It never made sense to assume Thursday night was an inflection point in the Sixers’ quest to trade Ben Simmons. That thinking suggested Daryl Morey was under pressure to accept the best available offer for his erstwhile point guard, and that a first round-pick was likely to be a significant part of that offer. He wasn’t. It wasn’t. Quite the opposite, in fact. On both fronts.
By the end of the first round of an anticlimactic 2021 NBA draft, it had become abundantly clear that Morey and the Sixers are doing exactly what they should be doing. Really, it’s the only thing they can be doing. They’re putting the highest possible price on Simmons, and they’re not backing down until they have some incentive to flinch.
The opportunity to land a higher first-round pick was not such an incentive. Not for a team that needs to maximize every dollar it spends. Not for a team that can ill afford to spend $8 million on a young player who might be several seasons away from offering equivalent production. Not for a team that is trying to trade a frontline member of a No. 1 seed without becoming a worse version of itself.
The Sixers’ asking price is high because it needs to be high. As big of a liability as Simmons was on the offensive end this postseason, he still does enough positive things on the court that it will be difficult to replace him in a single move. Any package that does not include an elite scorer is going to need to include a heck of a lot of parts. The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey reported Thursday that the Sixers were asking the Warriors for Andrew Wiggins, James Wiseman, the No. 7 and No. 14 picks in Thursday night’s draft, and two future first rounders. That sounds absurd, and it is. But it’s also a deal that would likely leave the Sixers as a worse team than they were with Simmons.
Wiseman, the No. 2 overall pick last year, has talent. But he is a seven-foot center. The two lottery picks would have potential — but the Sixers are well aware of the uncertainty of such potential. Wiggins? He’s coming off the most efficient season of his career, one in which he shot .380 from three-point range with a .543 effective field goal percentage. But even if he isn’t the liability he was in his first five seasons, he’s hardly a star. Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, Wiggins, Seth Curry, and a point guard to be named later — is that really a starting unit worthy of a No. 1 seed?
Instead of interpreting Morey’s asking price as a sign he is detached from reality, we should be interpreting it as a sign he is in no hurry to make a deal. He isn’t. And he shouldn’t be.
Other takeaways from draft night:
1. The Wizards suddenly make sense for Simmons
Washington has long been rumored as a potential trade partner for the Sixers, but the presence of Russell Westbrook seemed to complicate matters, given the overlap in skill sets and shooting struggles . An NBA team might be able to get away with one guard who can’t knock em down from deep. Two? Forget about it. That’s no longer a concern now that Westbrook is on his way to the Lakers in exchange for Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and a first-round pick. It’s a confusing trade for L.A. and a clear win for the Wizards, who could have improved themselves simply by giving Westbrook away.
The two big questions: 1) Is Bradley Beal willing to commit to the Sixers?, 2) How do the Wizards feel about Simmons?
Beal isn’t nearly the game-changer that Damian Lillard would be when paired with Joel Embiid. But the Wizards guard knows how to get buckets, and he’d be about as good of an addition as the Sixers could hope for under the current circumstances. They’d still need to add a legitimate starting point guard, and they’d have to figure out what to do with Seth Curry, but those are a lot easier problems to solve than finding a superstar.
Beal isn’t a perfect player. His three-point percentage has hovered around 35 percent the last three seasons after sitting at 40 percent in his first five years in the league. He isn’t as efficient as you’d hope, and he doesn’t have the break-you-down skills that the Sixers need to truly maximize space in a half-court offense that includes Embiid. But he’s certainly an intriguing option.
2. Sacramento might be a team to watch
The Kings’ drafting of Baylor star Davion Mitchell at No. 9 leaves them with an abundance of blue-chip guards. While it’s difficult to imagine Sacramento parting with budding superstar De’Aaron Fox, they also have an intriguing player in Tyrese Haliburton, who happens to play the same position as Fox. The No. 12 pick in last year’s draft, Haliburton shot .409 from three-point range with a .569 effective field goal percentage while averaging 13.0 points and 5.3 assists in 30.1 minutes per game as a rookie. Could the addition of Mitchell make the subtraction of Haliburton more palatable?
3. Don’t buy your Jaden Springer jerseys just yet
By all accounts, the Sixers were pleased Springer was on the board at No. 28 and did not draft him with an eye toward another move. But Morey has struck post-draft trades before, and it’d be a mistake to completely rule out the idea of Springer moving on for a veteran.
That being said, the Tennessee guard’s arrival might make it more likely that another Sixer ends up in a deal for a veteran, perhaps attached to the team’s $8.3 million trade exception. Between Springer, Tyrese Maxey, Shake Milton, Isaiah Joe, and whatever guard help the Sixers land in free agency, the bench suddenly looks awfully full. With Milton headed to free agency after this season, and having played his way out of the rotation down the stretch, he might bring the Sixers more value on the trade market than he would in the rotation.