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Sixers Shouldn't Sacrifice Relationship With Ben Simmons in Pursuit of Damian Lillard

Liam McKeone
Ben Simmons and Damian Lillard
Ben Simmons and Damian Lillard / Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
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The Philadelphia 76ers and Ben Simmons are not in a great place right now. The Sixers have been openly shopping Simmons since their season ended at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks in the second round of the NBA playoffs. Reports suggest Simmons has cut off contact with the team this offseason and is willing to hold out of training camp to ensure a deal to send him out of Philly gets done.

The main reason that hasn't happened yet is that the price for Simmons is enormous and borderline laughable. Multiple reports say the Sixers are asking for multiple first-round picks, young talent, and All-Star caliber players in exchange for their All-Defense big man. Not one of those things, but all of them. That would have been a hard sell before Simmons played a role in sinking Philadelphia's title chances and got called out by his superstar teammate and head coach after the fact. Nobody is giving Philadelphia what they're asking for.

Which begs the question why they're holding to that price instead of lowering it. It isn't the worst idea in the world to start astronomically high and hope some desperate team actually meets that level, but at some point Daryl Morey has to concede that he's not getting what he's asking for. That point should have come around the draft to maximize a possible return. Since that didn't happen, it comes across as Morey not being interested in getting as much as possible. He's waiting for the right deal, relationship with Simmons be damned.

The logical conclusion is that the "right deal" involves Damian Lillard. ESPN's Zach Lowe thinks so, at least, and he tends to be in the know about these sorts of things. From Wednesday's column for ESPN:

Several teams -- including the Warriors, Spurs and Minnesota Timberwolves -- have discussed Simmons with varying degrees of interest, sources said, but one reason talks haven't gone far is that the Sixers likely view Simmons as their path to Lillard.

Philly's offer is ready now. The Sixers are surely hoping for some disruption in Portland to happen sooner -- or at least they should be. They recently hired Phil Beckner, a player development ace who coached Lillard at Weber State and remains one of his confidantes.

The flip side is that the Sixers might be on their own clock with Simmons: Can everyone come back to camp and put on a good face? How long can they wait for Lillard?

This would make sense if Lillard wanting out of Portland was a certainty, or even a likelihood. But right now, it's not. And if it hasn't happened yet, it probably won't happen anytime soon. All the while, Philadelphia's relationship with Simmons continues to deteriorate.

It's not the right path to take. Simmons is a net negative in the playoffs right now, and that's unacceptable for a max contract player. But he was still a big reason why Philadelphia was able to secure the best record in the East. The team is worse off without him for 90 percent of the season. It's worth sacrificing that 90 percent to get players who will fit around Joel Embiid better for the part of the year that truly matters, to be sure. But Philadelphia is in the process of destroying its relationship with Simmons without a single guarantee the franchise will be able to get something out of it.

It just doesn't seem smart. Without Lillard guaranteeing a trade, there is a very good chance the Sixers roll into training camp hoping Simmons is willing to play along after a summer of trade rumors. Getting traded is part of the job and Simmons should be expected to handle it like a professional, but we've seen players get upset and force a trade for much less. If Simmons turns the tables and demands a trade on his own, the Sixers have a max contract guy sitting on their books who doesn't want to play for them. Worse, everybody else will know, too.

The time for maximizing a return on Simmons is long past. That isn't to say holding out for Lillard is a bad idea. Not by any means. But there is a world in which Philadelphia keeps Simmons happy while keeping tabs on Portland. The Sixers didn't do that, and now the clock is ticking for everybody with a. likely ending the organization won't like.

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