The Boston Celtics have engaged the Philadelphia 76ers in trade talks for disgruntled All-Star Ben Simmons, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. There is reportedly no traction yet, and any deal would have to include All-Star forward Jaylen Brown. However, after weeks of seemingly no news regarding trade negotiations, Boston appears to be the first suitor whose interest has been renewed by a slow start. The Celtics are 4-6 thus far this season. Team leader Marcus Smart recently criticized Brown and Jayson Tatum for not passing enough late in games, and when asked if he has the right group of players in Boston, team president Brad Stevens said “we’re gonna find out.”
Passing certainly isn’t a problem for Simmons. He has never averaged fewer than 6.9 assists per game over a full season. By contrast, no player on Boston’s roster has ever averaged more than 6.3. While Brown is a strong defender in his own right, Simmons is a Defensive Player of the Year runner-up and would be a substantial upgrade on that front. Where he lags behind Brown is as a scorer. Simmons was infamously hesitant to shoot, especially in fourth quarters, when Philadelphia lost to Atlanta in the second round of the postseason last June. Brown is averaging a career-high 25.6 points per game this season for Boston.
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That makes him exactly the sort of player Philadelphia has sought in a Simmons deal, with 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey claiming he’d need a “difference-maker” to make a deal now. Brown qualifies, but Boston has rejected overtures on its young forward for seemingly his entire career. While he and Tatum may have redundant skill sets, young, two-way forwards are the most prized assets in all of basketball. A 4-6 start might be enough to open Boston’s mind a bit, but as Charania notes, there’s no traction on a deal yet. Brown is only 25 years old. Boston isn’t going to hit the panic button and trade a cornerstone for the next decade after only 10 disappointing games.
Doing so would connect these two franchises in yet another major trade. Philadelphia infamously gave Boston a valuable first-round pick to move up from No. 3 to No. 1 in the 2017 NBA Draft in order to select Markelle Fultz. He didn’t work out, but Tatum, taken by Boston two picks later, certainly has. In 2019, Philadelphia scored a measure of revenge when it traded up to Boston’s pick at No. 20 and selected Matisse Thybulle, one of the best defenders in basketball. These teams are no strangers to blockbuster dealing. Their fates have been intertwined since that momentous 2017 deal.
There would therefore be a fair bit of irony in the two sides making this sort of deal now. Philadelphia gave Boston its vaunted duo of young wings when it traded the Celtics the pick that would become Tatum. Now, it would potentially break that duo up by acquiring Brown, who, like Tatum, was the No. 3 overall pick in a draft in which Philadelphia picked No. 1. That top pick was, obviously Simmons.
Boston did not appear interested in a Brown-for-Simmons deal this offseason. Maybe that’s changing and maybe it’s not, but if the Celtics continue to struggle through this messy start, there is going to be pressure to make a deal of some sort to right the ship.