On Friday afternoon, ESPN Insider Ramona Shelburne shed some light on the ongoing situation between the 76ers and their former first overall pick Ben Simmons.
It’s been a long offseason. Ever since the Sixers blew a pair of monster leads in Game 4 and again in Game 5, breathing life into an upstart Hawks team that should have been left for dead, things seemed to spiral.
Simmons had a handful of chances to put the Hawks away at the free throw line in Game 5 at the crib. Simmons went 4 of 14 during that game, while the team blew a 26-point lead. There were many reasons the Sixers lost that game (and eventually the series) besides Simmons, but he played far enough below a certain standard he has set throughout his young career he does stand out above the rest. Free throws were already an area he was struggling with during the playoffs with the Washington Wizards utilizing hack-a-Ben during stretches of round one.
Fans have been frantically playing trade machine scenarios all summer long, trying to accommodate Simmons’ reported desire for a fresh start. We learned a few more details about the stalemate from Shelburne on Friday.
Let’s look at 7 of the more noteworthy takeaways from Shelburne’s analysis, titled “Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers: The evolution of the offseason’s most complex saga”
1) A source believes it would be difficult for Simmons to face the team and the fans after the way things went down.
Per the report:
“I don’t know if he can face the team or the fans after everything that happened last year,” one source close to the situation puts it.”
Simmons has reportedly shown up already so he may be proving this source wrong. It doesn’t sound like he’s going to play in the preseason finale, but we’re waiting to learn more about whether or not he’ll appear in regular season games when the season tips off. The piece notes there isn’t much more clarity on that, the biggest question of all.
2) We gained a bit of insight on Simmons’ agent, and head of Klutch Sports, Rich Paul’s loophole hunting legal mind.
Courtesy of ESPN:
“Simmons’ side had been dealt a blow the previous week when the NBA and players’ union issued a memo stating a player without a “reasonable excuse” will not be paid for games he does not play. Previously, the collectively bargained league memos had used slightly softer language, like “would not” be paid, which Paul’s agency believed left room to argue Simmons could ask to be paid for the salary he lost if and when he was traded, sources said.”
It sounds like Paul believed there was an opportunity for Simmons to recoup game checks he might lose by holding out once he landed with a new team. And it sounds like Klutch has abandoned that hope, acknowledging an important loss of leverage in their position. Simmons has four years remaining on a max extension he signed during the summer of 2019. It would be unprecedented for a player to simply holdout with that much time and money remaining on a salary. It would even be a bad look for Simmons and his agency if they actually carried a holdout through the NBA Trade deadline.
3) The report suggests that there was some question as to whether or not Simmons would be available for Game 7 against the Hawks.
“ON THE MORNING of June 20, less than 10 hours before the Sixers were due to host the Atlanta Hawks in Game 7 of their second-round playoff series, Simmons was in limbo.
“They’re not letting me play,” he told his brother Sean Tribe and several teammates via text message.
Simmons was being held out of the team’s shootaround, he told them, due to a possible exposure to a team masseuse, who’d returned an inconclusive COVID-19 test.
Several players were questioned about whether they’d seen her that morning, but only Simmons said that he had.
“He answered the question honestly, without thinking of the implications,” says one source close to Simmons.
But according to multiple sources, many within the team questioned whether Simmons had actually seen the masseuse — or was just trying to get out of playing as he battled the basketball version of the yips. Simmons had taken just 10 shots combined in Games 5 and 6 — he’d averaged 11.6 shots a game over his career — and had missed 16 of his previous 23 free throws.”
Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen once dealt with a migraine headache ahead of a Game 7. He wasn’t up to standard in that one. History has judged him for not being better. Simmons suited up, and played some sensational defense against the otherwise unstoppable Trae Young, but even the mere suggestion, (this “questioning” by teammates that he may not have even seen the masseuse) he did not want to play...whew, it would be a hefty accusation levied by “many within the team.”
Such reports may not help the team renew their vows with Simmons. They won’t help the Sixers in trade negotiations for a player like Blazers’ star Damian Lillard either. If Portland even wondered if Simmons did not want to play in a do-or-die game their asking price might rise. On the team’s side, that there was even a possible close call ahead of such a monumental game, and later members of the team speculating on it all being made up to the press...it’s just messy.
The Sixers did not return a request for comment at the time this post was published.
4) The infamous postgame criticism from Doc Rivers and Joel Embiid was a gut punch, more so than a tipping-point:
“The quotes from Rivers and Embiid have been cited all offseason as a tipping point. But those close to Simmons acknowledge they were more of a final gut punch.”
Shelburne discusses how the comments (Rivers being unsure if Simmons could be a championship-caliber point guard and Embiid citing “the pass” as a turning point in the defeat) were more of a straw that broke the camel’s back than a tipping point. Everything in the piece (which is paywall protected) is worth a read. But it sounds like there were some things brewing chemistry wise long before any postgame comments.
5) The piece offers insight into just how much may have been weighing on the 2021 runner up Defensive Player of the Year off the floor:
“Simmons has never commented publicly on the situation. But he was close to his sister, and also close to Tribe, who lived with him earlier in his career and has become his manager.
Everyone understood what he was dealing with, and the organization decided to give Simmons space.
Simmons’ only message to the team, according to sources close to the situation, was that he appreciated his teammates’ support and would prefer none of them comment on it publicly either.
Privately, a family source said, it weighed on him deeply.
“How could it not?” another person close to the situation says.”
Fans frustrated with the team’s shocking second round loss and frustrated with Simmons in particular might keep in mind Simmons was dealing with an off-the-court situation he didn’t discuss much. Simmons has hinted at something. In his postgame appearance after Game 7 he did mention several times needing to get the “mental” side of his game right.
6) Simmons wants a trade because he feels he never got the chance to make mistakes, like other young players learning the game:
“His first three years in the league, the Sixers had such a bright spotlight on them and so much early success, he told them, that he didn’t feel like he could make the mistakes other top draft picks were afforded. His growing pains were too public and consequential.
He needed to start over, he said, in a place where he “could make mistakes.”
As a fan who enjoys Simmons unique game, this is something I’ve thought about; a challenge “The Process” and its karmic rash of injuries may have bestowed upon us. Players like Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and Steph Curry weren’t immediately thrust into the same playoff spotlight. They had years of lottery-bound drudgery to hone their skills during fledgling years of their respective careers without much scrutiny.
7) Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the piece makes it sound like the Sixers really do want Simmons in Philadelphia:
“The Sixers have let those statements marinate for months. They believe they can salvage the relationship with Simmons and reintegrate him into their team. He does not.
He wants a change of scenery. They want to help him change.”
Where this goes from here is anyone’s guess. The team wants Simmons to play. Simmons has hit a low point. There will likely be wounds to mend. Tensions to soothe over. But if there’s anything I’ve learned from a lifetime of being a sports fan, winning cures all. And if you told me the Sixers suddenly convinced Simmons to play and play hard, if you told me the Nets couldn’t convince Kyrie Irving to do what it would take for him to play...I’d quote Lloyd Christmas and say “so, you’re telling me there’s a chance.”