Look, we love Ben Simmons.
He’s no Joel Embiid — he can’t shoot, and he can’t tweet — but he is a breathtaking young talent.
He’s also no Anthony Davis. Anthony Davis is a polished, motivated, complete stretch-four, a high-character, low-maintenance player destined for the Hall of Fame.
If the Sixers can trade Ben Simmons for Anthony Davis before the Feb. 7 deadline, then they should. Slam dunk. Mic drop.
It might rock The Process. So what. Processes change.
Davis’s agent, Rich Paul, told ESPN.com on Monday that Davis will not sign a contract extension with the Pelicans this summer because he doesn’t think the Pelicans can win, and he wants to play with a winner, immediately. Davis can become a free agent after next season.
The Sixers fit the “winner” description, to a large degree. Of course, some of that degree involves the play of Ben Simmons. But Simmons is not irreplaceable. And there are upgrades over Simmons. Anthony Davis is such an upgrade.
And, remarkably, the Sixers are willing to consider making that happen.
A league source said yesterday that the Sixers would consider trading Simmons for a player of Davis' caliber. They would not consider such a trade for their centerpiece, Joel Embiid.
Is a trade of Simmons for Davis far-fetched? Perhaps. But betonline.com handicapped the Sixers at No. 4 in the race for Davis' services.
Such a trade would require Davis' agreement to sign that extension — a five-year, $240 super-max deal — this summer. To sign an extension with Philadelphia, Davis would have to determine that the Sixers have a chance to win over the next half-decade.
Anybody who plays with Joel Embiid has a chance to win for the next half-decade.
He is a transcendent player. The only real comparable in NBA history is Wilt Chamberlain.
You might believe that the Sixers should consider trading Embiid for Davis. You would be wrong.
Embiid is untouchable — unlike Simmons. Embiid also is, compared with Davis' inevitable cost with a bargain, as he is in the second year of his five-year, $148 million, rookie-scale maximum extension.
You might believe that Embiid and Davis could not coexist. You would be wrong.
Both understand the nuances of offensive and defensive scheme not only to coexist but also to utterly dominate. Their numbers per 36 minutes — points, rebounds, blocks, assists — are nearly identical, though Embiid turns the ball over about twice as much, and that will change: Embiid has played about one-third as many NBA games as Davis.
Trading Simmons comes with risk. He’s as much an end-to-end punisher as Giannis Antetokounmpo; he’s a terrific rebounder; his court vision recalls LeBron and Magic and Bird; he’s a devoted professional, a natural leader mature beyond his years; and he’s going to get only better at all that.
Trading Simmons comes with complications. Paul represents both Simmons and Davis.
Trading Simmons might never happen. It should if it could, but it might not.
This is not to assert that the Sixers are, or will be, front-runners to acquire Davis. He might be aiming for the Lakers and LeBron, though the Feb. 7 deadline excludes the Celtics for the moment, since, last season they traded for Kyrie Irving while he was on his designated rookie extension, and teams can have only one such player on their roster.
This asserts only that Sixers general manager Elton Brand, head coach Brett Brown and owner Josh Harris must perform their due diligence and pursue the second-best player in the NBA; the best, in fact, if you believe in Player Efficiency Rating.
(Since you asked, it goes LeBron-Davis-Kevin Durant. You can switch the last two, and a healthy LeBron, even at 34, remains the best all-around player on the planet, but that’s the Rushmore right now. Apologies to fans of The Beard and The Freak.)
So, yes, it makes sense to trade a 6-foot-10, 230-pound 22-year-old who cannot shoot jump shots, three-pointers or even free throws for a 6-10, 253-pound 25-year-old whose astounding all-around game helped him finish in the top 10 in MVP voting three times, and who is in the middle of his finest season. He’s been to the past five All-Star Games, and he’ll make it six when the reserves are announced Thursday.
Worried about The Brow’s durability? He’s never played fewer than 61 games, he played 75 games the last two seasons, and while an injured finger currently has him sidelined, he is expected to return this week and so is on pace for 66 or 67 games this season. Embiid, in his fifth year, has never played more than 63 games.
The Sixers don’t care about Embiid’s past availability. They’re completely committed to his current abilities, and to the unlimited future abilities of this 7-2, 250-pound aberration of humanity who calls himself The Process. He’s their brand.
Simmons might have similar potential, and Simmons might win an MVP before Davis does, but he is still a project with a capital “P.” He’s working hard, and he’ll get there, but he’s two or three seasons away from not being a postseason offensive liability. He has eight triple-doubles this season, but he scored 14 points or fewer in half of them.
The Pelicans realize Simmons' current limitations. Paul’s declaration has diminished the Pelicans' leverage, and it still might take a real sweetener to get such a deal done — assuming, of course, Davis considers Philadelphia a viable place to spend the prime of his career.
Assuming the Sixers extend Jimmy Butler, an Embiid-Davis-Butler core would contend for a championship for the life of the extension Davis would sign. Even if they don’t extend Butler, other elite players surely would want to play with an Embiid-Davis frontcourt. Why not this summer’s five free-agent Ks — Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Kristaps Porzingis or, gasp, even Kevin Durant?
Subtracting Simmons means that, yes, you need a front-line point guard. So what. Point guards move. Lately, there have been a ton of them in every draft.
You can always add a point guard.