Breaking Down the Ben Simmons Saga
We have seen soap operas take place between franchises and their star players before in all of the major sports. There was the dispute between Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, Odell Beckham Jr. and the Cleveland Browns, frankly Antiono Brown's career the past few seasons, Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans, and the list goes on and on. Each of those standoffs and the many others not mentioned are all bizarre in their own way, but I believe there’s one team and player situation that tops them all; Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers.
Before I dive into this deep mess, it’s important to note that I am a long time, yet unbiased Sixers fan that keeps it blunt. If the Sixers are bad, I’ll admit we’re bad. If we’re good, I’ll make it clear that we’re good. With that said, as I bring up points from both sides of the story, I’ll be sure to do my best to consider events through all perspectives; a fan, an executive, a teammate, and even Simmons himself. Now, in my best Joker impression from ‘The Dark Knight’… “And here we go”.
Let’s start off with a quick recap of Simmons’ impressive first four years in the NBA that lead us to this moment in time. Ben Simmons is known as one of the most elite defenders in the NBA and can guard positions 1 through 5 on any given team on any given night. This attribute has led him to All-Defensive First Team honors twice. In addition to locking down your favorite player, Simmons is a great playmaker in transition and can create open shots for teammates, which has allowed him to average 7.7 assists throughout his career. Simmons' offensive game also strives on crashing to the paint and being an above average finisher at the rim. These talents have made Simmons a 3 time All-Star and a 1 time All-NBA player, which is objectively impressive for a player that is only 25 years old.
Great, so it looks like the Sixers have an awesome, young superstar talent to help bring the franchise an NBA championship. Well, as long as you haven’t been living under a rock for the past few seasons, we know this not to be the case. Therefore, let’s state the obvious… Ben Simmons has major flaws to his game. In my opinion, there’s 3 critical flaws Simmons has that an All-Star, franchise-cornerstone talent should not. First off: he refuses to square up and take any sort of jump shot. In what world does a professional athlete refuse to take part in a major factor of their respective game? Refusing to shoot a jump shot is the equivalent to a quarterback saying, “sorry coach, I only throw 10 yard slants. No deep passes for me”. As you could imagine, this hypothetical would limit an NFL offense tremendously, as a defense can now prepare a perfect game plan to limit their opponents because they know the QB (the ball handler) is super limited. This limitation is literally the case for the Sixers with Simmons being their primary ball handler. As a point guard, especially in this PG-led era of the NBA, it is crucial that you have the ability to score from anywhere on the floor. Think about it. For the most part, the NBA’s best players have all been primary ball-handlers throughout their career: Lebron James, Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant, Luka Doncic,Chris Paul, etc. Therefore, Ben’s inability and refusal to shoot a jump shot from outside the paint or from behind the three point line allows defenses to straight up not even worry about him when he has the ball because they know for sure he’s not shooting. This assurance allows a defense to take a step back, regroup, find their man, and get locked in on stopping the Sixers from scoring. Also, it just doesn’t make any logical sense for Simmons not to shoot. Seriously, what does he have to lose? There’s players like Dwight Howard who are known to be terrible shooters and he still chucks up a few shots from outside the paint every game and throws up a three pointer if he’s wide open. From a fan standpoint, it just makes you shake your head and contemplate why I continue to defend Simmons online on Twitter or in group chats with your friends. And I’m sure his teammates and the 76ers personnel thought the same way. Just shoot the ball. I honestly think no fan would care if he kept missing, we just want to see him take the next step in his game. From the words of the great Michael Scott and Wayne Gretzky, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. I wish I had access to Ben's locker because I would anonymously post that quote in it everyday until he consistently shoots jumpers.
Okay, now onto flaw #2: free throws. How do you go your whole basketball career, make the NBA, but never figure out how to make your free throws at a somewhat decent percentage? Let’s really think about the free throw. No matter what court you’re playing on, as long as it’s regulation size and the nets are 10 feet, then you can guarantee your free throw will be at the exact same spot wherever you practice. With that being the case, how do you never figure out how to consistently be able to knock them down? There’s guys in the NBA that have been historically bad at shooting free throws like NBA veteran Andre Drummond. For the first 5 years of Drummond’s career, he shot under 42% from the free throw line. That is legit laugh out loud bad for a professional basketball player. Since then, Drummond has been shooting his free throws in the 58-60% range for 7 of the past 8 seasons. That is a crazy improvement for a player who is not known to shoot unless it’s right under the rim using the backboard. So, I think it’s fair to ask, why can’t Ben Simmons do this? Not to pick on Drummond, but Ben is a far better basketball player and athlete. So as a fan and possibly from an organization standpoint you have to wonder: why can’t Simmons simply work on his free throw shooting to help himself and the overall team? I mentioned the team because opponents would purposely intentionally foul Ben to stop the game clock and make him shoot FTs in close games so that they can get the ball back because they knew he would most likely miss one or even both of his attempts. Ultimately, it’s just mind boggling that Simmons hasn’t been able to improve his FTs whatsoever. In his first 4 seasons, Ben shot 56%, 60%, 62%, and 61% from the line. At some point you have to wonder why he hasn’t adjusted his form to improve his accuracy? If I ran the Sixers, I would lock Simmons in a gym and tell him he can’t leave until he either makes 20 straight free throws or shoots a minimum 70% from the line over a span of practice time. Good news for Simmons is I don’t run the Sixers because I think he’d be stuck in that gym forever.
