It’s looming as one of the biggest stories in the NBA before the season has even started.
We’re less than three weeks away from opening night and Ben Simmons is yet to find a team to play for.
First came his off-season trade request.
Then came training camp — Simmons was a no-show.
The excessive fines for missing training — $7500 minimum — and games — $227,000 — hasn’t deterred Simmons from holding out either. ESPN also reportedthat Simmons is still under contract through 2024-25.
All this, on the eve of a brand new season, has not only held the 76ers back and disrupted their preparations, but Simmons has made it clear he doesn’t want to return to the city of brotherly love. And all signs indicate that Simmons’ relationship with Philadelphia — head coach Doc Rivers, Embiid, and fans — has disintegrated to a point of no return.
76er’s president Daryl Morey still believes that the relationship can be salvaged.
“I think there’s a lot of hope,” Morey said on Monday at media day.
“Look, every situation is different, but we have a lot of optimism that we can make it work here.”
And while Morey may hold the belief his team can get Simmons back playing ball in Philly, everything is up in the air and full of uncertainty.
The Athletic’s Sam Amick reported that the pairing of Simmons and Embiid “has run its course” because their playing styles clash.
“There’s nothing personal about this choice, it seems, but the 25-year-old Simmons has clearly decided that his career is better off without Embiid blocking the runways in the paint that he so badly needs to succeed,” Amick reported. “So while Embiid insisted to reporters on Monday that he wants Simmons back, this much is clear: The feeling is not mutual.”
Philly Inquirer reporter Keith Pompey asked Embiid about Simmons and Amick’s report and he called the situation “weird, disappointing, borderline kind of disrespectful to other guys that are out here fighting for their lives.”
Embiid wants Simmons to return and believes Philly is a better team with Simmons in it, but said the 76ers’ fit is not just about him and Simmons. He also didn’t hold back, saying “Our teams have always been built around his needs, so it was kind of surprising to see what was said.”
The rift between the 76ers and Simmons showed signs of strains last year when the Harden trade was floated.
But when he failed to fire offensively in the playoffs series against Atlanta where he didn’t attempt any three point shots and scored under 10 in five of the seven games – 17, 4, 8, 11, 8, 6, 5 – it revived old feelings about Simmons inability to be a reliable scorer. For all his defensive grunt, and stops, Simmons was best remembered in that Atlanta series for passing on a critical play when he should have taken the shot which highlighted how the confidence in himself to shoot the ball seemed to hit an all-time low.
In his four years at Philly Simmons is 5-from-34 for threes. There’s always been some hope that Simmons would develop the long ball and score with freedom. But that hasn’t happened.
It’s worth considering too, that the 76ers have dug their own hole here, or at least played their part. At the completion of their playoff loss to Atlanta, Simmons’ coach Doc Rivers was asked if Ben can be the point guard for a championship team, and he replied, “I don’t know.”
If confidence is what Simmons’ needed, that sure would have felt like a dagger in the back. Simmons needed his coach to stand up for him but instead he created further uncertainty around his game.
Another low-key dagger that didn’t help: Rivers suggesting that Simmons was shying away from the rugged Sixers fans and their critical assessments of him.
So, are we all that surprised at the Simmons stalemate?
David Thorpe, author of baseball newsletter TrueHoop, pointed some of the blame at Embiid:
“Joel Embiid can do a lot of things on the basketball court, but he didn’t use his considerable size, leadership, and sway with Philadelphia fans to lead Simmons to greatness.”
A front-runner for Simmons hasn’t emerged as yet but there is definitely interest in the Australian. Teams like the Kings, Raptors, Timberwolves, and Warriors have interest in Simmons. Jake Fischer from Bleacher Report says the Spurs have made inquiries. Some still believe Simmons’ best is ahead of him and there’s a future — still — in Philly.
For that to work, both parties need to compromise. For coach Doc Rivers, he needs to create plays and a style that would get the Simmons seal of approval — and I can’t see that kind of upheaval happening.
For Simmons, he’d need to learn to live with Embiid, but also fix his shot and be the all-round player —elite defender and reliable scorer — people believe he can be. Both of those require Simmons to concede and from what we’ve seen so far it doesn’t look like he wants to do that. Simmons wants to do what Kawhi Leonard did when he left the Spurs: move forward, make a fresh start.
There’s a lot left to play out.
Simmons could very well be back playing alongside Embiid later this month, or he could be playing his home games in San Francisco, or some other city . And then there’s door number three: he could be sitting out the whole season not playing at all — which seems highly unlikely.
But whatever happens, it’s clear that Simmons, at 25, still has to figure out what his best basketball looks like and while he’s now considering his future, his next team and where he best fits, there’s still more to his game he needs to work on and unlock — something he hasn’t been able to do in Philadelphia.