Anyone who follows the NBA would literally have to live under a rock to not know that Ben Simmons would like to be traded. But one of the reasons it seems so irreconcilable is that there is so much incongruence as to why Simmons wants out. The weekly reports introduce different factors contributing to why Simmons wants to depart, but not a primary mechanism. The answers delivered by numerous members of the Sixers’ organization during yesterday’s media day suggest that the franchise isn’t quite sure, either.
“It’s a tough answer because it wasn’t as clear as we probably would want it.”
When asked if he believes his comments after Game 7 factored into Simmons’ desire to leave, head coach Doc Rivers responded, “I don’t believe that’s one of the problems at all. We talked about it the next day.”
When pressed further about what specifically caused Simmons to grow unhappy enough to desire a divorce, Rivers indicated that the impetus was unclear. “It’s a tough answer because it wasn’t as clear as we probably would want it. Wanting to change places for whatever reason. So, it’s tough to play here. But Ben didn’t say that. But, you got to assume that’s probably part of it. I can’t say he’s said that. That’s just an assumption. So, that’s it.”
The first cause for concern is that the head coach, of all people, doesn’t seem to know why his All-Star wants to leave. Perhaps it’s not for a lack of effort to understand Simmons more. Perhaps he was withholding the truth to maintain privacy or strategy in the matter. But if he truly doesn’t know, it does not bode well for the franchise’s chances of reconciling with Simmons at least enough to work towards a mutual divorce together.
Has Rivers Done Any Self-Reflecting?
The second cause for concern is that Rivers’ willingness to project blame for the situation onto the fans underlies the dangerous possibility that he hasn’t learned from failures of seasons past. When asked about entertaining introspection after a second consecutive playoff failure in the moments after the Sixers’ Game 7 loss to the Hawks, Rivers said, “If it was the same team, I would actually justify that question. But since there’s two different teams, you know…Listen, this team last year got swept in the first round. We had a chance to go to the Eastern Finals. I’m not gonna make this into a negative year.”
By the way, Rivers’ comments about Simmons after Game 7 have achieved infamy over the last few months. They weren’t that severe when the words reached my ears in the moment, and they aren’t that severe to me now, either. But yesterday, Rivers chose to own his comments when faced by the media. He didn’t offer any sort of introspective correction to what he originally said. He didn’t offer his own coaching miscues or the lack of transparency in dangling Simmons in a trade for James Harden as possibilities. Rather than reflect on errors he and his colleagues may have made, he offered up the fans as a possible cause in all of this.
If the comments he made yesterday and in recent media appearances are indicators, he might be destined to make the same mistakes again this season.
“I’m just disappointed that he’s not here because he knows we can win together.”
When Joel Embiid stepped in front of the media on Monday, he was somewhat guarded in what he offered. “I’m disappointed where this situation is. I don’t think it’s fair,” he said. “Yeah, there’s stuff that could have happened anyway. I’m sure coach has mentioned, kind of put the context of what he was trying to say and what he was trying to communicate. However you guys say it. Maybe my comments had something to do with it, which I don’t think it is because when you listen to the whole quote, it has nothing to do with calling anybody out. I’m just disappointed that he’s not here because he knows we can win together.”
It’s not surprising that Embiid went the diplomatic route. To his credit, he even acknowledged the possibility that his comments after Game 7 could be a source of sensitivity for Simmons (and he didn’t express any regret about what he said, either). One might argue that Embiid is attempting to backtrack his comments without apologizing by saying that he was presenting a generalized fact without calling anyone out. But, that’s also the truth.
Simmons was the one involved in the play, of course. But, Embiid clearly attempted to blame the outcome of the infamous play and avoid any insinuation that Simmons, specifically, was to blame after Game 7. The issue is that the play and the devastating outcome that followed encapsulate Simmons’ postseason reputation so well that it’s nearly impossible for an audience to view the comment as anything less than a public attempt to hold Simmons accountable after years of the same pattern.
Right now, it doesn’t matter how Embiid meant the comments. It only matters how Simmons took the comments.
