In the aftermath of a thrilling win against the rising Grizzlies, perhaps the game of the year for the Sixers, the basketball world is treated to another news cycle that takes the spotlight away from this surging squad and puts it on a man who refuses to take the court.
A new ESPN report from Ramona Shelburne details more of this seemingly never-ending stalemate between an absentee Ben Simmons and the Sixers organization. Since scoring just five points against the Hawks in a Game 7 Eastern Conference Semifinals loss last summer, Simmons hasn’t played a minute of basketball for the team, yet he dominates the discussion around the organization. It sucks, but it’s impossible for it not to be the case.
Shelburne’s piece doesn’t illustrate many new points about the ongoings between Simmons and the franchise, nor does it list any true developments that would lead to an in-season Simmons trade or him returning to the court. One point that does stick out, however, is a comment from Simmons about his (current? former?) teammate Joel Embiid:
According to sources close to Simmons, he’s upset that Embiid blamed him for last season’s playoff loss, when Simmons did not blame Embiid for Embiid’s poor showing against the Toronto Raptors in 2019.
Who does this guy think he is? For a dude that has a killer basketball IQ, this just simply couldn’t be further from the truth.
That 2019 Raptors series brought the first of two brutal Game 7 playoff losses during this era of Sixers basketball. Yes, that Kawhi Leonard shot will live in the brains of Sixers fans until the end of time or at least until they see the team lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy with their own eyes one day. Leonard played like Michael Jordan that series, but the Sixers hung tough and took the matchup to seven games because of Embiid. The big man was a series-high +89 during those seven battles. Not just for the Sixers, but for any player on either team. It’s not Embiid’s fault the Sixers couldn’t survive a single minute of basketball when there was a backup center out there. Due to front office failures to adequately build a bench, the Sixers were giving the corpse of Greg Monroe run. He was a -9 in one minute and 41 seconds of game action in Game 7. That feels so astronomically impossible, but here I am nearly three years later listing off these stats that have been burned into my brain and have caused an infinite amount of “what if?” questions to flow through my mind since.
Conversely, “Simmo the Savage” averaged a mighty 11.6 points and 4.9 assists per game that series. The Sixers’ offense was frequently playing four-on-five offensively against a stellar Toronto defense.
Perhaps people want to get on Embiid for his poor efficiency that series despite being a legitimate, positive two-way presence, as Embiid’s true shooting percentage of 52.9 percent that series is much lower than his career rate of 59.8 percent. Fine. Embiid was nevertheless why the Sixers had real chance of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in nearly two decades, but he still realized he had to improve. He wasn’t perfect. He’s cut down on his turnovers, improved his passing and has become increasingly efficient in the years since that series, playing like the best player on the planet right now in 2022. Not only has Simmons not improved any facet of his game, hell, he might actually be worse than he was in 2019.
Jimmy Butler averaged 22-7-6 in those games against the Raptors, but the organization let him go in the offseason, placating Simmons and jettisoning the franchise’s best perimeter player since Allen Iverson in the process. Butler brought the Heat, a team that has made the Finals six times since the last time the Sixers played in one, to the NBA Finals the following season while Sixers fans stewed over the failures of the Al Horford and Josh Richardson acquisitions.
That’s on Simmons.
The Sixers are just a half-game out of the top seed in the Eastern Conference and I’m dealing with a guy who shouldn’t even be on the roster still. This is the nature of the job. It would be wrong to ignore such a comment. The calendar has turned to February. The NBA trade deadline is next Thursday. There are fewer than 10 days remaining to make this dude someone else’s problem.