Sixers: How does Ben Simmons return change the outlook for this season?

Following several weeks of discussions between the Sixers organization and Ben Simmons’ camp, the two sides have reached an armistice in what had appeared to be an all-out war since late August, with Simmons reportedly feeling as if he had proved his point (and no doubt feeling lighter in the wallet after a near $1 million in fines accrued).

News of his pending return first broke early Monday, with Ben making a dramatic entrance at the Wells Fargo Center right before tip-off that same night (to the surprise of team officials) in order to receive the mandatory Covid testing required to join the team. It’s unclear when Simmons will officially begin practice or how much time he’ll need to get in game shape, but he’s expected to meet with team officials late Tuesday, at which point I assume a timetable will be established.

The question that begs to be answered now is how does his return change the outlook on this Sixers season? That answer can ultimately be divided into two areas of concern: 1) on-court, and 2) trade leverage. At the risk of stating the obvious, both of those situations are vastly improved with Simmons back in the fold.

In terms of on-court impact, having the runner-up Defensive Player of the Year and Sixers franchise leader in assists per game back is indisputably positive. A roster that was already light on on-ball defense and primary ball-handling would have been badly exposed without Simmons on the floor this year. Regardless of his level of commitment and the team’s overall chemistry—two things that will need to be closely monitored upon his return—his presence on the court is no doubt a good thing.

Though the Bucks and Nets are clearly on their own tier in the Eastern Conference, with Simmons back the Sixers slot comfortably in that second echelon (alongside Miami, Boston, Atlanta, likely Chicago). Had Ben decided not to return, it would’ve been hard to argue that they belonged in that group—more closely fitting with Toronto and New York on a third tier. Thankfully, that debate is no longer necessary.

In terms of how Simmons return impacts the organization’s trade leverage, it should go without saying that Ben has more value playing games for the team than he would sitting at home. Not only does Morey have a little more breathing room in trade discussions than he did just a few weeks ago, but the more that Ben actually plays the more the league will be reminded of his All-NBA caliber talent/value.

Once the regular season tips-off the landscape of the NBA shifts quickly, with blockbuster deals developing quicker than is often expected. Though none of the oft-rumored stars who could be swapped for Simmons appears close to forcing their way out, there’s no telling how fast that could change. With Ben deciding to return to the team, the Sixers can once again hope to be in play for a Lillard or Beal if/when one becomes available.

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