Detroit — It’s that time of year again. It’s early enough in the season where general managers can start making early assessments of where their teams are and doing some tinkering to improve their rosters before they’re in too big of a hole and the season is jeopardized.
Although it’s normal for general managers to look around to improve their teams, there’s a heightened sense of urgency for the Philadelphia 76ers, who have been in limbo since the offseason, when All-Star Ben Simmons started a saga by not reporting to training camp. He hasn’t played this season and by all accounts, he’s demanded a trade.
That’s where the Pistons fit into things.
According to a report by Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pistons are one of the teams interested in acquiring Simmons via trade. The report indicates that the Pistons and Sixers have had “ongoing discussions” and that a leagues source puts the asking price for Simmons at “(Jerami) Grant, another forward, a young player and a draft pick.”
Another source mentioned that the Sixers were interested in Saddiq Bey and Kelly Olynyk. A third source said that the Pistons would want a “more high-profile player than Grant” and that the Sixers and Pistons haven’t spoken lately. The report also notes that the Sixers are looking to acquire James Harden — who would qualify as a higher-profile player — from the Nets.
There’s a whole lot to unpack here.
More than that, there are myriad reasons the proposed deals don’t make sense for the Pistons and how it wouldn’t fit general manager Troy Weaver’s “restoring” plan:
►Simmons doesn’t fit schematically with the Pistons. In his first four seasons, Simmons has been a notoriously bad shooter from the perimeter. He shot a career-best 30% on 3-pointers last season, though his overall field-goal percentage is 56%. The Pistons would be giving up their best offensive player in Grant — and potentially another top scorer in Bey — for a player who isn’t a primary offensive option.
Simmons needs the ball in his hands to be effective, and although he’s 6-foot-10, he fits the profile of a guard more than a forward.
The Pistons already have a logjam in the backcourt with Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes, so adding another ball-hungry backcourt player isn’t ideal.
Even if Hayes were one of the additional players in the deal, who becomes the Pistons’ primary scorer? Simmons’ career scoring average is 15.9 points, and he’s never averaged more than 16.9 in a season.
►Simmons doesn’t fit the Pistons’ culture. Weaver has made a point of drafting and acquiring players who are creating a winning culture. There’s an inclusive nature to this roster, and Simmons’ offseason has shown that he would require more attention than a young roster can deal with ideally.
Simmons has cited mental-health issues as part of the reasoning for not retuning this season, and the back-and-forth with the Sixers’ front office about which doctors he’s seeing and how that information will be shared seems to be more than the Pistons would be willing to take on.
Yes, Simmons is a three-time All-Star, but is a major shakeup in the roster worth bringing in other potential issues? That’s for Weaver and the Pistons’ front office to decide.
►Simmons isn’t a piece to build around. There hasn’t been much to suggest that Simmons is a leader in the mold of Cunningham, who has been a uniter and vocal figure for the Pistons in just s couple of months with the team.
Weaver has preached patience in putting the roster together, and making a move for Simmons seems more like a panic move than the thoughtful, strategic construction that the Pistons have shown in the past two drafts and in free agency.
The report noted that acquiring Simmons would be a play in order to attract other free agents, but the narrative that the Pistons can’t attract big-time free agents can be circumvented by trading for a big-name player to take on the available cap space they’ll have this summer.
►Simmons’ contract is … wow. In 2019, Simmons signed a five-year extension worth $170 million. He’s set to earn $31.6 million this season, $33.9 million next season, along with $36.3 million in 2023-24 and a whopping $38.6 million in the final year.
There are no player or team options — the Pistons would be on the hook for all of that.
Those are numbers reserved for elite-level players such as Bradley Beal, Anthony Davis, Jimmy Butler and the like.
The Pistons finally will have some cap relief after this season, when they will be done with Blake Griffin’s deal, which was originally $32.7 million for this season. They should be leery of wading back into those waters too soon for a player not of Griffin’s caliber.
All of this isn’t to say that Simmons isn’t a good player. There are much better fits around the league for his talents and his all-around game. He’s an elite-level defender, leading the league in steals in 2020. His career numbers are impressive: 15.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 7.1 assists, but his profile fits more of a complementary player on a contending team — as he is in Philadelphia — than a No. 1 option on a building team.
The Pistons’ reported interest in Simmons could be Weaver and his staff doing their diligence and checking in on what it would take to acquire him. There could be multiple potential deals that haven’t been reported of a quick-fix overhaul that puts the Pistons on a fast-track to rebuilding.
Former Pistons team president Stan Van Gundy used to say that even if he called a team and offered a second-round pick for LeBron James and the other executive said, “No, thanks,” then technically, the two teams had a discussion about trading for James.
That logic seems to fit here as well, though there appear to be deeper than that.
It doesn’t seem to make sense on the surface, but there have been bigger surprise moves that came to fruition.