Image Courtesy of USA Today Sports
By Jonathan Norman
It seems that the Ben Simmons era in Philadelphia has come to a close. Senior NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski reported recently that the Sixers star player will not report for training camp and intends to never play another game for the Philadelphia 76ers. As a result, all eyes are now on 76ers President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey to find a suitable trade for Simmons. Since the 76ers drafted Simmons #1 overall in the 2016 NBA Draft, he went on to be a 3 time NBA All-Star, a 2-time All-NBA-Defensive First Team member, and made an All-NBA Third Team. Although, trading Simmons will not be an easy process.
Simmons’ lackluster play in the 2021 Eastern Conference Semifinals significantly decreased his trade value. The 76ers were the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference and were heavy favorites against the #4 seed Atlanta Hawks. The 76ers lost to the Hawks in 7 games, and Simmons was a non-factor. He averaged just 9.9 points, 8.6 assists, and 6.3 rebounds in the series against the Hawks. In addition to minimal statistical impact, Simmons was also a liability from the free-throw line. He shot a mere 33% (15 for 45) from the free-throw line. Simmons’s free throw shooting was so poor throughout the 2021 playoffs that opposing coaches began to implement the Hack-a-Ben strategy. This strategy, originally formed as a tactic against NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, involved opposing teams intentionally fouling Simmons. Once an opposing team was over the team’s foul limit, any common foul on Ben Simmons would result in him taking 2 free throws. Since Simmons only made these shots 33% of the time, it was beneficial for the Hawks to foul him because it prevented the 76ers from getting to run any offensive plays. Hack-a-Ben made the 76ers reliant on Simmons and he often could not deliver.
An initial report from USA Today revealed that the 76ers would like an all-star in return for Simmons. One of the first names being thrown around in trade rumors was Portland Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard. A Simmons for Lillard trade would be the best-case scenario for the 76ers, but this now seems unlikely. Lillard recently took to Instagram to tell fans that he plans on staying in Portland for now. With Lillard staying in Portland, Philadelphia will have to look elsewhere for trade partners.
Recently, the Cleveland Cavaliers have emerged as a possible trade partner for Simmons, but they have no all-star players to trade. However, a report from Clutch Points stated that the Cavaliers may be willing to go all in for Simmons by giving up multiple first round picks and some young players. The Sacramento Kings have also been discussing a possible trade for Simmons. The only issue is a deal with the Kings would most likely have to include Point-Guard De’Aaron Fox, and a recent report from The Athletic stated that the Kings were unwilling to trade Fox.
A trade for Simmons that will meet the 76ers standards seems very unlikely based on his current value. This realization led the 76ers to plan on keeping Simmons for the start of the 2021-2022 NBA season. An ESPN report stated that the 76ers attempted to find a deal for Simmons and now hope he can start the season. This prompted Simmons to inform the team that he plans to hold out until they trade him. According to The Athletic, some of Simmons’s fellow teammates, including Joel Embiid, attempted to meet with Simmons to convince him to start with the 76ers for the 2021-2022 season, but he told them not to come.
It now becomes a waiting game. Either the 76ers or Simmons will have to give in first and meet the other’s demands. Simmons has four years and $147 million left on his max contract, including $33 million for the 2021-22 season. The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement allows the 76ers to withhold some of Simmons’s salary for failure to provide services. The 76ers also have rules that allow them to fine Simmons for missing media day, practices, and games.
The 76ers would be hard-pressed to allow this situation to last for a long time as they are hoping to win a championship as soon as possible. With the 76ers all-star center Joel Embiid coming off a season in which he averaged 28.5 points, 10.6 rebounds, and finished second in MVP voting, the Sixers are in win-now mode. To compete with premier Eastern Conference teams, such as the Brooklyn Nets, they will need to surround Joel Embiid with other All-Star caliber players. Simmons holding out does not help the team meet their championship aspirations, and they need to resolve this conflict as soon as possible.