Since that fateful Game 6 earlier this summer, Ben Simmons’ time with the Philadelphia 76ers has been on the clock. From rampant trade rumors to a request to leave the City of Brotherly Love, the end is near for this once fruitful relationship. What isn’t apparent, though, is who will trade for the former No. 1 overall pick, besides the sparsely mentioned teams who could be in the running for him, including the San Antonio Spurs. Their interest was reported by Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer in August.
Simmons and San Antonio are an interesting combination. There are lead ballhandlers in Dejounte Murray and a team of young guards, but after two consecutive seasons outside the playoffs, and with the departures of key veterans atop the roster, how the roster shapes up in near and long term remains to be seen. The situation can change, especially in a non-Spurs era after two decades of roster consistency.
Simmons likely steps in as the primary distributor, as head coach Gregg Popovich plays to the strengths of his players and teams. Barring substantial improvement, there’s no reason to think Simmons transforms his game overnight in this system but being this super passer, this team has not featured in years and the versatility to defend across an opposition’s lineup. Value does exist here, potentially substantially, but deciphering what that cost is right now is the complication.
A hypothetical Simmons trade between the Sixers and Spurs starts with Murray in this scenario. Duplicate lead distributors, with the latter man also not a strong shooter, leaves something to be desired on this roster, with both commanding significant playing time. Fitting both in the same backcourt would greatly emphasize defense, but scoring only comes through the pain then. Along with the static Jakob Poeltl, it places too much pressure on the forward positions to stretch the court and allows defenses to close in on them.
Murray also makes $15.428 million in 2021-22. The 25-year-old Australian is under contract for $31.59 million in that same timespan, so a roughly $16 million gap remains.
From the DeMar DeRozan sign-and-trade with the Chicago Bulls, the Spurs acquired Thaddeus Young. While remaining a capable scorer and possessing defensive upside at wing, a weak position on this team, this NBA veteran is on an expiring $14.19 million salary and expendable for matching salaries. He leaves this less than $2 million apart.
The last, perfect fit for this trade is Drew Eubanks’ $1.762 million salary to even both sides.
However, matching up for Simmons aside, it shifts to Philadelphia’s valuation of their co-star. Is Murray, a young guard under contract, enough to take back? Is Young’s expiring money appetizing for future flexibility while adding a veteran piece for next season’s team?
Fischer’s piece also included Lonnie Walker as part of trade talks, but adding him to this scenario is arguably too much in player value. Perhaps a future second round pick, or two, also go back to the Sixers. A protected first round pick if San Antonio is hungry for the LSU product.
Simmons’ worth is one of the trickiest NBA transaction situations in recent memory, for his talent is immense but the drawbacks are glaring, and the $140 million he’s owed for the next four years is high and debatable for his on-court play. Murray, Young, Eubanks and draft picks matches in salary, but better scenarios exist if the Portland Trail Blazers move Damian Lillard or if the Washington Wizards deal Bradley Beal. A Buddy Hield and Tyrese Haliburton-centric deal with the Sacramento Kings is another intriguing option, too, although not the most appealing when a potential superstar return package can happen.
So, whether it’s the outlined package or something else, the Spurs have the money to match. They probably do have the young pieces and picks to at least tempt the Sixers, but it’s difficult to think this team is blown up for Simmons beyond moving one, maybe two, of those youthful players for one of the league’s most fascinating stories.