The Sixers and Ben Simmons are locked in a game of chicken. With money now in play, both sides have an opportunity to weaken the other enough to blink. As media day and training camp approach, it is necessary to take a look at the rules dictating what the Sixers can do, and whether or not they should punish Simmons for failing to present at media day and camp.

Understanding The Salary Payment Schedule

According to Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ, teams must pay their players at least 20 percent of their respective base salaries on the NBA’s regular paydays. Those regular paydays are on the first and 15th of each month. November 15 marks the first regular payday.

Players owed more than the minimum salary can come to terms with their teams on schedules delivering 12 checks or 36 checks. Those schedules pay out over six months or eighteen months, respectively.

July 1 marks the first date in which salary can be paid for the season in which it is earned. Teams are permitted to pay a maximum of 25 percent of the player’s base salary before October 1.

Understanding Player Discipline

According to Coon’s FAQ, the NBA typically will not discipline a player for the same violation that a team does. However, the NBA has the power to retract the team’s disciplinary measure within 48 hours of its assessment to administer its own punishment. There are exceptions in which a player might be disciplined by both the team and league. But, they are applied when the player’s act or conduct is deemed egregious in nature.

Should a player miss media day, the punishment is a $20,000 fine. Missing a practice costs the player $2,500 on the first occurrence. The second instance lands a $5,000 fine. The third earns a $7,500 bill. For additional missed practices beyond that point, teams can take more significant measures, such as a suspension.

Players do not receive pay when they are suspended. “For each missed game,” Coon writes, “the player is docked a portion of his salary, whether suspended for a preseason, regular season or postseason game as follows:

  • If the suspension is less than 20 games, 1/145 of his base compensation.
  • If the suspension is 20 or more games, or an indefinite suspension that lasts at least 20 games, 1/110 of his base compensation.”

Even if a player is suspended, his team can trade him while he’s serving the punishment

Applying The Terms To Simmons’ Contract

According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, Simmons opted to receive 25 percent of his salary on July 1 and October 1st of each season. The remaining half of that season’s salary is delivered over 12 payments starting on November 15th.

Simmons is owed $33,003,936 in 2021-22. That means he’s due $8,250,984 on October 1, 2021. Given the terms of Simmons’ contract, he could receive $16,501,968 (or, 50 percent) of his salary by the penultimate day of training camp without ever showing up.

However, Philadelphia might decide to withhold that second installment on October 1. The collective bargaining agreement gives the Sixers the right to withhold payments if they deem Simmons to be failing to render services. Should they do that, Simmons could take them to arbitration to get that installment of his salary. But, the arbitration typically results in a long, arduous process to recoup that money — if the case plays out in Simmons’ favor at all.

What Would Happen If Simmons Were Suspended?

Failing to honor the payment on October 1 doesn’t equate to a suspension, though. According to Marks, “Under Article VI, Section 1 (player conduct) of the collective bargaining agreement, a player who fails to render services would be suspended and could be fined up to 1/145th of the player’s base compensation for each day he does not show up.” The suspension must be assessed in order for that punishment to be issued. 

The $227,613 Simmons would be docked for each game missed represents 1/145th of his $33,003,936 salary. It would take 36.25 games before a suspension would yield the same punishment as failing to honor the October 1 clause in his contract. The Sixers or the NBA could pursue other measures as time progresses, too.

Does Fining Simmons Accomplish Anything?

If Simmons follows through with his holdout, the Sixers will have to decide whether to declare that he’s failing to render services. If they opt not to, the fining scheme for missing practices presented above would be in play. 

The terms of punishment for missing a fourth and additional practices are subjective and unclear. But, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Tuesday, “the Sixers have their own set of rules that include fines for missing media day and each missed practice”. So, the Sixers’ own punitive measures would likely come into play if Simmons misses more than three practices.

What Should The Sixers Do?

On the surface, there isn’t an easy course of action for the Sixers to follow. In his piece, Marks opines that “taking the suspension approach is the point of no return for the 76ers, who would lose a ton of leverage in their search for a trade”.

Marks’ wording in that sentence suggests that it could also serve as the fatal wound in the team’s relationship with Simmons. Given that the piece was first published before Wojnarowski’s most recent report, it is worth noting that Marks could, indeed, be referring to the relationship. Not just the trade leverage. So, that’s worth addressing.

Such a point is a valid one. If there is any chance of repairing the fractures, suspending Simmons wouldn’t help. But, Wojnarowski reported this week that “Simmons will not report for the opening of training camp next week and intends to never play another game for the franchise, sources told ESPN on Tuesday”. So, all public signs to this point indicate that such a possibility does not exist.

Fines Might Do More Harm Than Good

The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Keith Pompey noted that assessing fines for missing practices could hurt the Sixers’ relationship with Rich Paul and Klutch Sports Group. Seeing as Paul is a powerbroker in the modern NBA, that could hurt the Sixers in their pursuits of future Klutch clients. 

Pompey also reported that Simmons would be unperturbed by losing money should the Sixers fine him for missing training camp. You might then question whether the Sixers would fine him, seeing as it is essentially pointless if he is unmoved. But according to Tom Moore of the Bucks County Courier Times, they intend to assess fines if the All-Star doesn’t show up.

External Pressures

The likely course of action probably involves the pressure of setting a bad precedent. Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice nailed it in a passage from his report on the situation this week:

The Sixers are expecting at least some sort of absence to open the preseason, sources say, though most are convinced he will eventually show up, citing a lack of precedent for extended holdouts in the NBA. There has been some public debate over whether the Sixers would fine him for such a move in the midst of trying to work through all this, though it seems pretty black-and-white on Philly’s end. The CBA lays out potential punishments for skipping team activities, and opting not to penalize in this situation is viewed as a bad precedent to set, especially with the league on the side of a team with a guy under contract for the next four seasons. [PhillyVoice]

The pressure isn’t just from the NBA’s personnel. It’s going to come from ownership representatives from the other 29 franchises. Perhaps Daryl Morey might be able to shrug off such external pressure. But, Joshua Harris and the other prominent members of the Sixers’ ownership group might not be accustomed to such discomfort. If they tell Morey to slap Simmons on the wrist, my guess is that he’ll oblige.

Withholding The October 1 Payment

This writer’s opinion is that the best course of action is to leave it at withholding the payment due on October 1. That is, at least for now. As demonstrated above, it will take 36.25 games before a suspension would deduct the same value from Simmons as withholding the $8,250,984 would. Assuming no other measures are enacted by the team or league, Marks is right in his assertion that suspending him could make the relationship irreparable and melt Simmons’ trade value even further. 

Perhaps fining Simmons would be a less aggressive measure. But, those $2,500 increasing installments are pocket change to an NBA player on a max deal. If Pompey is correct in opining that it could damage Philadelphia’s relationship with Rich Paul and Klutch Sports, then perhaps it’s not worth the trouble it could present in the future.

If Simmons doesn’t show up to media day or the beginning of training camp, withholding the October 1 payment is the reciprocal course of action that will burn his wallet the most. Perhaps it hurts enough to motivate him to show up. Or, perhaps Simmons shrugs it off. One thing is for sure — we’re about to find out just how aggressive the Sixers are willing to be when the point forward challenges them.