Analysis: Could Ben Simmons end up on the Utah Jazz?
Embattled guard is a hot name in NBA trade talks after the Philadelphia 76ers were eliminated by the Atlanta Hawks. Could the Jazz work a deal for him?
For roughly the past four years, Ben Simmons has been one of the most hated players in the NBA among Utah Jazz fans.
First, the Philadelphia 76ers star beat out Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell for Rookie of the Year in 2018 after missing his whole true rookie season because of injury, which Jazz fans saw as illegitimate (even though others have won it in the past under the same circumstances). Then over the next few years, there were regular barbs in the media between Simmons, Mitchell and Jazz center Rudy Gobert.
This season, Simmons was very vocal that he should be the NBA Defensive Player of the Year over Gobert, but Gobert won it, with Simmons coming in second.
But two key events occurred over the past few days that now have some Jazz fans wanting Simmons on the roster. First, the Jazz were eliminated from the playoffs last week in a disappointing Game 6 loss to the LA Clippers that saw Utah unable to defend the perimeter or match the Clippers by going small at center.
Then on Sunday, the 76ers were eliminated by the Atlanta Hawks in a Game 7 as Simmons was essentially useless in the fourth quarter.
More on the second point: Simmons has been known for three things in his career: his uniqueness as a 6-foot-11 point guard, his defense and his horrible shooting. On that last item, he took it to a whole other level against the Hawks.
He attempted just three shots in the fourth quarters of all seven games combined and none in the last four games, but did make all three shots. What’s more, he shot just 15 of 45 from the free-throw line as the Hawks regularly fouled him intentionally.
The icing on the cake came with 3:29 left on Sunday and the 76ers trailing 88-86. Simmons ended up with a wide open dunk opportunity that would have tied the game, but, seemingly rattled by the thought he’d get fouled, he passed the ball to Matisse Thybulle, who did get fouled.
Thybulle made just one of the two free throws, and the Hawks ultimately won 103-96. In postgame interviews, members of the 76ers were clearly frustrated with Simmons. Big man Joel Embiid said the play felt like the turning point in the game, and head coach Doc Rivers said “I don’t know the answer to that right now” when asked if Simmons could be the point guard on a championship team.
All of that has led to talk that the 76ers basically have to trade Simmons this summer to try to retool their roster, as they have failed to make the Finals despite having All-Stars in Simmons and Embiid (the 76ers did reportedly try to trade him to the Houston Rockets for James Harden at the beginning of this season before Harden was dealt to the Brooklyn Nets).
As the chatter about Simmons not being able to play point guard on a great team has heated up, many are observing that he could fit well on a team that needs a defensive-minded power forward or small ball center, and that the 76ers would want a playmaking guard in return.
Enter the Jazz. Right off the top, the chances of a Jazz-Simmons deal appear to be extremely remote. For one, Utah executive vice president of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey said last weekend that the team will probably try to run things back next season.
That said, Utah does have a need for more defensive athleticism and versatility at center, as exposed by the Clippers. With the way the Jazz defend, Gobert’s responsibility is to protect the rim, but that all too often left Terance Mann wide open for corner 3-pointers, and he made the Jazz pay.
Yes, Gobert was hampered in Game 6, but even in normal circumstances, someone like Simmons would be more capable of closing out on Mann than Gobert.
Really, the only legitimate avenue for a Simmons-to-Jazz trade would be if Utah signed Mike Conley in free agency and then traded him to Philadelphia, with perhaps some role players involved to make finances work.
Conley could theoretically give the 76ers the playmaking guard they need, and Simmons could give the Jazz the defense and versatility they need. With Conley’s hypothetical departure then opening up a big hole at point guard in Utah, Simmons could help with that at times also.
The most obvious on-court issue for the Jazz would be spacing issues if Simmons and Gobert played a lot together, which they theoretically would given that they’re both max contract players. Utah designed last season’s regular starting lineup with four really good shooters to make up for the fact that he can’t (and to maximize his rim-running ability).
If Simmons were to start at power forward, for example, it would mean the Jazz would have two non-shooters on the floor at the same time, all but a no-no in the NBA these days.
That said, such a deal could help the Jazz fill needs they have, even as it would mean bringing on a player many fans sorely dislike.