Let’s Bring Back the Marcus Mariota #DoTheDeal Hashtag, but for Damian Lillard

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Does Ben Simmons have trade value?

Depends who you ask.

A dejected corner of Sixers “nation” would say you need to attach three first rounders to get rid of him. Others point out that Simmons is a three-time All Star and two-time first team defensive player. A DPOY candidate perennially.

The truth is that a superstar’s stock is never as low as a disappointed fan base thinks it is. You’re down on Simmons, and sure, NBA general managers watched him pass up a fourth quarter, Game 7 dunk just like we all did, but you know there are plenty of people out there who are intrigued by the prospect of a change of scenery, to bring in a talented soon-to-be 25 year old and try to unlock the one part of his game that’s missing. There’s going to be a GM out there who says, “I wonder if separating him from Joel Embiid and building around Ben is the way to really maximize what he does.”

Portland makes the most sense from a macro-level standpoint.

Why?

Because they’re like the Western Conference Sixers. They’ve run that same Damian Lillard/C.J. McCollum/Jusuf Nurkic group into the postseason year after year without finding much success. Terry Stotts is out after five first round exits, two second round exits, and a Western Conference Finals appearance where the Blazers ran into the Warriors. A lot of good West teams were unfortunately dispatched by Golden State, but even now Portland isn’t going to get over that hump.

So Damian Lillard reportedly wants out. He’s beginning a four-year max deal that will see him become an unrestricted free agent at age 35.

From Chris Haynes at Yahoo:

The enormous backlash from the Portland Trail Blazers‘ process to hire a new coach and his concerns on whether a championship contender can be built have become factors that may push the franchise player — Damian Lillard — out the door, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Lillard has remained loyal to Portland in large part due to the tremendous fan base. But over the last few days, he’s seen some of those same fans attacking him on social media for a pending coaching hire he played no part in consummating, sources said.

The coaching search was conducted by Neil Olshey, the team’s president of basketball operations. None of the candidates who were interviewed were from suggestions from Lillard, sources said.

And although the All-NBA guard has a relationship with Billups as a coach, announcer and former player, he had no prior knowledge of the past sexual assault allegations against him from 1997.

We can get into the weeds with that, but the point is that things seem rocky out there, and so you’re looking for like-for-like swaps between teams with superstars that could perhaps both benefit from a change of scenery.

That’s the case here. It really is. If Simmons’ time is done in Philly, and Lillard is ready to move on, then Daryl Morey and Neil Olshey should be on the phone and probably already have been.

Now, I’ll say I generally hate doing hypothetical trade posts, which is more of what Russ is interested in. The ESPN trade machine is often abused on Twitter and Lakers fans spam us with some of the most ridiculous shit ever, but a Lillard/Simmons swap more or less works out. Lillard will make $39 million in 2021 and Simmons will make $33 million. The question is whether the Sixers would have to give up multiple picks and/or one of Tyrese Maxey or Matisse Thybulle in the deal, which would look something like this:

  • Blazers get: Ben Simmons, Thybulle and/or Maxey, a first round draft pick, probably a second
  • Sixers get: Damian Lillard, Nassir Little

(might need to throw in one more Philly player for a salary match, gotta triple check that because Lillard’s new contract technically kicks in this offseason)

If Portland is asking for a young player, then Philly should ask for Little in return. They were reportedly interested in drafting the 20-year-old wing, who played 48 games this year. He went 25th overall in 2019, but the Sixers ended up taking Thybulle in that draft instead. Other young Blazer options for the Sixers would be C.J. Elleby, Anfernee Simons, and maybe Derrick Jones Jr. Is 23 young? I don’t know anymore.

One of the reasons Simmons might intrigue Portland is because they stink defensively. They were 29th in defensive rating this past year and 26th the year prior. They’ve been nothing less than a sieve out there, and if you bring in a DPOY runner up, that’s a good start point in fixing the problem. Plus, Simmons is a lot younger than Lillard (and C.J. McCollum, if that trade interests anybody). If Portland feels like they’ve run their course with Lillard, who is owed big money until age 34, then perhaps they move on and do a pseudo-rebuild. They also could redo their offense entirely, which, up until this point, featured a lot of backcourt hero ball from Lillard and McCollum. They didn’t have much else out there. They had Norman Powell, Gary Trent Jr., and Carmelo as their 3rd, 4th, and 5th-highest scorers. Not much on the interior.

On the flipside, Lillard’s window matches up with Embiid’s window. Lillard turns 31 in July. Embiid is 27. Tobias Harris is turning 29 and Seth Curry becomes 31 in August. If you’re a believer that the Sixers’ championship window matches Joel Embiid’s prime, then Lillard in 2021 makes a lot more sense than Ben Simmons. We’ve often asked ourselves if the Sixers can afford to waste Embiid’s best years with a max Simmons, and the answer, after this postseason, is clearly no.

And if Ben goes on to tear it up somewhere else, so be it. That’s fine. The thing is that the Sixers can’t wait for him to take the next step, because it’s about Embiid and always has been. If Damian Lillard is available and Daryl Morey can pull the trigger, he absolutely has to do it. He might regret not doing the James Harden deal last season, and if another opportunity to trade Simmons for a superstar scoring guard presents itself, my assumption is that he’ll get it done.

So move over Marcus Mariota and Chip Kelly, we are now asking the Sixers to #DoTheDeal with Dame.

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