Ben Simmons should likely have been traded by now. A long time ago, actually.
When Daryl Morey left the Rockets and took over as head of the Sixers basketball operation, it was with the general idea that James Harden would be taking a somewhat later flight from Houston to join him. Simmons would travel in the opposite direction, thereby solving each team’s roundball riddle.
But Simmons remains a Sixer — technically, anyway, though he hasn’t played since his unsettling effort in the second-round playoff loss to Atlanta last season (15-for-45 on free throws, the infamous under-the-hoop decision to pass instead of shoot).
There was the trade demand and the brief and apathetic appearance at practice. (Is that a cell phone in your pocket, or are you just unhappy to be here?) Since then, it has been a Philadelphia standoff. Cheesesteaks at 20 paces, if you will.
Deal discussions are expected to get louder as the February 10 NBA trade deadline approaches, but even teams that may have interest in the 6-foot-11 non-outside-shooting guard have had to pull out a large industrial scale to weigh all the factors.
Sources: Kings Have Done Due Diligence
Sources have told Heavy.com that Sacramento, among other teams, has done due diligence on Simmons, as well as Matisse Thybulle and Tobias Harris. The Sixers are said to want a major package for the 25-year-old Simmons, but they may also be looking to get out from under the $76.9 million owed Harris over the next two seasons.
Simmons, meanwhile, clocks in at a little more than $33 million this season, with three more years at a total of $113,680,224. Pretty good dough for a guy with questions about his game still looming.
“He hasn’t had very good success in the playoffs, which is problematic when you have one of your players making that much money who can be game-planned for,” one NBA exec told Heavy.com. “Therein lies a lot of the challenges with Ben Simmons is that you can game-plan to stop him. You can’t game-plan to stop Durant or Kyrie Irving or James Harden or Giannis.”
Added the source, “I think people recognize Simmons as a good player, but he makes a boatload of money. And I think that even before this nonsense happened, there’s questions of whether he’s worth his money.
“So when you’re committing to pay a guy as much as Ben Simmons is making, it’s one thing to say, ‘OK, we’ll take him and pay him.’ It’s another thing to say, ‘OK, we’re going to have to give up our best assets to get him.’ That’s a double whammy.”
Said one personnel man, “That’s an awful lot of money for someone who’s not a go-to guy.”
‘He Can’t Handle Missing’
So how did we get here? How did a former Rookie of the Year and three-time All-Star in four seasons — the top draft pick in 2016 — become such a questionable entity?
“He has the potential to be a great basketball mismatch,” said another personnel source. “You know, we lose track of the fact that he is [expletive] 6-foot-10 and can guard a whole lot of different position and he passes the ball so well.”
Simmons arrived in the NBA with comparisons to Magic Johnson, but whereas Johnson worked to improve his outside shot and became proficient, the Sixer hasn’t. Simmons rarely attempts anything beyond 10 feet, and his aversion to working on weaknesses is well known.
“The thing about him is he can’t handle missing,” said an involved source. “It really came up obviously in his free throws in the last playoffs. But, like, he’d rather not shoot than miss.
“It doesn’t matter if he ever takes another jump shot. But he’s got to make free throws — and he just doesn’t spend the time. The first few years, he was always the last guy in and the first guy out.”
Said a league exec, “I think pretty much every team has heard that. A lot of guys don’t like to go in a gym and do what they don’t do well. You like to show everybody what you do well. That’s human nature.
“But great players want to improve. They NEED to improve. That’s in them.”
Simmons’ Sixers teammates have essentially been saying the right things as regards his absence, but it’s fair to say there’s been more than a little frustration in the ranks as the club tries to gather itself for a run at the 2022 NBA title. And those who have worked with him throughout his time in Philly have been similarly disheartened.
And while it certainly looks like Simmons will never again be an active Sixer, is there any place he’ll flourish? Is there any coach with the key to Ben, who played for Doc Rivers last season and Brett Brown, a friend of the Simmons family in Australia since before there was a Ben, prior to that?
“If he wouldn’t do it for Brett, who’s known him since he was born…,” said someone close to the situation. “Like, if you’re not wired to accommodate family and family friends, then what the [expletive]?
“He’s been enabled his entire life. He’s very aloof. He’s a great player, but it’s all the extra stuff that no one’s held him accountable for that’s just made it difficult. He’s just been left to his own devices to do what the [expletive] he wants to do.”
Said one longtime NBA scout, “The best thing that could have happened was that they kept Jimmy Butler, and Jimmy Butler just [long-expletived] him every day until he got better. Or not.”
If a deal is made for Simmons, the acquiring team will clearly have to be good at puzzles.
“He’s a good basketball player, but I think the whole team has to be fit around him,” said a veteran NBA basketball ops person.
One would think that shouldn’t be such an issue for a player of Ben Simmons’ accomplishments. But even those bullish on Ben’s future see him as a Rubik’s Cube of sorts.