When the Golden State Warriors, resigned to the reality of losing Kevin Durant, executed a sign-and-trade for D'Angelo Russell this past summer, they did so with subsequent flexibility in mind. Yes, they liked, and still like, Russell as a player. They gave him a four-year, $117 million contract. They have him long-term if they want him.
But if they want to go a different direction, Russell also represents a significant trade asset -- 23-year-old All-Stars don't grow on trees. There have been ongoing rumors about where Russell might ultimately be heading if the Warriors do decide to move him. The Timberwolves wanted him bad this summer, and indeed the Warriors have reportedly been monitoring things with Karl-Anthony Towns, who Ethan Strauss of The Athletic reported is less than thrilled with the situation in Minnesota.
That's a big name, but the Warriors potentially have a big-time package to offer with Russell and their 2020 first-round pick, which is on pace to be a high lottery selection, perhaps even No. 1 overall. Blockbuster deals are certainly in play for Golden State. Along those lines, here's a name to get your head spinning: Ben Simmons.
One of the interesting possibilities I've heard being kicked around is Russell for Philadelphia's Ben Simmons. The 76ers could use a point guard who can score and run the show -- and shoot. Some believe the pairing of Simmons and big man Joel Embiid isn't viable in their pursuit of a championship. Simmons, as one source told me, is probably the best player the Warriors could possibly get for Russell, just considering the needs of the Warriors and their potential trade partners.
Thompson goes on to detail the Warriors' concern over the potential fit of Simmons and Draymond Green, who could be seen as somewhat redundant in that they're both essentially point-forwards who can't shoot. Said Thompson: "A couple of people in the organization straight out said that Simmons and Green don't fit together."
OK, let's apply some perspective here. First, there's a money issue. Russell is making $27.2 million this season, while Simmons, whose extension doesn't kick in until 2020-21, is making $8.1 million. The Sixers are certainly not going to be the ones throwing in extra players to make the money work on a deal like this. Simmons is pretty universally regarded as a better player than Russell, even if Russell's fit with Philly is potentially better.
So forget a trade-deadline move. If this long-shot deal actually were to become realistic, it would have to happen in the offseason when Simmons' annual salary jumps to $29.2 million. At that point, the money becomes easily navigable. Would the Warriors add in their 2020 first-round pick for a shot at Simmons?
If you're a numbers person, here are a few to consider. Per SportsLine data scientist Stephen Oh, the Sixers' regular-season win total, conference title odds and championship odds this season would all decrease pretty significantly when you insert Russell for Simmons:
Again, this trade can't go down this season, so variables would change with different rosters next season, but this gives you an idea of Russell and Simmons' head-to-head value, at least on paper. It confirms what most people believe anyway, that Simmons is better than Russell. But again, it's fit. And basketball isn't played inside a computer.
The reality is, in the past, Simmons has had a difficult time even staying on the floor in certain playoff situations. If you want to talk numbers, the Sixers are 23rd-ranked offense in fourth quarters this season, per NBA.com. Simmons is fantastic, but you can't hide from his glaring weakness that continues to cripple the Sixers in crunch time when defenses can essentially ignore him and Philly is suddenly playing 4 on 5. A lesser overall player who cures that one problem, whether it's Russell or not, is a reality the Sixers might have to entertain at some point.
To that point, there would be highly intriguing possibilities to consider for both the Warriors and Sixers -- though it has to be mentioned that if the Sixers were to become open to the idea of moving Simmons, the Warriors certainly wouldn't be the only suitor, and players better than Russell could become options.
To the idea that Simmons and Green wouldn't fit great together, it's true, they do a lot of the same things and their collective inability to shoot would squeeze spacing, even with two of the greatest shooters to ever play mitigating at least some of that effect.
It makes you wonder if the Warriors would consider including Draymond in a potential deal, if it were to get to that point. Simmons is essentially a younger, more athletic Green. The Sixers could include Al Horford in a two-for-two blockbuster swap.
The Warriors likely wouldn't want to add Horford's long-term money, but he would fit Golden State well without a big man like Embiid to share space with, and he'd keep them competing for titles within the timelines of Curry and Thompson. Perhaps the Warriors would be willing to pay that price to hopefully lock in Simmons as their next franchise player as they transition into a post-Curry era.
That's a big-time hypothetical. Nobody has once mentioned Horford's name in these rumors. But it's no secret he hasn't meshed with Embiid, or really anything the Sixers do, and Green shouldn't be seen as untouchable as the Warriors delicately try to play for the present and future without compromising either.
But let's stay on the original rumor, Russell for Simmons, who in all likelihood would have to play next to Green if he were to ever don a Warriors uniform. Let's not act like it couldn't work. Golden State could play Simmons and Green as the two bigs and put a third shooter next to Curry and Thompson. We got a glimpse of Simmons in his most conducive setting when the Sixers put four shooters around him for long stretches in the 2018 playoffs.
For a second, it looked like Philly was going to contend for a Finals berth right then and there, and that was with the likes of Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova flanking Simmons. Not exactly Curry and Thompson. The basic question of what Green and Simmons would do when the other one has the ball is valid, but Steve Kerr is one of the most creative screening/movement coaches in the league. The Sixers should be using Simmons more as a screener as it is. The Warriors would open up that part of his game.
Also, for all the potential offensive challenges playing Green and Simmons together might present, the defense would be off the charts. Both Simmons and Green can guard 1-5. Add in Klay Thompson, and Golden State would be back to switching like madmen and covering for Curry with elite perimeter defenders, which is another problem with putting Russell next to Curry. Together, they simply can't guard elite backcourts.
As far as the Sixers would be concerned, Russell is pretty perfect on the offensive end. All the things Simmons can't do, he can. The Sixers run the fewest pick and rolls in the league because Simmons represents zero threat as a shooter coming off a high pick, and Tobias Harris and Josh Richardson are out of their depth as offensive focal points.
Russell, meanwhile, is an elite pick-and-roll player. One scout told me earlier this season, in fact, that in his estimation Russell might be the best pick-and-roll player in the league.
As mentioned above, Russell is also a natural fit with Embiid. Whereas Simmons and Embiid are often bumping heads in an effort to occupy the same interior space. Russell is a traditional shooter/ball-handler that would allow Embiid to grow as a roller and focus on dominating on the block.
Philly would, of course, lose a lot defensively in flipping Simmons for Russell. Simmons is a legit Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and if he ever learns to shoot even a little bit, he's going to be one of the best players in the world. Philly knows this. Everyone knows this. But if they don't want to lose out on this title window and were to decide to make a hasty move solely for offensive-fit purposes, they do at least have enough perimeter defenders in Richardson, Harris and rookie Matisse Thybulle to reasonably space Simmons.
The simple truth is the only thing standing between Philly and a realistic title shot is the one thing Simmons can't do, at least not yet. I recently wrote that Philly should befor pretty much all the same reasons Russell would be a great fit, but the even greater upside with Russell is obviously his age and the fact that he's not making nearly $85 million over the next two seasons after this one. Russell, in fact, is making less than $59 million.
That's a significant difference. Whereas Paul would be a win-now risk, Russell would provide a lot of the same short-term benefits with the added incentive that he's a long-term asset, in both age and contract, who can potentially grow alongside Embiid for years to come.
There's a lot to like about the idea of this potential deal, for both sides. But there would also be a long way to go before something like this could ever happen.