It's well known at this point that Ben Simmons wants a change of scenery.
On Aug. 31, Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer broke the news that Simmons didn't intend on reporting to Philadelphia's training camp and "no longer" wanted to be a member of the 76ers. More recently, The Athletic's Sam Amick reported that Simmons is done playing with Joel Embiid because he doesn't believe their styles of play mesh.
The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor added that it's believed the primary motivation for his representation, Klutch Sports, is to steer Simmons to "a team built around him on offence."
Whether or not a team built entirely around Simmons would be good enough to compete for a title is a debate for another day. Today, we're going to do something a little different by building the best team possible around Simmons under the NBA's salary cap.
- I'm creating a 14-man roster made up of five starters and nine bench players.
- Basketball-Reference has the salary cap at $112.4 million for the 2021-22 season. While all but one team is above that number entering the season, I've challenged myself to finish as close to $112.4 million as possible.
- To keep everything uniform, the player salaries I'm using are from Basketball-Reference.
- The limit is three players on rookie-scale contracts. Any more and this task becomes too easy. Any less and it becomes almost impossible.
- No more than two players are allowed for each team.
With that in mind, onto the ultimate Simmons team...
PG: Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
If you're interested, I wrote a lot about what Simmons would bring to a team here.
The short: Simmons is a walking triple-double who thrives in transition and is arguably the best defender in the NBA, finishing second in Defensive Player of the Year voting last season behind Rudy Gobert. He's been named an All-Star in three of his first four seasons in the league, but his limitations - namely, his inability to score outside of the paint - have become a problem in the playoffs.
My plan was to surround Simmons with as much shooting as possible to give him the runway he needs to play to his strengths on offence. I also wanted to pair him with other elite defenders to give him some help and make this one of the best defensive teams in the league. And seeing as we're talking about someone who is averaging 15.9 points per game to this point of their career, I wanted to surround him with a few playmakers.
I thought about moving Simmons to power forward to pair him with another ball handler, but I think I found the right balance of players to play to his strengths and cover up his weaknesses as much as possible.
SG: Terry Rozier, Charlotte Hornets
Rozier ticks a couple of important boxes.
One, he can shoot.
Rozier quietly made a total of 222 3-pointers last season, putting him behind only four players - Stephen Curry (337), Buddy Hield (282), Damian Lillard (275) and Duncan Robinson (250) - for most in the league. He hasn't been the most consistent shooter off the dribble to this point of his career, but he was one of the league's best catch-and-shoot threats last season, knocking down 43.3 percent of those opportunities.
Two, he can make plays for himself and others as a secondary or tertiary ball handler.
Rozier might not be the player to unlock Simmons' off-ball potential - either Curry and Lillard is probably the answer because of how much attention they draw out on the perimeter - but he's someone who could run pick-and-rolls with Simmons, both as the screener and ball handler. He even has the ability to create looks for himself on an island. According to NBA.com, Rozier ranked in the 72nd percentile with an average of 0.99 points per isolation possession last season, albeit on relatively low volume (1.4 possessions per game).
The icing on the cake? Rozier lives in transition and ranked near the top of the league in clutch scoring last season.
Put it all together and it's easy to imagine him playing well off of Simmons.
SF: Mikal Bridges, Phoenix Suns
Bridges is a steal at this figure.
Entering his fourth season with the Suns, Bridges is already one of the best 3-and-D wings in the league. He just missed out on earning an All-Defensive Second Team selection last season and he's coming off of the best 3-point shooting season of his career. Not only did he average a career-high 4.4 3-point attempts per game in 2020-21, but he knocked them down at a career-best 42.5 percent clip.
His shooting would help space the floor for Simmons and the two of them would make for one of the league's more feared defensive duos on the perimeter.
This is a no-brainer.
PF: Jae Crowder, Phoenix Suns
Crowder isn't as accurate of a 3-point shooter as Bridges, but he sure isn't afraid to get them up. His experience - he's made back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals - would come in handy for a team that is shaping up to be rather young, and he brings some much-needed toughness in the frontcourt.
Crowder isn't necessarily the flashiest pick here, but he's a safe one.
C: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
It's hard to think of a center who would pair better with Simmons better than Towns.
First of all, Towns is an elite 3-point shooter. He's upped his volume to 7.0 3-point attempts per game over the last two seasons while knocking them down at a 39.9 percent clip. For reference, only 12 other players have posted those numbers during that span, a list that includes the likes of Lillard, Curry, Kyrie Irving and - wait for it - Rozier.
According to The BBall Index's lineup creator tool, a five-man lineup of Simmons, Rozier, Bridges, Crowder and Towns would've ranked in the 95th percentile in spacing last season. With Simmons being a non-shooter, I'd consider that a success.
Additionally, Towns is someone who you can run the offence through. He averaged a career-best 26.5 points per game in 2019-20, followed by 24.8 points per game in 2020-21. (Injuries limited him to 85 games over those seasons, otherwise he almost certainly would have two more All-Star selections to his name). He's one of the league's best post-up scorers, his versatility in pick-and-rolls would pair nicely with both Simmons and Rozier, and he continues to improve as a facilitator out of the elbows and low block.
While this exercise is about building the best team around Simmons, the addition of Towns would take some of the playmaking burden off of him, particularly in the halfcourt.
The only real concern with Towns is his defence, but I'm banking on Simmons, Bridges and Crowder being enough for this team to be elite on that end of the court.
The second unit
The salaries of Simmons and Towns didn't leave much money to build out the bench, which is why you'll see everyone below is either on a rookie contract or has signed for the minimum. Such is life when creating a team around two players on max contracts.
Jalen Brunson, Dallas Mavericks ($1.8 million) - Finished fourth in Sixth Man of the Year voting in 2020-21. Brings even more shooting and playmaking.
Malik Monk, Los Angeles Lakers ($1.8 million) - Has had an up-and-down start to his NBA career but shot 40.1 percent from 3-point range last season and has shown the ability to heat up.
Dwayne Bacon, New York Knicks ($1.8 million) - Averaged a career-high 10.9 points per game with the Orlando Magic last season.
Theo Pinson, Boston Celtics ($1.7 million) - Has played less than 100 games through three seasons of his career but nobody cheers harder. This is a chemistry play.
DeAndre' Bembry, Brooklyn Nets ($1.9 million) - Isn't a threat from the 3-point line but brings energy, toughness and defensive versatility off the bench.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks ($1.7 million) - An NBA champion. Plus, you never know when having an Antetokounmpo on the roster will pay off.
Svi Mykhailiuk, Toronto Raptors ($1.7 million) - Not as accurate of a 3-point shooter as you'd think given his reputation but is still someone teams respect from the perimeter.
Tony Bradley, Chicago Bulls ($1.8 million) - A 6-foot-10, 248-pound center who can make plays around the basket on both ends of the court. Adds to depth at the five.
Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks ($1.8 million) - Has struggled to stay healthy but is an elite shot-blocker who can play above the rim as a lob threat.
Total salary: $112,482,771
There are a number of directions this exercise could've gone, but some players I gave serious consideration to were...
- Malcolm Brogdon, Indiana Pacers
- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder
- Patty Mills, Brooklyn Nets
- Norman Powell, Portland Trail Blazers
- Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls
- Buddy Hield, Sacramento Kings
- Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies
- Nikola Vucevic, Chicago Bulls
- Brook Lopez, Milwaukee Bucks
- Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
- Chris Boucher, Toronto Raptors
I also considered the likes of Curry, Luka Doncic and Trae Young, but I felt as though the team would've been built more around them than Simmons, which didn't feel right.
The views on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the NBA or its clubs.