Coming in at flaw #3… does Ben Simmons have a work ethic problem? This is the only logical possibility that I can think of for why Ben struggles with flaws 1 and 2. But let’s think about it from his perspective. Simmons could think to himself: well I’ve already been recognized with All-NBA honors, if I show up for the season it seems like I’ll be an automatic All-Star selection, I’ve already gotten the big contract, etc.. If this is how Ben thinks, then why would he go out of his way to become a better player when it seems he’s good enough to be recognized and get paid the big money? To be clear, as a fan, I do not agree with this way of thinking, but hey maybe this is how Ben goes about himself. However, I do believe that he is a driven player and has somewhat of a work ethic. We see his workout videos all the time in open gyms with his personal trainers and playing alongside other NBA players. That said, as a Sixers fan, there’s nothing more irritating than watching Ben’s summer workouts of him knocking down threes and taking shots all over the floor to get your hopes up of a possible new Ben, but to only be crushed when the same old Ben shows up for the season. Why practice shooting in a closed gym if you’re not going to utilize those skills in an NBA game? For the simple reason that he has not been able to improve his FTs and jump shot in 4 years, it makes me question his true work ethic and personal goals. Overall, this just adds fuel to the fire in Ben’s stock for Sixers fans.
Take all that nonsense that Ben has been building up for the past 4 years with Sixers fans and let’s play a 7 game series against the Atlanta Hawks. Whether it be the fact that Simmons attempted only 14 shots in the last 3 games of that series, or scoring a whopping 19 points and shooting 15/45 from the FT line (and don’t forget passing up on a wide open layup in crunch time of a winner takes all game 7 to send the Sixers to their first Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 20 years) it’s very fair for a Sixers fan to be unhappy with his performance. To be clear though, it’s not just the Hawks series that made 76ers fans mad. It’s this long build up of Ben not being able to take the next step in his game that has been driving fans nuts. On top of that, we are the only NBA fans that defend Ben and support him as every other fan and media outlet criticize his lack of shooting. Sixers fans were literally cheering for Ben to make a free throw and trying to give him pointers of tucking in his elbow to help him out at the line. How much more can a fan base be dedicated than that? Of course, the Sixers lose the series and that’s when things take a weird turn.
Simmons cuts off communications with the Sixers and tells the team he never wants to wear their jersey again. In addition, Ben refuses to rejoin the team for training camp and tells his teammates not to even bother flying out to California to talk with him. So now, things have clearly become personal for Ben. First off, imagine cutting off communications after YOU were the one playing one of the worst playoff series that an NBA All-Star has ever participated in. Then, imagine having the audacity to tell your teammates, who have been putting up with all your antics, to not even bother flying out to YOU because they are trying to make amends with drama that YOU have single handedly caused. These events have led it to be just a preposterous look for Ben Simmons and the way he handles himself.
Soon after, preseason basketball began for the NBA. All of a sudden, right before tip off of a Sixers home preseason game, Simmons shows up to get COVID tested so that he can rejoin the team for practice. This came as a shock to most people, however I saw it coming. Here’s why: the Sixers withheld 25% of his yearly salary that he earns for coming to training camp for the beginning of the season. It’s all fun and games for a 25 year old until he has millions of dollars taken away from him. Clearly, as for anyone, that is not an ideal situation, therefore it didn’t surprise me that he finally came back so he could try to earn some of that money back. Ben’s return to the team came with even more drama after he joined his teammates for practice. At this moment, I want you to Google: “Ben Simmons practice” and just look at the top images that come up. Have you ever seen someone so uninvested to be somewhere that much ever before? Ben is wearing sweats, no practice jersey, and keeps a resting “I don’t want to be here” face throughout the practice. There’s even videos of Ben’s phone being in his pocket and turned on which is just the cherry on top of his disengagement. It’s clear that Ben did not want to be there and it’s fair to assume that he thinks he is above the team rules since he is one of the better players because there’s 0% a role player could ever get away with that. Credit to coach Doc Rivers though, he did not let Simmons get away with his nonsense and kicked him out of practice.
