a Simmons offer, even after his disastrous series. Buying low on a 24-year-old three-time All-Star trumps concerns over his offensive limitations. The question is, should the Knicks look into trading for Simmons themselves?

New York is on the hunt for talent to build on their fourth-place finish in the East last season. In theory, a young star like Simmons is exactly what they need. His actual basketball fit is a bit more complicated.

Were the Knicks to acquire Simmons, he’d immediately be the best individual defender on the roster, certainly a boon to Tom Thibodeau and his style of play. Coming off back-to-back appearances on the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team, Simmons would give New York a more dependable primary wing defender to take on a LeBron James or Kevin Durant. Last season the job went to Reggie Bullock and RJ Barrett.

Simmons should also jolt the Knicks’ offensive creation and transition play. Simmons is near the top of the league in transition possessions for both the regular season and postseason, though his efficiency there is stymied by his poor free throw shooting. His athleticism and ability to push the ball would help New York generate easy offense, which they can’t have enough of.

Simmons is also a gifted passer, either still or off the dribble, which was another weakness for the Knicks. Come the playoffs, facilitation started and ended with Julius Randle, Derrick Rose and at times Immanuel Quickley for New York. Another threat to create for others would help boost an offense that languished in the first round.

Mar 16, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons (25) drives against New York Knicks guard Alec Burks (18) during the first quarter at Wells Fargo Center.

Mar 16, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons (25) drives against New York Knicks guard Alec Burks (18) during the first quarter at Wells Fargo Center.

There are downsides to adding Simmons as well. Figuring out how to best utilize him offensively will be a challenge for whatever team takes him on. The Knicks would have to do so while dealing with inserting another non-shooter and primary ball handler into a lineup that has its share of each.

Beyond that, the 2021 Playoffs turned concerns around Simmons’s potential into legitimate scares. He improved many parts of his game in his four NBA seasons, but his biggest weaknesses were drastically exposed in the past few weeks.

He shot an abhorrent 34.2% from the free throw line this postseason, and disappeared offensively when games mattered most. He only scored above 20 points once, often left to wait in the short corner for stretches at a time. There’s still a lacking confidence and poise to his scoring, and still no remnants of an outside jumper. Anybody acquiring Simmons will have to weigh how much this limits his ceiling.

As with any trade, this could come down to cost for the Knicks. Before considering what they would have to give up, trading for Simmons means committing a large chunk of cap space to him. Simmons made $30 million this season, set to increase annually through 2024-25 when he’ll make $40 million at age 28.

For comparison, this makes him a top-30 earner in the league, in line with Jamal Murray and Pascal Siakam, or just shy of Devin Booker, Karl-Anthony Towns and Embiid. There are likely going to be better opportunities for the Knicks to spend over $30 million a year on their way.

As for Philly’s return package from Leon Rose? It won’t come cheap. Even if Simmons’s value around the league isn’t where it was a few weeks ago, he’s a name small-market teams can sell and build around.

Portland is a team that’s brought up as a potential landing spot via CJ McCollum-based swap. Oklahoma City has a litany of young players and picks, as does San Antonio to a lesser degree. Toronto could offer Siakam in a swap.

The Knicks don’t have to worry about matching salaries with most of their roster entering unrestricted free agency, but to match what other teams are offering could be costly. Both Dallas picks and future firsts will have to go. On top of that, the Sixers are likely asking for one or more of New York’s prospects: Barrett, Quickley, Obi Toppin or Mitchell Robinson.

This should be a price way too steep for the Knicks. Trading away the ship for an established, known superstar like Damian Lillard is one thing. Simmons is a much bigger risk, with no idea how his development plays out and guaranteed money matched by few in the league.

New York is set up perfectly to take advantage of their smart spending and flexibility. This isn’t the first time a high-level player became available and won’t be the last, even of this summer. The Knicks need to make the right move when it comes, and Simmons isn’t it.

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