The Philadelphia 76ers drafted Ben Simmons first overall in the 2016 NBA draft. Bryan Colangelo inherited three first-round picks when he took over the gig, thanks to his predecessor Sam Hinkie. Colangelo decided to tap Simmons’ name first, and followed that up by drafting Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot with the 24th pick and Furkan Korkmaz with his 26th.
Simmons was represented by Rich Paul, Founder of Klutch Sports, the same agency that represents LeBron James.
But according to ESPN Insider Ramona Shelburne on Twitter, that business partnership has now come to an end:
“Brooklyn Nets forward Ben Simmons and Klutch Sports have mutually decided to part ways, sources told ESPN. Simmons had been represented by Klutch since he came into the NBA as the No. 1 pick in 2016. The agency negotiated his five-year $177 million extension in 2019.”
Simmons and Klutch decided to part ways in a conversation this week. “He just needed a fresh start,” according to a source.— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) March 17, 2023
Simmons first announced he was joining Klutch seven years ago, in March of 2016 ahead of the NBA Draft, when LSU was ineligible for tournament play. Paul is one of LeBron’s best friends, and welcomed Simmons into the Klutch “family.” Simmons would say he looks up to LeBron on numerous occasions.
The agency helped Simmons earn the coveted top draft slot ahead of Duke’s Brandon Ingram, and then they would go on to help him ink a max extension from Elton Brand and the Sixers now infamous #Collaborative front office during the summer of 2019. Just after Jimmy Butler became fed up with the Sixers “too many voices” front office, and headed for South Beach, Philadelphia coughed up $112M to an aging Al Horford, $180M to Tobias Harris, and $170M to Simmons.
Daryl Morey, hired in 2020, has been picking up pieces from that rocky off season ever since.
It doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume that the relationship between Simmons and Paul first became strained during his final “season” (he didn’t actually play) in Philadelphia.
The Melbourne, Australia native did not play a single game for the 76ers during the 2021-2022 campaign. After a difficult 2021 playoff exit, head coach Doc Rivers and Joel Embiid both made comments which Simmons reportedly did not like. We’d learn he wanted a trade sometime that offseason. But the offseason came and went without one.
While Ben did receive treatment for back tightness from Philly staffers after reporting to training camp, the reason he wasn’t participating in games, we’d learn, was apparently due to ongoing mental health issues he was working on.
He reportedly discussed that openly with teammates and coaches at one point, receiving their support, but over the weeks and months, the team ultimately didn’t feel he was complying with key terms in his uniformed player contract. So they withheld pay.
The longer the season went on, with Morey waiting for an All-Star caliber player in any potential trade, the more trying the whole thing became. Many fans questioned Simmons’ stated reasons for not being able to play, wondering if he simply wanted to be traded.
When that finally happened, in a blockbuster with the Brooklyn Nets in February of 2022, the one that landed James Harden in Philadelphia, Simmons would soon aggravate a herniated disc issue in his back, something he originally sustained during the 2019-2020 season.
That flare up necessitated an epidural injection and cost him the (Brooklyn) remainder of his season, but not before wide-spread speculation that he might ramp up to play in the first round vs. the Boston Celtics.
On March 8th, of 2022, just over one year ago, we got this bombshell nugget from Kyle Neubeck of The PhillyVoice:
“There’s Kevin Durant vs. Joel Embiid, James Harden vs. his former teammates, and Ben Simmons vs. just about everybody. It’s that last piece many are focused on, with league sources anticipating that Simmons and his representation will file a formal grievance against the Sixers at some point in the coming days.
The suggestion has been floated in league circles that Simmons showing up for Thursday’s game is merely setting the stage for Simmons and Klutch Sports’ argument when the grievance is filed. Reports of an increased security presence at Thursday’s game circulated on Tuesday morning, which a cynical observer would say is meant to combat the venom directed at Simmons specifically.”
Even fair-minded people began to speculate: if Simmons gets his money back (some near $20M) from the Sixers, would it set a murky precedent, would it expose some sort of player-empowerment loophole, where anyone seeking trade could cite mental health issues and force a trade, while still recouping funds withheld?
This is a huge deal that GMs of star players around the league are watching. If Simmons gets his $ back, it sets a precedent that terrifies a lot of them (with really good reason TBH). https://t.co/Tug4GjSVVw— Ben Dowsett (@Ben_Dowsett) March 8, 2022
Neither Simmons nor Klutch came out of the whole thing looking squeaky clean. The Sixers probably had all kinds of PR headaches as well. It was a mess.
Even if Simmons was truly dealing with mental health issues, was that really why he could’t appear in games? If so, then what would change when he landed in Brooklyn? Is it reasonable that a new, purportedly less stressful employer might help him through a difficult time?
The entire thing was a major can of worms, and so it makes sense that the relationship between Simmons and Klutch suffered some perhaps irreparable setbacks.
By August of 2022, we learned that the Philadelphia 76ers and Ben Simmons settled for an undisclosed amount of money. Was it a lot or a little, many wondered.
As ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski put it at the time:
“Brooklyn Nets All-Star guard Ben Simmons and his former team, the Philadelphia 76ers, reached a settlement agreement on the grievance Simmons filed to recoup a portion of the nearly $20 million withheld from him as a result of his failure to play games in the 2021-22 season, sources told ESPN on Monday.
Both sides agreed to confidentiality on the exact financial settlement reached, sources said.”
He’d undergo surgery after the Nets were eliminated to repair the injured disc but his return to play in 2022-2023 was far from smooth. He didn’t look particularly athletic when he was out there, and he would need to have fluid drained from a knee that sounds like it was related to the back somehow. Simmons battled back and knee flare ups this entire season, and now his Brooklyn Nets future is very much in question.
With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving both gone, the Nets may opt to move Simmons as well. He’s set to earn more than $78M for two more seasons. Nets GM Sean Marks would likely need to include newly acquired draft capital in order to move off that hefty contract. Some are already wondering how much Simmons may in fact earn on his next contract, before he proves he can be healthy and available for a full season’s grind.
The Sixers are cruising now, so this is water under the bridge from their standpoint. James Harden has been as advertised this season, playing his best ball in the jersey. Since he returned from an injury in early December, the 76ers have the best record in the NBA. As crazy as it sounds, because of Simmons health concerns, it’s Seth Curry (sent to Brooklyn in the same deal) the team has missed the most.
But it’s impossible not to look back on the Ben Simmons saga and think about the way things used to be. I’m not surprised in the least that Klutch and Simmons have decided basically that they’ve made a lot of money together but now it’s time for a change.
If anything, maybe we should all be surprised it lasted as long as it did.