We can’t play a guessing game in good faith. But, Embiid’s meandering response suggests two possibilities. He might have an idea of why Simmons wants out and prefers to keep that intelligence private. Or, perhaps Simmons’ reasoning is unclear to Embiid, too.
“I don’t know the situation right now, what’s going on.”
In Embiid’s availability on Monday, he mentioned that he and Simmons were closer last season than ever before. Still, the degree to which their personalities differ is well-documented. So, no one is referring to them as best friends. In that sense, perhaps it wouldn’t be all that surprising if Embiid truly doesn’t know what the catalyst in Simmons’ unhappiness is.
Furkan Korkmaz, on the other hand, is a teammate with whom Simmons seems to have had a better long-term connection. Both have frequently made comments about how much they enjoy playing with one another. But even Korkmaz wasn’t sure.
“I don’t know the situation right now, what’s going on. It’s a business, everything can happen,” the Turkish wing said. “But personally, I would like to play with him. He’s still part of us, he’s still [a] Sixers. So, I hope everything is going to be well for him and for us, too. I don’t know where is the end, but I hope he’s going to be happy. We got to be happy at the end. I just want to wish him a healthy and good life, either it’s here or somewhere else. But, I will be on his back.”
“That’s a conversation between me and him.”
Tobias Harris was the only member of the organization to indicate an understanding of Simmons’ motivation for leaving. When approached for commentary on the mechanism driving Simmons away, Harris said, “That’s a conversation between me and him. You’re the media, you already know. But, I’m not telling you what the man told me. You can call him. I listen, but I speak what I got to say, so…I mean, I listen. But, I also give feedback.”
He later added, “I think if you ask me, ‘Do the fans affect Ben or has led up to where we’re at now?’ 100 percent. But every person is different, right?”
“You’re media, you already know.”
Harris has every right to keep those details private. But there is inherent danger in saying “you already know”. It encourages those whose jobs it is to portray the situation accurately to make assumptions. The reality is that daily reports suggest that Simmons’ desire to leave Philadelphia changes quite often. Today, Sam Amick of The Athletic reported that Simmons is “done playing with Joel Embiid”, while Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer reported that Simmons wants to be the man. This past weekend, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst suggested in a radio interview that the fans were a driving force. There have been suggestions that his rumored involvement in the Harden trade led to dissatisfaction. The comments made by Rivers and Embiid after Game 7 reportedly played a role, as well.
Perhaps a culmination of all of those factors led to where the Sixers and Simmons are now. Perhaps it’s one particular item over the rest. If it’s one concentrated issue, then it would seem that Tobias Harris might be one of the only people to know the true reason as to why Simmons wants a trade.
Perhaps Simmons wants his reasoning to remain a mystery because he doesn’t want to reconcile with the Sixers. Perhaps he’s still trying to figure out what he wants and why he wants it. James Harden felt the Rockets had reached their playoff ceiling, so he wanted out. Anthony Davis was tired of mediocrity, so he wanted out. Jimmy Butler felt disrespected by how the Timberwolves prioritized re-signing him leading into a contract year, so he wanted out. Ben Simmons, well, anyone got any ideas?
It Starts With Introspection
Regardless of what the primary source of dismay is, every new pronouncement is tied to Simmons’ own limitations. He and his camp can toggle between reasons for wanting out as much as they would like. The issues will likely remain until he looks in the mirror, whether it’s in Philadelphia or elsewhere.
Until that moment of introspection comes, he is putting a ceiling on both himself and his team. The tragedy in all of this is that he has the tools to be an all-time great. Hell, he’s on a Hall of Fame track as is. Despite the baggage he’s created, Simmons is too valuable to redeem for pennies. Even with this headache, the Sixers are unequivocally best served waiting until the right deal presents itself. A positive step would be convincing Simmons to end his holdout and show up at training camp.
“I think there’s a lot of hope. I would say I watched last night a player lead their team to victory [Aaron Rodgers against the 49ers on Sunday] and where a thousand pounds of digit ink were spilled on how much he would never play with that team again,” President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey said on Monday. “So look, every situation is different, but we have a lot of optimism that we can make it work here.” Morey later added: “Ben’s a great player and we expect him back. We expect him to be a 76er.”