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Let’s put an end to the Ben Simmons-to-Toronto trade talk

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While rumours seemed to pop up again today about a potential trade of Ben Simmons to the Raptors, a move to Toronto doesn’t feel imminent — or likely.

Five Thoughts recap: Philadelphia 76ers 126, Toronto Raptors 101, Ben Simmons, Fred VanVleet James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

There was some weird ambient energy on social media earlier this Monday morning regarding a Ben Simmons to Toronto trade. I don’t quite know how it got started — or perhaps I don’t want to know, lest I be consumed in a fiery blaze of hot takes, trade rumours, and innuendo — but it caught my attention because I just couldn’t figure out why the Raptors would still be involved.

Now, I should preface this all with a statement of facts and personal feelings: Ben Simmons is a good basketball player. He might even be a great one — even if he has the yips and is clearly shook at the moment. Simmons is 25, listed at 6’11”, and able to get up and down the court (with the ball in his hands!) just about as fast as anyone in the league. He’s also a great passer and defender. Again, I’m dancing around the fact that he’s not much of a shooter and has maybe now made things so bad for himself mentally that he may never be a good (or willing) shooter. But the rest of Simmons’ skillset means he’ll almost always have a place in the NBA — and that most every team is at least curious to know what’s up with him.

Oh, one more thing: Simmons absolutely can’t remain with the Philadelphia 76ers and it sure sounds like he has no intentions of ever suiting up to play for them again. That’s all well and good — because, frankly, it’s funny for us non-Sixers fans — but that also means Simmons has to end up somewhere else. Could that place actually be Toronto?

Not to be anti-climactic here but no, it can’t. While it’s dangerous to sound certain like this, I’m feeling confident that the Raptors just aren’t in play for a Ben Simmons trade.

The two components working in favour of a Simmons trade to Toronto are:

  • Toronto has shown an ability and desire to get into acquiring disgruntled superstar players. And while Simmons is definitely not Kawhi Leonard, he qualifies as a player the team would otherwise not ever attract as a free agent (and to repeat: he’s disgruntled). It’s worthwhile to think through what it would take to get him and how he could fit with the team. On that note, it’s fair to say the Raptors would at least be interested in trading for Simmons — and are not entirely averse to making such a gamble.
  • The Raptors have set about developing players of Simmons’ type as they prepare for the 2021-22 season. They have Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and now Scottie Barnes, and are definitely trying to shape a roster around that organizing principle. Simmons can credibly guard every position, play point guard, and also man the pivot as the roll-man on offense. He’s also a terror in transition, which is something else Toronto likes. Again, it’s not crazy to imagine Simmons’ fit with the Raptors.

So why are we killing this trade right here and now? Well, for the reasons here!

Kyle Lowry Is Already Gone

At the 2021 trade deadline, the Sixers emerged as a team in need of Kyle Lowry. It made a ton of sense for them to get a true point guard, and perhaps the one player in the league who could bridge the gap between their All-Star players (Simmons, Joel Embiid, and, sure, Tobias Harris too). The deal didn’t happen and I have to believe it didn’t happen in part because the Raptors were probably asking about Simmons. Yes, trading Lowry for Tyrese Maxey and some other collection of picks and contract weight made some sense, but that was clearly not enough for the Raptors.

Fast forward to today and, a-ha, Lowry is gone to Miami. So now the Raptors don’t have him to trade, and the Sixers can’t get that piece that they most needed for their championship aspirations. That means Toronto would have to flip some other big contract to make a Simmons deal work. And the Sixers would want to have one of those big-money players from Toronto — which brings us to our next issue: could some other deal even be found?

The Raptors Don’t Make That Move

The only players the Raptors could build a Ben Simmons trade around are Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, and Goran Dragic (once he’s allowed to be traded again). Let’s review these options in reverse order.

Dragic and Lowry are somewhat comparable, but it does not make quite the same sense for Philly to get their hands on Goran. He’s not quite the complementary player Lowry is and what the Sixers really need is a guy who can manage egos while still ceding the spotlight to Embiid when necessary. To be clear, Dragic is a talented player, but the fit just isn’t as good. In short, trading Simmons now for one year of Dragic doesn’t feel like a fair or good trade for Philly at all.

Now, I think the Raptors would happily flip VanVleet for Simmons if we’re keeping it buck. Yes, Toronto would lose the shooting and spacing provided by VanVleet (to say nothing of his leadership and overall temperament), but the ceiling on what Simmons could bring to the team is much higher — not just for the coming season but the next few years of his contract. However, there’s another issue here we’ll unpack in the next section.

I’m of the belief the Raptors are not and have no plans at all to part with Anunoby and Siakam. Everyone is looking for some rift in the Siakam-Nick Nurse-Raptors relationship, but I don’t believe it’s actually there and I think everything will be positive once everyone is back on the court in Toronto. (The Raptors also know Siakam’s value is low right now, so I doubt they’re looking to actually shop him — yet.) As for Anunoby, while Simmons is perhaps the better offensive player overall right now, it still feels like OG’s shooting and nascent ball-handling/playmaking ability are something to keep a hold of. In other words, the gain of Simmons-over-OG isn’t necessarily that big. (Especially given that Simmons may get cranky in Toronto — which is a whole other matter we won’t even address here — whereas Anunoby seems to love it here.)

Philly Wants More

So why not just try to push for a VanVleet for Simmons deal? The answer, to me, is obvious: the Sixers would want more than just VanVleet as the centrepiece in the deal. Yes, they could try to get one of the other Raptors’ prospects (maybe Dalano Banton moves the needle?), but the bottom line is they need an impact player coming back if they want to save face. Is VanVleet, at 27 and 6’0” in shoes, that impact player? I hate to say this because of what he’s meant to the team over the past three seasons in different ways but: no, not quite.

Again, I don’t like writing this. VanVleet is absolutely a good player and the kind of point guard who does enough of everything — play-making, defense, shooting, emotional-adjacent stuff — that he can bring tremendous value to any team. It’s also, I suppose, kind of funny to say the Sixers should have traded Simmons for Lowry, but that they won’t or can’t or shouldn’t trade Simmons for VanVleet. But that’s the truth of it. They won’t make that deal even if the Raptors are open to it.

Which is all a long way of saying: the Raptors are likely out of any incoming trade for Ben Simmons. Case closed!