The Portland Trail Blazers and Philadelphia 76ers are at a crossroads with Damian Lillard and Ben Simmons, respectively.
During a recent media availability, Lillard said the Blazers weren’t “able to go out there and just get some of the guys that we would have liked” in free agency. With all due respect to Cody Zeller, Ben McLemore and Tony Snell, those aren’t the type of difference-making pieces for whom Lillard appeared to be clamoring a few weeks ago.
Meanwhile, the Sixers appear to have made no progress on trading Simmons, whom they’ve been dangling for the better part of a month. With the draft now over and free-agent signings becoming official, the market for a Simmons deal may be even less robust over the next few months.
The Golden State Warriors could help solve both teams’ problems by facilitating a three-team trade that leaves everyone satisfied.
The Sixers approached the Warriors about a Simmons deal prior to the draft, but Golden State was not receptive to team president Daryl Morey’s asking price, according to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. The Sixers reportedly wanted the Nos. 7 and 14 picks in the 2021 draft, 2020 No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman, veteran wing Andrew Wiggins and two future-first round picks, which the Warriors thought “was a joke,” per Pompey.
Now that the Warriors have signed Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody (the Nos. 7 and 14 picks, respectively), they aren’t eligible to be traded until early September. Additionally, Wiseman holds little on-court value to the Sixers since they already have an MVP candidate in Joel Embiid manning the middle. They’d be acquiring him primarily to flip him in another trade down the line.
That’s where the Blazers could come in.
The Sixers haven’t hid their desire to land Lillard this offseason. They’ve been keeping a “watchful eye” on his status, according to Derek Bodner of The Athletic, particularly after he aired his grievances with the Blazers’ direction earlier this summer.
It’s unclear whether the Blazers would have interest in Simmons as their primary return in a Lillard blockbuster. If they do eventually decide to trade him, they might be better off acquiring young prospects and a huge haul of draft picks to begin a longer-term rebuild.
The Warriors could serve as the ideal intermediary for the Sixers and Blazers.
If the Warriors are still interested in Simmons but the Sixers don’t want the Wiggins-Wiseman package, they could instead re-route that to Portland either with Kuminga and Moody attached later this summer or future draft picks. The Sixers could then send Simmons to Golden State and whatever else they would give up in a Lillard deal—perhaps Tyrese Maxey and multiple first-round picks—to Portland.
Those terms should be negotiable on all sides. If the Warriors aren’t willing to give up Wiseman, they could package Kuminga and Moody with Wiggins along with future first-round picks and/or pick swaps. The Sixers could dangle Matisse Thybulle, Shake Milton and/or Jaden Springer if they’re dead set on keeping Maxey.
Financial considerations could also come into play here. The Blazers might want to use a Lillard trade as an opportunity to shed salary and create more breathing room under the $136.6 million luxury-tax threshold, too.
Since Lillard is set to make $39.4 million this upcoming season while Wiggins will earn less than $31.6 million, the Blazers could take back an additional $7.8 million in salary without coming closer to tax territory. Wiseman ($9.2 million) wouldn’t help in that regard, but Kuminga ($5.5 million) and Moody ($3.6 million) could, particularly if the Blazers also dumped Derrick Jones Jr. ($9.7 million) in a Lillard deal.
Meanwhile, the Warriors are staring down an NBA-record luxury-tax bill that’s approaching nearly $200 million, according to Spotrac. By sending out Wiggins and Wiseman and/or Kuminga and Moody, they could trim tens of millions from that tax penalty if they’re only taking Simmons ($33.0 million) back.
The Sixers are less than $6 million over the tax threshold at the moment, so their tax bill is nowhere near as exorbitant as Golden State’s. They might be receptive to taking back more salary than they send out if that gets them Lillard, tax penalties be damned.
The three teams would have plenty of details to haggle out, but the overall framework should appeal to each of them. The Warriors would get Simmons without giving up the massive haul Morey wanted, the Sixers would get Lillard, and the Blazers would get a combination of picks and prospects from the Sixers and Warriors to help expedite their post-Lillard rebuild.
The Blazers might not be ready to throw in the towel on Lillard yet. Jason Quick of The Athletic believes general manager Neil Olshey will likely “run back the same starting five with an improved bench and then assess where the Blazers are at the February trading deadline.” If Lillard is willing to go along with that plan, the Sixers will have to pivot to a different Simmons destination unless they’re willing to wait out the Blazers.
With NBA Summer League now underway in Las Vegas, trade talks could heat up as executives meet face-to-face this week. Although a two-team deal between the Blazers and Sixers, Blazers and Warriors or Sixers and Warriors doesn’t appear likely, all three teams could work together to pull off a blockbuster trade that drastically shakes up the championship picture.
The Warriors are currently +1100 to win next year’s title, while the Sixers are +1800, per FanDuel Sportsbook. Both could vault into the tier with the Brooklyn Nets (+220), Los Angeles Lakers (+370) and Milwaukee Bucks (+800) if they can convince the Blazers to pull the trigger on a Lillard deal.