‘The’ Out-of-the-Box Lakers Trade!
Why trading for Ben Simmons to play as a small ball center is the creative move that could transform the Lakers into a juggernaut
At first glance, the idea of the Los Angeles Lakers, who desperately need shooters, trading Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma for the Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons, the point guard who can’t shoot, seems like a crazy move.
It smacks of the same delusional out-of-the-box thinking from last season that led Magic Johnson to surround LeBron James with veteran playmakers rather than the elite three-point shooters he desperately needed for spacing. Talk about a dumb move. Why trade for a point guard who can’t shoot when your team’s greatest need is for players who can shoot from deep? Why give up half of your young core for a player who’s a poor fit with LeBron James?
The answer if you follow the sage thinking of Jonathan Tjarks in his recent article for The Ringer is that Ben Simmons is a center, not a point guard. Tjarks believes that Simmons “needs to go in the opposite direction and become the game’s most dangerous small-ball center to reach his full potential.” At 6-foot-10 and 230 pounds, Simmons “could be a bigger and more athletic version of Draymond Green with more scoring ability.
Surrounded by three-point shooters in five-out sets favored by the Lakers’ new head coach Frank Vogel, Simmons has the ideal skillset for a small ball center. He’s taller and bigger than Draymond and has the speed, quickness, and handle to beat opposing centers on the perimeter or in the post. He also is a versatile defender with the lateral quickness, strength, and length to guard all five positions. He will force most traditional centers to the bench.
The Philadelphia 76ers know Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are a mismatch. Simmons can’t shoot well enough to provide the space that Embiid needs and Embiid cannot run well enough to provide the pace that Simmons needs. With Joel Embiid ensconced at center, trading Ben Simmons is inevitable and a package of Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma would be a great fit to play alongside Joel Embiid. Both are talented young players who can shoot the three ball.
For the Lakers, trading Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma for Ben Simmons would probably be dependent upon their ability to sign an elite point guard like Kyrie Irving or Kemba Walker in free agency this summer to replace Lonzo. With the Celtics’ embarrassing second round five-game playoff exit courtesy of the Bucks, the rumors of Kyrie Irving leaving Boston and possible rejoining LeBron James on the Los Angeles Lakers have been sweeping the Internet.
Ben Simmons certainly has all the tools to play small ball center. He recently got a rare opportunity to play the five in Game 3 of the Sixers’ playoff series with the Brooklyn Nets. Per Jonathan Tjarks, “Philadelphia closed the fourth quarter of Game 3, which Embiid missed with a knee injury, with Simmons at the 5. It was the best game of his playoff career: He finished with 31 points on 11-for-13 shooting, nine assists, four rebounds, three blocks, and two steals.”
There’s no question the Lakers need to add three-point shooting if they want to modernize their offense and optimize the great talent of LeBron James but they still have a lottery pick and $38 million in cap space to accomplish that. But Simmons playing small ball five with LeBron James and Brandon Ingram would give the Lakers three elite ‘do-everything’ stars who can score the ball, dominate backboards, make plays for teammates, and defend at a high level.
To me, that’s a formula around which the Lakers could build a dynamic team with a truly unique identity that could not only take advantage of the three years remaining on LeBron’s contract but also develop a sustainable future. The NBA game is still rapidly evolving and pace and space will be even more important in the future as league continues to enact rules that diminish the role of traditional centers and make the games faster and more free flowing.
NBA teams today are playing more and more small ball and even 7-footers who can stretch the floor and shoot from deep are getting run off the court by faster, versatile forwards who have the switchability to play small ball center. We just saw the Warriors force Mike D’Antoni to pull Clint Capela off the court to better matchup with Golden State’s death lineup, creating the “South Beach Five” with P.J. Tucker at center to match the Warriors’ “Hampton Five.”
Trading Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma for Ben Simmons would give the Los Angeles Lakers the perfect small ball center to bring Showtime back to Los Angeles. The Lakers could roll out a starting lineup that includes Kyrie Irving at point guard, Brandon Ingram at shooting guard, LeBron James at small forward, Mike Muscala at power forward, and Ben Simmons at center. That’s a starting lineup with the ability to run, shoot, pass, and defend with the best.
Giving up great young talent like Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma for a former #1 pick in the draft who can’t shoot to play a position he’s seldom played would be a huge gamble for the Lakers but the reward might transform the team into a juggernaut and sustainable championship contender. Whether the Lakers’ front office currently has the vision to make such an out-of-the-box trade is another question but it’s the kind of move they surely need to make.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to share your ideas and comments with other dedicated and intelligent Lakers fans, please join us on Lakerholics.Net.