On the latest episode of "The BS podcast" Bill Simmons brainstormed a Simmons - Davis trade. As New Orleans is struggling and the February 7th trade deadline is approaching, more AD trade ideas are being floated out there. This one got me thinking on two premises that are always out there; 1. you never get equal value when you trade a superstar, 2. better to trade one year too early than one year too late. To make it clear, this is based on a few farfetched assumptions, so stay with me.
The Pelicans angle has been well documented. They are at the bottom in attendance; the franchise was almost moved from the city when David Stern convinced the Saints owner Tom Benson to buy the team and keep it in New Orleans. A nice gesture after Katrina that hasn't resulted in success. The Pelicans were always the in the shadow of the Saints organizationally. When they had injury after injury, we learned that the Saints physio staff was leading their program as well. A lot of examples like these showed they were always an afterthought. The worst result was they didn't focus on Del Demps and his performance as a GM. They were still paying Ajinca almost $5 million last year.
They are currently 14th in the West and are 4.5 games behind the 8th seed Lakers. Time is running out, and the Pels have 16 games until the trade deadline. The only two fixtures that look easy are their two games against the Cavs. Other than that they play the Grizzlies, Warriors, Blazers, Clippers, Wolves, Thunder, Spurs, Nuggets and Pistons; it is not unrealistic to expect they won't jump in the standings in the next month. So, playoffs more and more out of reach.
All this says the probability of losing AD is increasing each day, so how do you maximize this? Trade him while he isn't in his last year. Any team trading for him is getting him through '19/'20 season. Yes, Boston can't bid until this summer, but can they offer anything better than Ben Simmons? This would land the Pelicans a young superstar on a rookie contract under control for three more years. Closest to a cornerstone player they could get. So if we assume they do decide it is done with AD, Simmons would seem like a good option. So, does Philly say yes?
One year early
Even when you have many superstars, there has to be a pecking order in the team. It's great to have as much talent as possible, but a clear ranking is crucial for chemistry and strategy. That is the most overlooked strength of the Warriors. They fir spectacularly on the court with ball handler-shooter (Steph), catch-and-shoot specialist (Klay), distributor & defensive savant (Draymond) and then they added all-around offensive beast (KD). The other part is that Steph honestly had no ego problems giving KD the last shot and the spotlight.
The 76ers have no such luck. They have Simmons who is only valuable when he has the ball as he has no shot, Butler who likes to pound the rock and use up possessions, Embiid who like every big man needs time and possessions to do damage down-low. Unlike the Warriors, they diminish each other's potential on the court. While everyone agrees this is Embiid's team and he is the best player on the team, as a big man he is dependant on his teammates to get the ball. We wrote how Kobe "sacrificed" when Phil Jackson told him to get Shaq involved because they were "losing the big fella." A lot of coaches open up games with set plays for their big men just to make them feel involved (Bogut in Golden State). Recently Embiid voiced his displeasure of not getting the ball in the last quarter, a symptom of problems in the pecking order.
The entire exercise boils down to one question. Will Simmons learn how to shoot? With all his talents and abilities, a player that can't shoot the ball in today's league is a significant liability. Philly at this point has to be thinking Finals, and such significant issues are accentuated in playoff basketball. Very rarely players with shooting deficiencies become good at shooting; the best case scenario would be Jason Kidd who developed a shot long into his career. If Simmons can't shoot then he and Embiid can't maximize their value playing together.
Trading Simmons, you get Davis for this and next season now. A known commodity, a better player who is, by the way, a better shooter than Simmons and can stretch the floor. You also get a contrarian team, zig when everyone zags, with one of the best frontcourts ever. From a basketball standpoint, a matchup nightmare for all opponents and an instant Finals favorite. From a teambuilding standpoint, you are trading five years of Simmons who maybe learns to shoot for a year and a half of AD. So, how strong is your "future potential" addiction?
GM's always consider narratives as narratives often get them fired (ask Sam Hinkie). If you trade Simmons and in two years he starts hitting threes, you will always be the idiot that traded Simmons. If you keep him and he doesn't develop a shot, then Simmons didn't develop a shot - it wasn't you.