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Ben Simmons is not a victim here

The main reason Ben Simmons and the Sixers are in this mess is ... Ben Simmons.

NBA: Playoffs-Philadelphia 76ers at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

I feel like I have to start this by making one thing clear: I have no issue with Ben Simmons (or any other NBA player) asking for a trade out of Philadelphia. I am pro player movement. I think that the increased autonomy and agency that players have finally been holding over their careers is not only long overdue, but a boon for the most important faction of the NBA at large.

What I do take issue with is the daily martyrdom emanating from Simmons’ camp through various leaks in the media. This has now been going on for months; the revisionist history about how the Sixers and Ben Simmons got here.

It is always someone else’s fault.

This morning saw an especially maddening leak, as it was the first reputable report to expressly state that Simmons has particularly had it with playing with Sixers star Joel Embiid.

As a Sixers fan, I’ve had it.

I’ve had it with the excuses, scapegoating anyone and everyone but Ben Simmons, himself, for this current situation. First (and echoed by Amick today) Simmons was disenchanted with the franchise because Daryl Morey and company tried to trade him for James Harden. And I even get that one, kind of! It can’t be fun to hear that you’re getting dealt and then need to stick around. My quibble would be that this situation happens to dozens of players every single year, and in this particular case Simmons was only on the trading block for one of the greatest offensive players of all time. But sure, sure. That mustn’t have been nice.

Then the Sixers played the Hawks in the second round of last year’s playoffs. They lost for a litany of reasons — not the least of which being that the team’s lead initiator and self-proclaimed Point Guard had a complete offensive meltdown to the point that he was a non-entity in the half-court and from the free throw line. After losing Game 7 (at home, mind you, as the one-seed Sixers blew what ought to have been the easiest path to the Eastern Conference Finals in years) and another embarrassing offensive performance from Simmons, when asked why his game seems to struggle so much after the first round of the playoffs conclude, Simmons uttered the verbal equivalent of nails on a chalkboard for Sixers fans everywhere: how many assists did I have? What did Trae [Young] shoot? A generous read of that quote says that they were merely two flippant sentences from a defiant and frustrated star, in the heat of the moment. A more sober read, in my opinion, is that those sentences were perfectly emblematic of Simmons’ NBA career thus far: focused only on the things he’s very good at. As for those gaping, glaring, hamstringing holes in his game? Pay no attention to the deficiencies behind the curtain.

So then, the attention turned to Doc Rivers and Joel Embiid’s comments after Game 7. You know them by now. Rivers said “I don’t know” when asked whether or not Simmons could be the point guard on a championship team, and Embiid eluded to The Pass as a turning point for the worse in the deciding game. Maybe those weren’t the kindest things to say, and maybe each man if given truth serum would like to have them back. But the way that Simmons/Klutch have focused on them in their leaks throughout the media would have you think that Rivers and Embiid erected billboards on 76 West a la ‘I Hate Steven Singer’ saying ‘We Hate Ben Simmons’! As Embiid said yesterday, we all need to grow up. Let’s have some self-awareness.

And today we have this aforementioned report, that Simmons is through playing with Joel Embiid. Joel Embiid, who has expressed multiple times on and off the record that he’d like to play with Simmons for his whole career. Joel Embiid, who, despite being a 7-foot-2 low-post powerhouse, has shot 803 three pointers since Simmons’ debut in 2017 despite his own distaste for shooting from beyond, all as a means to make things more comfortable for his idiosyncratic point guard, who simply chooses to not shoot from anywhere outside of the paint. Ah yes, Simmons is done playing with Joel Embiid, who just dragged his torn meniscus through seven games against the Hawks, averaging 30 and 13 in a desperate attempt to vault his Sixers beyond the second round, finally.

Forget for a second that every starter in the Sixers’ starting lineup is either a good or great three-point shooter. Maybe Simmons simply wants the keys to his own offense, so he can do a Giannis Jr. impression. By all means, go for it, Ben. I think he’s in for a rude awakening.

Because in my opinion it’s not the Harden trade, or the lack of a backup-center-savior like Luke Kornet, or a couple passive-aggressive quotes from Rivers or Embiid, or the existence of Embiid on the roster as the offense’s hub, or Miss Scarlet with the Candlestick in the conservatory.

The primary reason that we got here today with Ben Simmons and the Sixers is that Ben Simmons has never been willing to make an honest effort to improve his offensive deficiencies. Simmons has created this situation by way of his complete stagnation, and each new attempt to shirk the blame onto a new party only further solidifies that belief.