Ben Simmon’s future in Philadelphia has been the story of the NBA offseason. The latest development in this summer-long saga came Tuesday when ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Simmons had told the Philadelphia 76ers that he “intends to never play another game for the franchise”. While this was to be expected, it puts Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey in a precarious position. After demanding an outrageous return for a disgruntled star who wants out, Simmons is now playing hardball in order to force Morey to act.
For every new development in the Simmons-saga, the reaction on the internet is fascinating to watch. While this has been a major story for fanbases across the league, it’s especially interesting to watch the discourse amongst Blazer fans, who, as usual, can’t seem to agree on anything. The perception of Simmons is vastly different amongst the fanbase, which has led to numerous arguments about whether or not Neil Olshey should trade C.J. McCollum for the estranged forward, and how many picks should be attached in such a deal. However, a new “rumor” has opened up another line of discussion that we should all be able to agree on.
Notable news-breaker Stephen A. Smith shared this tidbit on his ESPN show “First Take”:
“The Portland Trail Blazers, from what I’m told, obviously, they’re talking about C.J. McCollum. They’re talking about Robert Covington, they’re talking about a couple of first-round picks, they don’t want to put it out there because you don’t want to alienate C.J. McCollum in the event that you keep him, but nevertheless, is something that they’ve been willing to offer. The Sixers have not been willing to buy right now. The Sixers are holding their feet to the fire, because they don’t want to give in and cave in, and set a bad precedent by moving somebody who makes a demand to be moved when he still has four years left on his contract. That is the situation going on with the Philadelphia 76ers right now.”
It’s a smart play by Smith. He’ll say rumors that’ll drive attention to his show (like this article is doing right now), but do it in a way where it’s not anything concrete and can easily be walked back in the future. I’m sure Smith has some contacts and is plugged into the league a bit, but he’s never said anything that has made me believe he has insight on active trade negotiations. Therefore, his rumor-sharing shouldn’t be treated as factual.
Now, if Smith truly did “hear” this, it wasn’t from Portland’s end. If there’s one thing that Neil Olshey does well, it’s keeping things quiet. The only way this leak is based on something of substance is if it’s coming out of the Sixers camp. Daryl Morey would have a motive for this leak, as it could be a clever ploy to save Simmons’ trade value while Simmons actively tries to destroy it. Wherever this tidbit came from, I don’t trust it. But regardless, it has opened up a new debate amongst Blazer fans:
Are you willing to include Robert Covington with C.J. McCollum in order to trade for Ben Simmons?
I’ve been actively against a McCollum for Simmons trade from the get-go. If you want reasons why I dropped a video discussing it over on our YouTube Channel. But the quick summary is that I don’t trust Ben Simmons in the playoffs, and the offensive downgrade would be bigger than people think. There are some positives defensively. And if McCollum is traded for Simmons in a straight-up swap, I’d be able to focus on those positives heading into the season.
Those positives evaporate if Covington is included in the trade, and the result would be a team that doesn’t have enough upside to be elite on either side of the ball. Covington has become an underrated defender after failing to single-handedly fix the Blazers’ defensive issues last year. His off-ball defense is elite, and while his on-ball defense isn’t quite as good, I think it’s better than his detractors say it is. Simmons is an improvement in that area as he’s one of the best point-of-attack defenders in the league. But although he’s an upgrade, it’s not enough of one to warrant such a trade.
Defense is much more than sticking a great point-of-attack defender on a great player and calling it a day. To have a truly elite team defense, you need to have proper communication, off-ball positioning, backside help, rotations out of that help, and more. Robert Covington excels in all these defensive aspects, and the only way to justify the offensive down-grade a McCollum for Simmons swap would bring is to pair Simmons’ elite on-ball ability with Covington’s elite off-ball ability.
Larry Nance Jr. is a great off-ball defender in his own right, but he’s not enough to make the Blazers a truly elite defense. Nance would figure to slot into the starting lineup as well, which would leave the Blazers’ bench unit in a vulnerable position with little forward depth. Without a C.J. McCollum to lead the bench unit, the second unit would struggle to generate enough scoring without Damian Lillard on the court. Taking Larry Nance Jr. out of that bench unit exacerbates that issue even more. The absence of a second player that could create offense off the dribble for both himself and others would create problems for this team, especially in the playoffs. Creating that problem while also weakening the bench is a non-starter for me.
The Blazers would also lose the elite switchability from a potential Powell-Covington-Nance-Simmons lineup combination. With those four, they would have the lineup flexibility to match up with any team in the league. The Blazers could go big with a Lillard-Simmons-Covington-Nance-Nurkic lineup, or small with a Lillard-Powell-Simmons-Covington-Nance combination. Trade Covington away, and those combinations wouldn’t be possible.
The only way this issue can be offset would be if the defense became truly elite. A lot of people think that the Blazers defensive issues have been personnel-based, but I don’t see how one can think that and then claim that doing as little as swapping Covington for Simmons and moving Powell to shooting guard takes the Blazers from a horrible defense to elite. They’d have to think that either new head coach Chauncey Billups’ gameplan will be a big improvement defensively over Terry Stotts’ (which doesn’t fit with the theory that all of the Blazers’ defensive issues were personnel-based), or they’re overestimating the defensive gap between Simmons and Covington.
We’re likely to see the resolution to the Ben Simmons drama in the coming week, and if the Blazers are the team to take a chance on the forward, let’s just hope that Robert Covington returning to Philadelphia isn’t a part of it.