Just a day after NBA insider Marc Stein reported that there was "remarkably little" Ben Simmons trade chatter among execs at the league's G League Showcase, another reporter with insight into front office goings-on dropped a nugget about the Simmons trade landscape.
ESPN insider Adrian Wojnarowski joined ESPN's Christmas Day basketball coverage and sat down with Mike Greenberg, where he pointed to an emerging "team to watch" in the Simmons sweepstakes:
The upstart Cleveland Cavaliers.
Here's what Wojnarowski reported:
"Ben Simmons in Philadelphia, I think you'll start to see the 76ers re-engage teams. Certainly he is no closer to agreeing to come back to play with the Sixers this season, and they don't have any real traction on a trade yet. Trade deadline is Feb. 10, and you can expect teams who've been engaged with Philly previously - Indiana, Sacramento, Minnesota among them.
"But here's an interesting team to watch: the Cleveland Cavaliers, who before they went on this really incredible start to the season, had been engaged with Philly on Simmons. They've got some really intriguing assets, either in a straight deal or perhaps a three- or four-team deal. It was reported earlier J.B. Bickerstaff agreed to a new extension today through 2026-27. This is a team in Cleveland that's just a game out of third place.
"Philly's a team right now, in that bunched up East, who could be out of the play-in with a couple of losses, the way it's bunched up. So expect Philly to start talking more with teams as we get closer to that Feb. 10 deadline, and it will be interesting to see if Cleveland re-engages as a team that I think's built for long-term success with all their young players. Ben Simmons is only 25 years old; he does fit into the timeline of that team."
First, it seems this is most likely informed speculation from Woj rather than a steadfast report. He doesn't say that the Cavaliers absolutely are going to make a hard push for Simmons in the coming days; he's connecting dots, both on the court and off the court, while talking to people and coming up with this takeaway. But any time Woj talks, we listen.
Second, this makes perfect sense for the Cavs. It's hard to get free agents to go to Cleveland when they don't employ a hometown hero who happens to be the best basketball player of all-time, so the Cavs' front office would be wise to capitalize on their surprisingly good start to this season and leverage it into something bigger and more sustainable. If they believe this young core can be legit, they should absolutely try to land Simmons to keep it legit - and to raise its ceiling in the East.
Should the Sixers be interested in a Cavs trade package? There were reports floating around a few months ago about talks between the two teams. Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com reported this information back in late September on the reported discussions:
"Sources maintain the Cavs don’t have any 'untouchables.' However, prized rookie Evan Mobley and rising point guard Darius Garland are closest to that designation. The likelihood of either player being moved is incredibly low. That leaves Collin Sexton, Isaac Okoro and future first-rounders to help cajole a Simmons deal.
"According to sources, the 76ers would want limited or no protections on those firsts in hopes of flipping them for an All-Star caliber player around the deadline."
Considering Mobley's start to the season, I'd imagine he's officially untouchable. (His fit with Joel Embiid would also be wonky.) But what about a trade package like this...
CLE receives: Ben Simmons
PHI receives: Lauri Markannen, Collin Sexton, Isaac Okoro, MIL 2022 1st Round Pick, 2023 1st Round Pick (Top 3 protected)
If that's on the table, I'm taking it as stand-in Daryl Morey. Sexton is a good young piece, as is Okoro. Markannen can play power forward if Morey is able to get out from underneath Tobias Harris's contract, and Markannen's deal is extremely tradeable. Plus, those picks can sweeten any future deals. Overall you're getting a bunch of optionality in return for a player who doesn't want to play for you.
Is it a perfect trade? No. But I've said it a million times when thinking about hypothetical Simmons deals: the perfect trade probably isn't out there.