No one expected a divorce involving a Rich Paul client to progress easily. We’re just hours from media day and training camp at the 76ers Training Complex in Camden, New Jersey. Both sides recognize that. And, of course, a new layer to the story has been peeled back, making the situation uglier.
According to The Athletic‘s Shams Charania, Simmons recently declined a visit from his Sixers teammates:
The core leaders on the 76ers — such as Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, and Matisse Thybulle — and most of the team were set to take a jet to see Simmons before being turned away, sources said. Multiple sources said Simmons didn’t want his teammates, some of whom he considers friends, to make the Philadelphia-to-Los Angeles commute out of courtesy because he won’t change his mind on wanting a trade. [The Athletic]
There are a couple things worth pointing out about this report. First, Simmons has remained incontrovertible throughout this entire process, it seems. Not just with the coaches and front office, either. Although Charania cites ‘courtesy’ as a reason for the decline, Simmons appears to have become resistant to some of his teammates, as well.
This indisputable resistance to all things Sixers has developed rapidly. Doc Rivers’ comments this week on First Take and MSNBC certainly won’t help repair the situation. But, the dissolution started well before this week. Simmons has reportedly been disconnected from the franchise all offseason, and it started immediately after Game 7. The infamous comments made by Rivers and Joel Embiid surely played a collective role in the way this divorce has developed. But, that Simmons seems to have completely separated from the Sixers on a dime makes one wonder if a forced exit was planned well in advance of Game 7.
Perhaps This Was Premeditated
There’s the perpetual speculation that Simmons has wanted to be in California all along. It was reported earlier in the offseason that Simmons wanted to go to teams in California. That added to the unremitting fire. That he was nearly traded for James Harden being a significant contributing factor in his displeasure is perceived as fact, as well. Beyond that, it is well-documented that Simmons advocated for Ty Lue as head coach when the Sixers were searching for their new general. Perhaps that they didn’t go with Lue instilled belief in Simmons that the franchise was effectively choosing Embiid over him.
If any of that is true, this whole situation has played out in a manner parallel to what Ben Simmons has wanted for quite some time. We’re also in an era of NBA basketball in which max money has never been more inflated. With that, it’s not at all crazy to theorize that players and their representations might agree to max extensions with their current teams with the intention of requesting trades soon after.
That Simmons has inexplicably gone cold with seemingly everyone so fast stands as proof of the plausibility that a trade request was calculated far ahead of time.
Pay Attention To The Subtleties
The second item of discussion is that Charania says “some of whom he considers friends”.
The inclusion of that phrase introduces the idea that perhaps Simmons isn’t on the strongest of terms with at least some of his teammates. If that’s the case, such a truth would be surprising given that the team’s chemistry was very strong. That is, at least according to what was presented to the public. Perhaps things weren’t as great behind closed doors as they were on the court. Still, a private disconnect within the roster would’ve manifested on the court, and the Sixers would not have exhibited the regular season success that they had.
So, if things were as good behind the scenes as was advertised all season, and now Simmons has become resistant, you might wonder if something happened between Simmons and his teammates behind closed doors in the playoffs.
The Sixers can try their hardest to mend this situation enough to get Simmons to return. But, it only matters what he internalizes as being the root cause of his desire to leave. According to Brian Windhorst, the Sixers, as a franchise, might play a lesser role in all of this than most think:
Brian Windhorst says Ben Simmons playing in front of Sixers fans is a ‘factor’ in him wanting out of Philadelphia— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) September 25, 2021
“He doesn’t want to be in front of those fans. …I don’t think he intends to ever show his face there again.”
(Via @SiriusXMNBA ) pic.twitter.com/Ltt0ccwARf
It’s difficult to get a feel for how big a role the fans play in this situation in Simmons’ mind. But, it appears that his relationship with the fanbase is no small glove compartment in all of this. If that’s the case, it doesn’t matter what the Sixers do to try to resolve this mess for the time being. It’s out of their control.
It Might Not Even Matter If Simmons Shows Up
Barring a 180-degree change of heart, this situation isn’t going to just resolve in time. With Simmons’ trade value at an all-time low, the Sixers are best served trying to smoothen things enough to get him to come to camp and play well enough in the early-goings to get the return they want. For now, the Sixers do have some leverage as it pertains to getting him to show up to camp and play games. They can withhold the $8,250,984 owed to him on October 1 if he doesn’t present.
Perhaps that’s enough to get him to return to Philadelphia. But, it might not matter if he does show up. As Charania reported on Saturday afternoon, the All-Star point forward is prepared to take a page from the James Harden Book of Exoduses:
Simmons has mentally checked out as a member of the 76ers, sources said, meaning whether or not he ever appears in Philadelphia this season the organization may never again receive the same dedicated player. [The Athletic]
Patience Is Still The Best Strategy
I can understand Simmons’ perspective. But, he’s put his sense of entitlement and narcissism on full display this offseason. The delivery of that part of the report, especially if leaked by Simmons’ camp, is incredibly ironic. Simmons might’ve checked out on Philadelphia this offseason. But, he effectively checked out on his team long ago by failing to appropriately address the inner demons that have held him back from bringing the skills he displays in his summer workout videos to the NBA court.
Those are harsh truths. But, he’s still an incredibly valuable player in the regular season. He’s not going to lead you to a Conference Finals, let alone a title. But, he’s a crucial regular season mechanism that can solidify your home-court advantage through multiple rounds of the playoffs. For that reason, the Sixers would cap their ceiling by trading him for pennies on the dollar. They have played this situation quite well despite the drama it has kicked up. Their best chance of getting satisfactory value is to resist the discomfort as long as is necessary. It’s in Simmons’ best interest to come back and play his best. Doing so will increase his trade value and speed up the timeline. If he’s physically present but mentally taking pictures next to his Ferrari, it’s only going to prolong this situation.
An Opportunity Might Be Presenting Itself
Simmons intentionally showing nothing of his typical play in a return to the Sixers is only going to burn his trade value further. But, Simmons isn’t your typical star demanding a trade. He was snubbed of Defensive Player of the Year last season. He is a three-time All-Star and is still incredibly young. Of course, he’s not without his flaws. But, he is undeniably a star with four years left on his contract.
He certainly might passive-aggressively coast in a return to the Sixers. But, people know what he can do. There’s no reason to think that he’ll just suddenly stop doing the good things that he did before his worst season once traded.
Still, the trade hasn’t happened yet for a reason. His value is at an all-time low. Some will tell you the Sixers have no leverage. I completely disagree. But even if I’m wrong, the Sixers appear to have a bite on the line that could be worth reeling in.
According to Darren Wolfson, a sports reporter for 5 Eyewitness News in Minneapolis and host of The Scoop w/ Doogie, the Timberwolves are all in on Simmons:
(Gupta) is going to work his ass off to try to acquire Ben Simmons and he has full authority to do so. Glen Taylor, Marc Lore, Alex Rodriguez. Trust me, they’ve given him the green light. [The Scoop w/ Doogie]
The Wolves’ desire for Simmons does not appear to be inflated. The Sixers have an opportunity to dangle the bait. We can debate what Simmons is worth all day long. But, Minnesota is clearly hungry to pull this blockbuster off. So, Philly might have the opportunity to pin them. Perhaps a third team with a star is in play. If not, demand promising second-year wing Anthony Edwards in addition to whatever is needed to make the money work. If the Timberwolves push back on that, fine. Simmons might look better in other color schemes anyway.
This situation is ugly, and it very well might get uglier. Brace yourselves, Philadelphia.