Sixers star Ben Simmons wants out. Here’s how forced trades worked out for 5 All-Stars in recent years.

By Damichael Cole

PHILADELPHIA — Ben Simmons and the 76ers seem destined to split. The Sixers have made the playoffs in each of his four seasons he’s played, but fans are growing impatient after Simmons averaged 9.9 points in 34.5 minutes against the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Opinions are split on Simmons’ true value because he forces fans to weigh non-scoring contributions like defense, rebounding and passing. He excels in each category, but scoring is another story.

No matter how Simmons is viewed, it is rare that a player of his caliber becomes available via trade. He just turned 25, has made three consecutive All-Star Games and helped the Sixers make four consecutive playoff appearances.

Trade demands have grown more common in recent seasons with a larger emphasis placed on player freedom. Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Anthony Davis, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving are recent examples. In each of those cases, the player’s former team got worse, which is something the Sixers are hoping to avoid as they prepare to build around Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris.

Here’s a closer look at those five recent All-Stars who have made trade demands, and how it worked out for the players and their former teams.

Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers

This may have been the most surprising trade demand in recent history. After a finals run with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2017, Irving forced his way out after reports indicated he wanted to be more of a focal point and no longer wanted to play with LeBron James.

The trade: Cleveland honored the request by shipping Irving to the Boston Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and a future first-round pick that turned into Collin Sexton.

Result: Irving left Boston after two seasons. He was injured during the Celtics’ Eastern Conference finals run, and they lost in the second round the following season. Cleveland returned to the NBA Finals in 2018 before hitting a rebuild after James’ departure. It has yet to return to prominence but Sexton has averaged 20.2 points in three seasons.

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

If Irving’s departure wasn’t the most surprising, this one was. Leonard’s trade demand defied everything people thought they knew about Leonard and the Spurs organization. San Antonio was coming off a 61-21 season when the team’s handling of Leonard’s quad injury in 2018 resulted in his request.

The trade: Leonard was traded to the Toronto Raptors with Danny Green in exchange for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a protected first-round pick that became Keldon Johnson.

Result: Leonard helped Toronto beat the Golden State Warriors in six games for the 2019 NBA championship. The Spurs made the playoffs the following season but have missed out the last two years. The drought coincides with the Spurs failing to win 50 games the last four seasons after doing so during the previous 18.

Jimmy Butler, Minnesota Timberwolves

This one (sort of) worked out for the Sixers. After his reported unhappiness with the work ethic of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ young core and beating the starters with third-string teammates at practice, Butler requested a trade in 2018.

The trade: Butler and Justin Patton were traded to the Sixers for Jerryd Bayless, Robert Covington, Dario Šarić, and a 2022 second-round draft pick.

Result: It’s a heartbreaking reminder for Sixers fans. In the second round of the 2019 playoffs, the Sixers went seven games with the eventual NBA champion Raptors and got bounced out by a Kawhi Leonard corner buzzer beater. The Timberwolves had made the playoffs with Butler but have now missed the postseason 16 of the last 17 seasons.

Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

Unlike the aforementioned players, it was hard to see the light in Davis’ situation. New Orleans was stuck in an ultra-talented Western Conference and couldn’t break into the top tier. Davis’ unhappiness with the lack of success reached a peak as he requested a trade and sat out games as a healthy scratch.

The trade: Davis made it clear he wanted to end up with the Los Angeles Lakers. The Pelicans honored that and got a big package in return. The Brow headed to Los Angeles for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, De’Andre Hunter, and multiple first-round picks.

Result: Success quickly found Davis as he won a championship in his first season with the Lakers. Benching Davis worked out as the Pelicans were rewarded with the No. 1 pick and turned that into All-Star Zion Williamson to pair with Ingram. But the Pelicans haven’t made the postseason since the trade and finished 11th in the Western Conference last season.

James Harden, Houston Rockets

It’s only right to end the list with Harden, whom the Sixers were interested in acquiring for Simmons and Thybulle at this time last year. Harden’s run with the Houston Rockets was coming to an end as his frustration built up after a 2020 second-round exit. The split became inevitable when Harden showed up late to training camp and told reporters the team was “just not good enough” after an early-season loss.

The trade: Harden was traded to the Brooklyn Nets in a four-team deal including the Cavs, Rockets and Indiana Pacers. The Nets got Harden and a 2024 second-round pick from the Cavs, and Victor Oladipo, Rodions Kurucs, Dante Exum, plus four first-round picks went to Houston. Caris LeVert went to the Pacers.

Result: The Nets went seven games with the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks despite Irving and Harden dealing with injuries. The Nets are among the championship favorites next season. The Rockets received the No. 2 pick in the 2021 draft and selected Jalen Green, who flashed an advanced scoring ability in the NBA Summer League.


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