The Ben Simmons saga: How did we get here?
By Jed Mabazza, Contributor
In recent years, many NBA superstars have successfully forced their way out of franchises they didn’t want to play for, even if they were contractually obligated to. However, Ben Simmons seems to be stuck in a Philadelphia 76ers jersey, at least for now.
Simmons was drafted 1st overall in the 2016-17 NBA draft, but was sidelined for his entire first year after sustaining a season-ending foot injury in training camp. He bounced back in his second year, averaging 16 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists per game and winning the Rookie of the Year award. The award was seen as controversial because fans thought he shouldn’t be able to win in a year that wasn’t technically his first. Drama aside, Simmons went on to establish himself as a three-time all-star and a key piece for the team to build around, igniting hope in a fanbase that had been quiet for years.
Fast forward to the present day and Simmons’ future with the Sixers is unclear thanks to a rift that has its roots in early January.
Earlier this year, Philadelphia reportedly proposed a trade package that would send Simmons and a draft pick compensation to the Houston Rockets for the then-disgruntled James Harden. Ultimately, talks stalled and Harden was eventually traded to the Brooklyn Nets on Jan. 13. Hours following the trade announcement, ESPN’s Marc Spears reported that Simmons was “ecstatic…and believes his team is capable of bringing a title to Philadelphia.” Although, it must have been an unpleasant experience for Simmons knowing his team wanted to trade him away, which would have likely been a blow to his trust in the team.
The Sixers would go on to finish first in the Eastern conference heading into the 2021 playoffs with a 49-23 win-loss record. Unfortunately, the Sixers fell to Trae Young’s Atlanta Hawks in a seven-game series in the second round. Simmons was largely missing in action all series, hitting a dismal 33.3 per cent of his free throws and averaging nearly 10 points, which are unacceptable numbers for an NBA star.
In a post-game press conference, Sixers head coach Doc Rivers was asked if Simmons could be a championship-level point guard and Rivers flatly said “I don’t know the answer to that.” Simmons was reportedly unhappy that Rivers threw him under the bus, making him the scapegoat for Philly’s ruined championship aspirations.
Early into the Sixers offseason, Simmons’ agent, Rich Paul, met with the team’s front office to discuss his client’s future with the team. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that “no trade request was made, but talks will continue.”
In mid-July, the Sixers camp entertained trade offers from teams asking about Simmons, but talks stalled yet again in late August due to the Sixers’ high asking price.
It became apparent that Simmons could no longer trust the Sixers front office and decided he didn’t want any part of a team that tried to ship him out twice in the same year. Days later, Simmons officially requested a trade from Philly noting that California was his preferred destination.
Prior to the start of training camp in late September, Wojnarowski reported that “Simmons will not report for [the] opening of training camp next week and intends to never play another game for the franchise. Simmons hasn’t spoken to the team since a late August meeting when he communicated this message to Sixers officials.”
Simmons missed media day, the entirety of training camp and the whole preseason. He was fined approximately US$228,000 for each game missed.
The fines may have gotten to him. Simmons finally reported to Philadelphia just before the start of the regular season on Oct. 11. By this point, he already lost about one million dollars in fines along with $8.2 million in money that Philly withdrew from giving him in early October.
On Oct. 19, Rivers kicked Simmons out of practice for refusing to engage in drills with the team. Simmons was promptly suspended for the first game of the regular season.
After that, he didn’t show up to individual workouts, citing back soreness and that he wasn’t ready to return to the team mentally.
Most recently, Simmons has reportedly been unwilling to work with team doctors and mental health professionals, opting instead to work with those of the National Basketball Players Association. He has since been listed as out in every Sixers game thus far.
It appears the Sixers fan base must buckle in for now as the stalemate continues. But it would be worth their while to echo the mantra that the organization is best known for — to trust the process.