The Trail Blazers and 76ers continue to be connected.
Last month, The Athletic’s Sam Amick reported that the 76ers have a list of “approximately 30 players” who would satisfy them in a trade for Ben Simmons. To no surprise, one of the players said to be high on their list is Damian Lillard. A month later, Amick and Shams Charania reported that Lillard is growing frustrated with Portland’s play and while he intends to give the Trail Blazers time to find a new leader of basketball operations following the firing of Neil Olshey, he still wants “significant changes to the roster.”
This isn’t the first time the Trail Blazers have been brought up as a potential destination for Simmons and it probably won’t be the last, but Lillard’s reported interest in playing with the three-time All-Star kicks things up a notch.
So what would it take for the Trail Blazers to get Simmons in a non-Lillard deal? Would they even make sense as a duo?
Let’s take a closer look.
What would it take for the Trail Blazers to get Ben Simmons?
Any deal for Simmons would likely involve CJ McCollum for two reasons.
One, the salaries of McCollum ($30.9 million) and Simmons ($33.0 million) are almost identical, making it easy to match salaries. Two, the 76ers are said to be looking for a star in return for Simmons. While McCollum hasn’t made an All-Star team to this point of his career, he’s the closest thing the Trail Blazers have to a star on their roster outside of Lillard.
According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, the Trail Blazers discussed the framework of a trade for Simmons which included McCollum, a first-round draft pick and one of the team’s young players such as Nassir Little or Anfernee Simons while Olshey was still president of basketball operations. Before the season, the 76ers reportedly asked the Trail Blazers for three first-round picks and three draft swaps as part of a potential package for Simmons, but it was rejected by Portland.
Now under new leadership, it’ll be interesting to see if the Trail Blazers try to reignite conversations with the 76ers.
Would Damian Lillard and Ben Simmons be a perfect match?
They’d have the potential to complement each other pretty well, that’s for sure.
First and foremost, Simmons would help Portland’s defense in a big way. The Trail Blazers have been one of the better offensive teams in the league for almost a decade now, but they’ve struggled on the other end of the court. This season is no exception. Through 24 games, the Trail Blazers rank dead last in the league in defensive efficiency in giving up an average of 113.3 points per 100 possessions to their opponent.
As The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor recently detailed, the Trail Blazers have been playing a much more aggressive scheme this season, but it hasn’t exactly worked.
One player might not be able to fix all of Portland’s defensive problems, but Simmons would certainly make a difference. He’s quickly established himself as one of the league’s elite defenders, earning back-to-back All-NBA Defensive First Team selections and a second-place finish in Defensive Player of the Year voting. The Trail Blazers would benefit greatly from his versatility and overall disruptiveness.
For what it’s worth, Lillard recently named Simmons as one of the top three perimeter defenders in the league right now. He’s well aware of his ball-hawking ways.
Damian Lillard did a Reddit AMA today and was asked who the top three perimeter defenders in the NBA are
He said Jrue Holiday, Ben Simmons, and Lu Dort 👀 pic.twitter.com/F1YZ4WDfhw
— 𝑪𝒐𝒏𝒆 🌩 (@Three_Cone) December 3, 2021
On the other end of the court, Lillard is the ideal type of player to pair with Simmons because of how much attention he draws from the perimeter. Part of the problem in Philly is Simmons and Joel Embiid are fighting over the same real estate, with both of them being dominant paint scorers. That wouldn’t be as much of a problem playing next to Lillard in Portland.
With the right mix of players around them, pick-and-rolls between the two could be dynamite. Lillard consistently draws double teams and Simmons is an excellent passer out of the short rolls. Handoffs would pack a similar punch.
Simmons would also add a new dynamic to the Trail Blazers with his transition play. Few players put as much pressure on teams in the open court as Simmons does and the Trail Blazers haven’t gotten out on the break much in the Lillard era. That could make up for some of the offensive firepower the Trail Blazers would lose if they were to trade McCollum.
The Trail Blazers would likely run into some spacing issues with Simmons and Jusuf Nurkic on the court together, but they could look to flip Nurkic for a floor-spacing center. (This is the final season of Nurkic’s current contract, so he could draw interest as an expiring contract if nothing else.) They could otherwise play Larry Nance Jr. more at the five to pair Simmons with a capable 3-point shooter and disruptive defender in the frontcourt.
A frontcourt of Simmons and Nance Jr. could be a step in the right direction of the Trail Blazers finding the right balance of offense and defense.
How likely are the Trail Blazers to trade for Ben Simmons?
76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey said not long ago that “people should buckle in” when discussing the situation with Simmons, making it clear that he’s looking to get someone who can be a difference-maker in return. Lillard, meanwhile, kept his response to the rumor that he’s “grown frustrated” with Portland’s play short and sweet.
Safe to assume that there’s still a lot that has to be figured out.