The 2021-22 regular season is underway, but the NBA conversation is being dominated by two players who, well, may not actually play.
Ben Simmons unexpectedly arrived at the Wells Fargo Center on Oct. 11, ending a holdout that had cost him nearly $1 million. The three-time All-Star took part in some team activities, but he quickly earned a suspension ahead of the 76ers’ season opener. It’s unclear if he will take the floor for Philadelphia in the near future.
Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, the Nets finally made a firm decision on Kyrie Irving, announcing on Oct. 12 that the All-NBA guard would not practice or play with the team until he is “eligible to be a full participant.” Under the current New York City COVID-19 guidelines, unvaccinated Knicks and Nets players are not allowed to enter their home arenas for games. Irving is not compliant with the local protocols, leaving Brooklyn to wonder when (or if) his status will change.
So, there are two high-profile contenders in the Eastern Conference looking to stay on a championship track and prevent these situations from turning toxic. Why wouldn’t the 76ers and Nets get on a call and swap stars? It’s so simple! It works on the ESPN trade machine and everything!
OK, so it’s slightly more complicated than just matching salaries. Let’s break down the cases for and against this hypothetical blockbuster deal.
Why a Kyrie Irving-Ben Simmons trade would work
Irving would immediately eliminate the spacing concerns that have plagued the Simmons-Joel Embiid partnership. Irving had the most efficient season of his career in 2020-21, shooting 50.6 percent from the field, 40.2 percent on 3-pointers and 92.2 percent on free throws. Imagine Irving attacking off the dribble with Embiid rolling to the basket, or Embiid posting up knowing that, if he gets doubled, he can kick out to Irving.
Plus, Irving would actually be available to play every game for the 76ers. There are no vaccine mandates in the city of Philadelphia nor the state of Pennsylvania, and visiting players are not subject to the same rules in New York City.
As for the Nets, they would be able to highlight all of Simmons’ strengths and cover up his weaknesses. Brooklyn had the best offensive rating in the NBA last season in part because it shot nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc as a team. Simmons has already shown that he can thrive whenever there are multiple shooters around him.
What happens when the game gets tight and opposing teams want to foul Simmons as soon as he touches the ball? Just let the offense flow through James Harden and Kevin Durant.
More importantly, the Nets would have a member of the All-Defensive First Team capable of handling the toughest assignment each night and taking stress off Durant. Even amid a postseason meltdown against the Hawks, Simmons was still able to cause problems for Trae Young.
OK, glad we figured that out. Call the league office and make it official.
Why a Kyrie Irving-Ben Simmons trade wouldn’t work
Whoa, not so fast there.
The Athletic’s Sam Amick recently reported that, while Simmons’ camp hasn’t “scratched Brooklyn off its list,” the 76ers have no interest in Irving at the moment. Philadelphia is still hoping that either Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal will eventually hit the trade block. (A Lillard-Embiid pairing is the dream scenario.)
Additionally, the Sixers would have no guarantees that Irving would stick with the franchise long-term. Irving has two years and roughly $71 million left on his current contract, but he has a player option for the 2022-23 season. He could play out the 2021-22 campaign and then choose another team in free agency. There is also a “belief in some corners of the league” that Irving would seriously consider retirement if the Nets did decide to trade him, according to Marc Stein. (Irving pushed back on those retirement rumors in an Oct. 13 Instagram Live video.)
Despite the recent get-vaccinated-or-stay-home ultimatum, Brooklyn’s front office hasn’t given any indication that it wants to break up its “Big Three.” Irving and Durant came together as a package deal in the summer of 2019. Though the ultimate decision would lie with owner Joseph Tsai and general manager Sean Marks, Durant may be strongly opposed to any Irving trade.
As fun as the idea of an Irving-Simmons trade sounds in theory, it just doesn’t seem realistic — not right now, at least.