Philadelphia is not a forgiving sports town. When teams lose, people are quick to point an accusatory finger. It didn’t take long for Carson Wentz, an MVP candidate in 2017 when the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl, to wear out his welcome. The next star to depart Philly could be Simmons.
Simmons is the latest persona non grata after a disastrous playoff performance against the Atlanta Hawks. He wants out and it seems like the Philadelphia 76ers want him gone too. Will he be dealt before the start of training camp in a few weeks, or will this uncomfortable marriage drag on into the season?
Sixers president Daryl Morey is known for his swashbuckling moves. He has proven that there’s no contract he can’t purge or acquire. He’s also not the type to give away talent for pennies on the dollar.
Players like Simmons don’t become available unless there is something seriously wrong. He’s a 6-foot-11 point guard with lockdown defensive skills. But despite being an unprecedented talent, questions about Simmons have followed him since college. At LSU, despite his gifts, the Tigers didn’t make the NCAA Tournament. It’s rare that an eventual No. 1 overall pick doesn’t at least get his team into March Madness.
When the Sixers drafted him, Simmons was supposed to pair with fellow No. 1 overall pick Joel Embiid to form a lethal combination that would dominate the Eastern Conference. Injuries have certainly been a factor for both in the four seasons they have been together. Simmons missed what would have been his rookie year, while Embiid sat out what would have been his first two years. As a result, they have yet to reach the conference finals.
You can’t blame Embiid. Over 11 postseason games last year, he averaged 28.1 points and 10.5 rebounds, including 31 and 11 in Game 7 against Atlanta despite torn cartilage in his right knee. But you can blame Simmons. Against Atlanta, he averaged 9.9 points and shot 32.7 percent from the free-throw line.
We all know that Simmons is a limited scorer who can’t make three-point shots (5-for-34 for his career). But in the conference semifinals, he showed an unwillingness to even try to make baskets, especially in the fourth quarter. This made it easy for Simmons to be the scapegoat.
"I don't know the answer to that right now."
-Doc Rivers after being asked if Ben Simmons could be a point guard on a championship team. pic.twitter.com/rw51V7rkRE
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 21, 2021
Things really got ugly when Sixers coach Doc Rivers was asked if Simmons could be a point guard on a championship team. Rivers, who coached the Boston Celtics to the 2008 NBA Championship, replied, “I don’t know the answer to that right now.” That’s a damning indictment.
Simmons is apparently tired of taking the blame. This could all play out like James Harden’s trade request last year. Harden wanted to be dealt before the start of the 2020-21 season but wasn’t. So instead, he made a big mess by showing up overweight and ignoring NBA rules by partying maskless in the middle of the pandemic. Harden was eventually traded to the Brooklyn Nets after playing just eight games for Houston.
It’s unknown if Simmons is willing to go that route. However, it’s clear that both Philadelphia and Simmons could use a fresh start. The Sixers need a player who is a better fit so that Embiid can have more room to operate. Floor spacing is so important in today’s game and teams repeatedly just sag off a player like Simmons who is unwilling to shoot from distance. Simmons needs a team that will better emphasize what he can do rather than harp on what he can’t do.
Simmons has value because he’s young (25) and under contract for four more seasons. What team would be willing to trade for him? Simmons is not a No. 1 option, but he would be an excellent No. 2/No. 3 on the right franchise. Look for teams that are a piece away from making the playoffs or making a deep playoff run.
The Cleveland Cavaliers, Minnesota Timberwolves, San Antonio Spurs, and Toronto Raptors make sense. So do the Golden State Warriors, Indiana Pacers, and Washington Wizards. In short, a lot of teams could use Simmons. The key question is what would they be willing to give up?
The two teams to watch might be Golden State and Toronto.
The Warriors have assets and reportedly already turned down a deal that would have included Andrew Wiggins and James Wiseman. But perhaps a different combination of players would work. And with Stephen Curry and a healthy Klay Thompson, Simmons’ lack of shooting touch might not be as big an issue.
Meanwhile, Raptors president Masai Ujiri has made splashy moves before. He gambled on one year of Kawhi Leonard and won a championship. Certainly, he might be willing to be aggressive for Simmons. Reportedly, the Sixers asked for OG Anunoby, Kyle Lowry, and Fred VanVleet in a deal over the summer. (Lowry has since been dealt to the Miami Heat.)
Wherever Simmons winds up, he’ll have an opportunity to reinvent himself. He can be appreciated instead of being blamed.