All of this drama brings us to the approaching NBA Trade Deadline. The 76ers sit comfortably near the top of the Eastern Conference standings even with the absence of Simmons. Sophomore point guard Tyrese Maxey has flat out been ballin’ and is slowly becoming a superstar in the making. Maxey has taken over Simmons’ role as the starter and his ability to drive to the hoop and be such a quick and elusive guard is what makes him a special standout in the league. During this time, it felt like the Sixers were involved with trade rumors with Simmons and a new team every week. There were once rumors of Jaylen Brown and the Celtcs, a package from the King including young assets, Collin Sexton and pieces from the Cavs, the possibility of Damian Lillard, and then recently like a shooting star representing a glitter of hope for all Sixers fans, the idea of James Harden wanting to leave the Brooklyn Nets. After a number of Woj bombs and reports from Shams over the last couple weeks, it seemed like a deal centered around Simmons and Harden was closer and closer to being done.
Then we come to the present day. The much anticipated trade that the NBA world had been waiting for finally happened with an hour left before the NBA trade deadline. The Philadelphia Sixers are trading point guard Ben Simmons, shooting guard Seth Curry, center Andre Drummond, their 2022 unprotected first round pick, and their 2027 top-8 protected first round pick to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for guard James Harden and forward Paul Millsap.
This trade between the two championship contenders had been brewing for the past few weeks, as the Sixers and Nets both found themselves in tough spots during this season. The Nets were currently on a nine game losing streak and dealing with multiple obstacles, including Kevin Durant’s extended injury and Kyrie Irving’s limited availability due to New York City’s vaccine mandate. The Nets, who are clearly in an “all-in” type season were eager to get a deal done, as they at the time dropped all the way down to the eight seed in the east. On the Sixers side of things, they currently sat in the middle of a jumbled playoff race for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, eager to make a deep run in the playoffs with their MVP front runner Joel Embiid. Of course, what had been holding the Sixers back was another great All-Star type player to play alongside Embiid since in this league you frankly need more than one All-Star to be a true contender. Obviously, this weight holding the Sixers back was one by the name of Ben Simmons.
With both teams in the same boat of needing a trade, they finally came to a resolution that seemingly helps both sides in my unbiased opinion. As much as I’m not a fan of Simmons, I will admit the Nets got an excellent playmaker and defender in Ben whose playing style will fit nicely with high level scorers of Durant and Kyrie. That’s the nice thing about Simmons fitting with the Nets. If he doesn’t want to be the shooter then he’s in a perfect situation. The Nets also added a great shooter in Seth Curry to help spread the floor and can fill in for the absence of Joe Harris who is still injured. In addition, the Nets got Andre Drummond, who will serve as an excellent backup center and add depth to the overall bench. It is also interesting to consider that Simmons will now be paired up with his fellow Aussie teammate in Patty Mills, which should help him learn the system and become comfortable faster. For the Sixers, they finally drop the dead weight of Ben Simmons from their shoulders and add a top ten player, when healthy, whose scoring style of shooting from literally anywhere and elite driving to the rim will fit perfectly with Joel Embiid’s ability to control the paint. And the most important factor of the whole trade is the Sixers did not have to trade away either of their two budding stars Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle. As a Sixers fan, this was my top priority surrounding the trade. I believe that if Maxey or defensive lockdown specialist Matisse Thybulle were paired with Simmons, this would have been a huge loss for the Sixer franchise. However, mastermind Darly Morey stuck to his guns, waited patiently, and got the best possible deal out there, reuniting himself with James Harden, who he previously dealt with in Houston for nearly a decade.
As this chapter of the “The Process” closes, I’m not mad at Ben Simmons per se, but I am disappointed for what could have been an unstoppable duo of him and Embiid if he could have gotten his act together since I truly believe last year was perfectly set up for the Sixers to possibly win a championship. That said, the Sixers have an encouraging team heading into the postseason and at this point it’s championship or bust. And my last thoughts are as follows… “The Process” did indeed work. The goal was to build a winning organization out of completely nothing. The Sixers did that. It’s super hard to win a championship in any league. There are so many outside factors that you can’t necessarily control to win a championship and sometimes you even need luck. You can build the richest teams in the league like the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, or Los Angeles Dodgers and still come up short almost every year. You can have a half billion dollar quarterback like the Kansas City Chiefs and still come up short multiple times. The ultimate goal of the Process was to make something out of nothing and that’s exactly what Sam Hinkie, Brett Brown, Elton Brand, and Darly Morey did. Take a look at other teams in the league over the past decade during the Process years who never fully or openly committed to tanking, yet still remain bottom feeders to this day: Sacramento Kings, Orlando Magic, Charlotte Hornets, New Orleans Pelicans, Indiana Pacers, and the Minnesota Timberwolves. All of these teams have done close to nothing in the past decade. And I’m not saying tanking is always the best method, it just so happened to be the Philadelphia 76ers approach and hey, it looks like it worked out real good for them. So shoutout legendary Process Sixer Tony Wroten who originally coined the phrase “Trust the Process” because I certainly did and the city of Philadelphia made it their fight song. Sixers fans, let’s continue to trust the process and say good riddance to Ben Simmons.
Long live The Process.
“Good things come to those who wait,” - Daryl Morey (probably).
“I love it when a plan comes together.” - Sam Hinkie (Twitter, 11/2/2017).