There are few athletes in the NBA who can match Ben Simmons in size, intelligence, and potential. The Philadelphia 76ers phenom has the full package, and it’s easy to see why he has drawn comparisons to another MVP front-runner in Kawhi Leonard. The similarities between the two go far beyond their size, however. Both are unselfish, play defense well, and can score when needed. Both are complete players, able to dominate in the paint, in the passing lanes, and on the perimeter. And both are only getting better.
Kevin Durant is one of the most decorated superstars in the history of the NBA. During the 2016-17 season, he won his second NBA title, and his third straight scoring title. He was named NBA MVP for the second time in his career, and made himself the face of a franchise on a team that is rapidly rising towards a bright future.
Last season, when Ben Simmons tore his ACL, the Philadelphia 76ers were left without their second leading scorer and rebounder. The team had no one who could come close to the production of Simmons, and also had to finally run with and without Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor in the lineup. The Sixers weren’t clear on what they would do for this upcoming season, and it seemed like Simmons and Embiid’s health would play a big role in their decisions.
The Philadelphia 76ers and Ben Simmons have reached a stalemate. The three-time All-Star is threatening to miss training camp later this month if he is not able to get out of Philadelphia. However, as in many circumstances, one team’s loss may be another’s gain. While Simmons is said to have provided the 76ers with a list of favorite locations, president of basketball operations Daryl Morey is under no obligation to send him there. This creates a once-in-a-lifetime chance for a new kind of NBA team, one that was last witnessed in 2018 with disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard.
Is it possible that Simmons will be the next Leonard? The Toronto Raptors took a chance on a deal that paid off with the team’s first title. However, it was just a one-year deal, since Kawhi Leonard left Canada for the Los Angeles Clippers as a free agency. Even with his flaws and expensive price, Simmons represents a once-in-a-lifetime chance for small-market clubs.
In Toronto, the Kawhi Leonard impact
When it comes to recruiting players, big-market teams have every advantage. Players typically flock to the biggest cities, where there are more sponsorship possibilities. The 11 All-Stars who have switched clubs since 2019 have all landed in big cities, with half of them in Los Angeles or New York.
When they have the opportunity, star players go to bigger markets. This has virtually always been the case since they earned unrestricted free agency in 1988.
When the Raptors acquired Kawhi Leonard in 2018, they made a calculated risk. Other teams declined to give up assets in exchange for a player whose contract was about to expire. DeMar DeRozan, a promising center named Jakob Pöltl, and a 2019 first-round selection that the Spurs converted into Olympian Keldon Johnson were all part of the deal.
The Larry O’Brien Trophy was the result of that risk. While Ben Simmons isn’t in the same league as Leonard as a player, he brings more value to Toronto than Kawhi.
As a small-market target, Ben Simmons
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Ben Simmons has said that he wants to play for one of three California clubs (the Sacramento Kings being the odd man out). However, there is no need that the 76ers give him what he wants. Leverage is on Philadelphia’s side. The four-year contract signed in 2019 by the No. 1 overall draft selection in 2016 still has four years remaining on it.
Getting four years of Simmons is a more appealing possibility for a club that isn’t typically in the market for superstars, and it’s definitely a longer-term commitment than the Raptors’ expiring contract with Kawhi Leonard in 2018.
Aside from that, none of California’s Big Three are very appealing trading partners for Morey.
Due to salary limit issues, any possible deal for Simmons must involve LeBron James, Anthony Davis, or Russell Westbrook. The Clippers’ pool of tradeable first-round selections has shrunk to just one (either 2028 or 2029). And the Warriors continue to insist that the non-shooting point forward is uninteresting to them.
However, there are teams with assets to trade. They aren’t available in either of California’s two main marketplaces. It might be a once-in-a-lifetime chance for one of the often-overlooked teams to acquire a superstar. Teams seeking to turn around failing programs might consider throwing their hats in the ring (looking at you, Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers). The Charlotte Hornets, led by Michael Jordan, may also sniff around.
The key difference between Ben Simmons and Kawhi Leonard in 2018
A small-market club may choose to take a chance on Ben Simmons, who delivered a championship to a less-than-glamorous franchise. | Getty Images/Mitchell Leff
In 2018, Kawhi Leonard was coming off a season cut short due to injuries. As a consequence, Toronto kept a close eye on his workload. But he was also a seasoned veteran with a championship history, having earned the NBA Finals MVP award in 2014 with San Antonio.
Ben Simmons, on the other hand, is not suffering from a medical ailment. He’s attempting to heal from a severely battered mind. Years of pressure on him to improve his shooting confidence have backfired. Simmons did not take a single fourth-quarter shot in the 76ers’ playoff defeat to the Atlanta Hawks during the last four games of the series.
During the recent floods in Philadelphia, a local news station took a scathing aim at Simmons. His self-assurance is shattered.
He has a lot of potential. Simmons, a 6-foot-10 power forward with point guard abilities and a strong defender, may benefit from a change of environment.
The 76ers, if they’re smart, will hold out for the best possible contract. If it comes from a team that isn’t known for attracting superstars, it’ll be more of a Ben Simmons issue than a Philadelphia one.
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