Ever since Ben Simmons announced he wanted to leave the Philadelphia 76ers, the team and the Australian guard have dug in their heels — a standoff that will leave both parties worse off.
Simmons’ refusal to attend training camp is reminiscent of Anthony Davis’ and James Harden’s strategies, which earned them trades out of New Orleans and Houston in 2019 and 2021, respectively. However, Davis and Harden were motivated by the belief that they did all they could to help their teams and that the front office had failed to surround them with an adequate supporting cast. The case with Simmons is the opposite.
In the past few seasons, Philadelphia shook up both its front office and its roster in the hopes of building a championship team, hiring Daryl Morey as head of basketball operations, Doc Rivers as head coach and trading for 3-point shooter Seth Curry to free up Simmons’ driving lanes. Simmons, in turn, responded by playing some of his worst-ever basketball in the 2021 NBA playoffs.
Simmons’ leaked frustration puts the 76ers in an uncomfortable position. When a franchise star goes public with their desire to be traded, their wish tends to be granted eventually. Yet the Sixers have little leverage in trade negotiations with other teams who know that Simmons wants out.
Simmons’ trade value has plummeted since the 2021 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Atlanta Hawks. Throughout the series, Simmons was basically a nonfactor for the Sixers on offense, averaging only 9.9 points per game. His shambolic performance was best illustrated by his decision to turn down a wide-open layup late in Game 7 out of fear of being fouled and shooting free throws — Simmons shot a dismal 32.7% from the line throughout the series.
Long gone are the days after Simmons’ rookie year, when fans and pundits prophesied he could become the next LeBron James if he added a jump shot to his arsenal. Simmons’ performance in the playoffs proved that he lacks both the desire to develop a jump shot from outside of six feet and, crucially, the confidence needed to shoot one.
Simmons is a menace in transition and an exceptional defender, selected to the All-Defensive First Team in each of the past two seasons. In half-court offensive schemes, though, the complete absence of a jumper from his toolbox severely restricts his offensive options, making him a risky trade acquisition.
Simmons’ wish to leave the city of brotherly love is confounding, too; a trade out of the Sixers — who considered him a franchise centerpiece and whose fans in Philadelphia supported him until his performance in the 2021 playoffs — does little to improve his chances at a championship or growth as a player.
If Simmons believes he cannot win a championship with the Sixers, he will be disappointed that the top-three betting favorites to land him — the Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves — are even less equipped to compete for the title.
If he believes his partnership with Joel Embiid, a paint-dominant center who clogs the driving lanes Simmons needs to generate offense in the half court, has been unsuccessful in the expectations of competing for a championship, he is right.
But any team that lands Simmons will be wary to build its team around him: He has yet to prove that he can be the best player — or even the second-best player — on a championship contender.
Had the Sixers prioritized Embiid as their centerpiece and traded Simmons last summer — in hindsight, they should have — they would have received valuable assets in return. Now that Simmons’ offensive ceiling has been exposed for all NBA teams to see, it is unlikely that any of the pieces that the 76ers receive in a trade would enable them to compete for the title.
Simmons should have made a serious effort to develop a jump shot and forge a workable duo with Embiid — one that could have been the top tandem in the NBA. But he squandered his opportunity, and his next team will most likely be a downgrade.
Fans inevitably are posing the question: Who will win the Simmons-76ers trade stalemate? The answer is that neither team is bound to emerge victorious: Both Simmons and Philadelphia will find themselves worse off.