Sixers: What’s next in the Ben Simmons trade saga?

Last week’s bombshell report that Ben Simmons “no longer wants to be a Sixer… and does not intend to report to training camp,” first reported by The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey, wasn’t exactly a surprise, but that didn’t make the news any less disheartening.

The narrative in the following days has focused on how the Sixers got here, who to blame, and reactions to Joel Embiid’s word salad of ‘bothsidesism’ on Twitter. However, rather than relitigating the past, I’m more interested in what happens next. While this may feel like a logical final chapter in the Sixers-Simmons saga, it’s more likely that this is the beginning of the third act, so to speak. If Daryl Morey and potential trade suitors were far apart on a deal before this most recent development, they certainly aren’t any closer now.

Throughout the summer Morey has reportedly maintained a high asking price for Simmons, with The Athletic’s David Aldridge describing it prior to free agency as, “at least four future first-round picks via direct trade or pick swaps, along with an All-Star-level player.” Numerous reported trade packages offered by the Sixers over the summer confirm that Morey is hell-bent on posturing for leverage as much as possible, but given these most recent developments, the question is no longer if but when he’ll decide to budge on that asking price.

What comes next?

Considering the chasm between the Sixers and any potential suitors in regard to Ben’s value, it’s hard to imagine a deal actually being completed in the near future. With training camp set to begin September 28th, the most likely scenario is that Simmons stays true to his threat and holds out from team activities, leaving the Sixers with the decision of whether or not to fine him.

The considerations behind punishing Simmons financially are murky, if not fully corrupted. Sources indicate that money will not play a role in Ben’s decision-making, but the truth is Simmons’ wallet has little impact on the Sixers thought process here. Any decision to fine or not fine him will be made with future relationships in mind (players, agents, the like).

We’ve already heard threats from Klutch Sports—the agency that represents Simmons and current teammate Tyrese Maxey—suggesting that future clients will be steered away from the Sixers organization; this coming on the heels of litigation involving Klutch’s Rich Paul that reveals his agency has already engaged in discriminatory tactics toward the Sixers in the past.

The line between relationships-as-commodity, and outright extortion is thin. The idea of ‘I scratch your back, you scratch mine’ has always played a role between teams and agents, but the recent conduct of Klutch Sports suggests they’re willing to extend the prid-quo-pro of said relationships all the way to extortion if need be.

While the official company line at Klutch was to walk back their initial threat and claim that Maxey is committed to Philadelphia, the message was clear: trade Ben Simmons soon (and to a desired destination) or we’ll cause trouble in the future.

What might a deal actually look like?

Given the current impasse, the most likely scenario is that this saga drags well into the season. But what does the end game actually look like?

Prior to these latest developments, there was a reasonable belief that Morey could trade Simmons and still recoup a decent portion of his value—there was light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. While the scales of leverage may yet change again (unlikely), that hope for a fair return no longer exists.

The Athletic’s Derek Bodner recently suggested that Morey could be “more focused on draft capital than anything else” in a potential Simmons trade, “to position himself to be aggressive at the deadline.” If the Sixers are resigned to taking a net loss in an eventual deal, then the question becomes how can they best position themselves for the future; and if making a blockbuster addition at the deadline (or next offseason) is still the goal, then there’s no doubt that adding draft capital is the preferred return.

The Rockets decision trade James Harden to Brooklyn ought to serve as a compass for Morey. A rebuilding team with a star to sell is going to value draft capital over everything else (Sixers fans ought to be attuned to this idea). Rather than trading Harden for a package centered on one young star—in the Sixers case, they offered Simmons (ironically enough)—Houston’s front office opted for a high volume of draft capital from Brooklyn instead.

While adding as much current NBA talent as possible in return for Ben may seem like a rational idea given that the Sixers are in win-now mode, taking a net-loss in on-court value while also failing to add future assets would be a major mistake. Morey didn’t have the trade capital to add another superstar to Embiid before this entire debacle, and adding a couple of role players in a swap for Simmons doesn’t bring him any closer.

Though it may sound counter-intuitive, the Sixers and Morey are likely to be less focused on improving/maintaining the current roster during these trade discussions, and instead aim to add as much draft capital as possible to position themselves for the next available star… Just don’t expect them to get fair value in return.

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