Ben Simmons shocked many of us when he showed up to Philadelphia somewhere around halftime of a preseason game last week. Monday, he was actually at practice, albeit a little mopey and aloof.
But still, his presence there was something that seemed hard to picture just a few weeks ago. Simmons brilliantly executed the “stuff a jersey into your pocket, because the media will think it’s an enormous 1980’s sized-cellphone and that will really stir the fanbase up” play. Put that jersey or whatever right next to Anthony Davis’s infamous Looney Tunes tee , “James Harden’s XXL warmup” and the full nine-person ESPN interview crew Jimmy Butler had pop out for him seconds after blowing up practice in the trade request stunt Hall-of-Fame.
Tuesday was yet another headline day in SixersVille. We patiently awaited a Simmons media appearance, but that never came. Instead we learned Simmons got himself suspended for Wednesday’s season opener due to conduct detrimental to the team. Reportedly, Doc Rivers kicked Simmons out of practice when he refused to participate in a defensive drill.
ESPN Insider Adrian Wojnarowski appeared on TV to talk about what he called a “nightmare scenario for the Sixers and for the NBA right now.”
More from Woj’s television appearance:
“...they had a good training camp, they had a good spirit about that team without Ben Simmons, but if he’s not engaged to play it doesn’t matter how talented he is, it’s going to become I think more apparent at some point that it’s going to be hard to have him around the team if this is going to be his mode of operation. But it certainly complicates trade talks around the league, it complicates Philly’s ability to go out and find a deal. They were nowhere near a trade for him. They wanted him to play. They wanted him to honor the contract and so far that’s not happening in Philadelphia....”
What do you think? Is this a nightmare scenario for the 76ers?
They don’t want to trade Simmons for pennies on the dollar and they certainly don’t want to have him on the roster but not in the lineup. (Would they settle for in the lineup but sort of mopey and aloof?) The NBA doesn’t want the optics of teams drafting and paying players and then being forced to trade them with four years remaining on a contract. I suppose it is a pretty big mess for now and I’m not one to disagree with Woj too often.
Let’s observe some other key players for clues.
Models and Markets
Markets and models don’t seem to think it’s a nightmare though. As of today, BetMGM suggests the Sixers have a 6 percent shot at winning the title. They’re in a three-way tie for the sixth-best odds in the NBA (with the Jazz and Clippers). Markets are clearly assuming that either Simmons will play or Morey will strike a deal allowing them to remain in contention. But how safe of a bet is that? This is about where Philadelphia would be odds-wise had none of this hold-out-for-trade stuff ever happened! 538’s model (which probably doesn’t know the Simmons-latest yet always loves the Sixers) predicts them for the third-best title-odds. Do sports-gamblers and algorithms never read local Philly news?
For the time being there is no dream-trade scenario on the table. That may never arrive either.
Doesn’t matter if the Blazers struggle to make the playoffs. Doesn’t matter if another superstar lobbies for his services.— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) October 20, 2021
Damian Lillard says he wants to stay in Portland.
Reports are that Morey doesn’t want role players and he doesn’t want a draft-picks package. He wants to remain title contenders (like the team he joined in the first place was). Morey seems beyond content to ride this out for the foreseeable future. Few things have gone his way lately, maybe his models says he’s due for some luck.
To their credit, it appears management has at least for now given Morey the green light to let this get uncomfortable. Josh Harris and David Blitzer get a lot of flack from fans, but it appears they have basically said “we have the stomach for whatever Morey wants to do here.” And as a fan that’s basically all you can ask for from ownership in a situation like this. Credit where credit is due, we haven’t heard any whispers that they’re pushing Morey into something he doesn’t want to do.
Joel Embiid may be placing his trust in Morey as well.
The franchise player spoke briefly Tuesday. He didn’t seem like someone who thought a nightmare was unfolding before his eyes. He seemed rather in high spirits, dazzling the media with a newly-minted supermax swag smile. The Sixers superstar suggested the team had good chemistry recently (without Simmons in the fold) and that it wasn’t the players’ jobs to “babysit” anyone.
So many fans may want to simply wash their hands of Simmons. What happens if they’re as ruthless at home games as some predict? That could be the case if Simmons is in the lineup, or simply on the bench. Would everyone’s resolve to ride this out change then?
There is also the risk of a toxic energy in the locker room if Simmons is around but not happy. If Embiid is placing his trust in Morey for now, how long until that changes and he says “just go get me the best deal on the table?” How do the other players feel? For now it appears they’re saying all of the right things.
Coach Doc Rivers
Doc Rivers shared some thoughts on the situation as well. Rivers was asked if chemistry was good without Simmons around and he didn’t want to be here then why bring Simmons back at all?
“Because he’s a good player. He can help us. And so listen one thing I know about players players will welcome anyone back in that wants to be in I also know that players will not welcome anyone that doesn’t want to be here. And so when that time comes I guarantee you it won’t be a hard thing to do.”
So that’s sort of the crux of the matter. The team was 35-7 with Embiid and Simmons in the lineup. They were just 4-5 with only Embiid. And 7-9 with only Simmons. It might be cathartic for some fans to see and hear Embiid drag Simmons for being a baby. It might be fun to root against things going Simmons’ way.
But from a cold-blooded, emotionless calculus (the type NBA executives like Sam Hinkie once upon a time or Morey more recently have been criticized for making) this poses a real problem for the team. No matter how rosey the vibes are without Simmons, the team loses out on the chance to truly vie for a title; and they lose that chance in what might well one day be regarded as Embiid’s best season ever.
However unlikely or undesirable it may feel, the best case scenario for fans, Embiid, and the franchise in this current stalemate is for Simmons to play for this team and play well.
To that point, the latest per Shams Charania, “The Athletic:”
“The franchise wants Simmons to show up to practices and games, to be engaged and to perform to his capabilities. Simmons is not against playing, but he is not mentally ready yet, sources insist.”
He’s not against playing? If they somehow could narrow that divide, if he could get himself mentally ready to play, with Kyrie Irving potentially out of the lineup all season long for title-favorites Brooklyn, there could be a path to true title contention here.
I’d venture that 25 or more other teams would have already struck a trade for Simmons. Daryl Morey has long discussed how things like locker room chemistry can be overrated. The Sixers without Simmons might be really fun. They may all get along. They might win the vibes title. But they wouldn’t be a title contender.
Whether you want Simmons traded or not, the best case for the team is for him to show up, buy in, play and help keep them atop the standings. If a trade becomes available down the line, or the Sixers eventually change their stance, then at least they might be a top seed instead of a sixth seed when Morey finally pulls the trigger on a swap.