The one person who might might be able to expedite Ben Simmons’ exit from the Philadelphia 76ers is his erstwhile partner in The Process, Joel Embiid, because everyone else seems fully prepared to let it all burn.
It is irrelevant at this point whether Simmons, Embiid, Sixers coach Doc Rivers or president of basketball operations Daryl Morey started the fire. Simmons had a choice between taking a firehose or a blowtorch to his first practices of the season. He chose the latter, and Embiid poured gasoline on the raging embers.
“At this point, I don’t care about that man, honestly,” Embiid told reporters after Simmons was thrown out of practice and suspended for Wednesday’s season opener after allegedly twice refusing to participate in a defensive drill. Embiid repeatedly suggested of Simmons, “We don’t get paid to try to babysit somebody.”
The Simmons saga is not succinct, but here is the short of it: Following a Game 7 meltdown in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Morey spent the summer seeking a fair trade to resolve reservations from every side about the relationship, and when he found none, Simmons demanded a deal on Sept. 1. He failed to report to training camp, so the Sixers put $8.25 million of his salary in escrow, fining him nearly $1 million for his absence until Simmons finally reported without notice to Philadelphia’s third preseason game on Oct. 11.
He was cleared to practice on Sunday, when Rivers reported Simmons was not yet in “game shape.” Videos from Monday’s practice showed Simmons lightly participating with a cellphone in his pocket before excluding himself from a team huddle. When he was asked to step into a walk-through exercise on Tuesday, Simmons twice refused, and Rivers sent him home, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
All the while, Simmons has “[ignored] most 76ers staffers” and informed the organization he is not mentally prepared to rejoin the team, Charania reported. Embiid told reporters he has not yet spoken to Simmons.
So, the stalemate continues. Morey has shown no indication he is willing to trade Simmons for anything less than what he considers equal value. No such trade has presented itself, and the events of the last few weeks have done nothing to encourage would-be suitors to increase their offers. Since Simmons has four years and $146.6 million remaining on the contract he signed in July 2019, there is no resolution in sight.
That is, unless someone forces Philadelphia’s hand, and that someone could be Embiid.
The 27-year-old returning MVP runner-up signed a four-year, $196 million extension in August that will keep him under contract through 2027. He is the franchise’s future, and Simmons has no desire to be part of it. The Sixers are trying to build a contender, and Embiid’s commitment is essential to it. If Embiid decides this Simmons saga is infringing on his happiness in Philadelphia, Morey might have to reconsider his strategy.
Embiid has thus far stopped short of publicly urging the Sixers to trade Simmons for the best possible return right now, but he has been walking that line for weeks. Embiid expressed his disappointment in Simmons’ holdout during his media day reintroduction on Sept. 27, while also leaving the door open for a reunion. “If I didn’t like playing with him, I’m honest,” he told an eager horde of media. “I would say it.”
When Simmons’ camp responded anonymously the following day, informing The Athletic’s Sam Amick that Simmons is no longer interested in playing with Embiid or in a system built around him, Embiid dug in, too.
“The situation is weird, disappointing, borderline kind of disrespectful,” he said, detailing the many ways the Sixers have catered to Simmons’ strengths when constructing the roster. Embiid cited the decision not to offer Jimmy Butler a full max contract, a failed Al Horford experiment and his own spacing away from the basket as evidence of the franchise’s commitment to building around Simmons, not the other way around.
By Tuesday, Embiid appeared all but done with Simmons.
“I’m trying to win, and to win you have got to have that relationship with your teammates,” Embiid said of his breakdown in communication with Simmons. “I do have that relationship with all of my teammates, but at the end of the day, our job is not to babysit somebody. We get paid to produce on the court, go out, play hard and win some games. That’s what we get paid for. We don’t get paid to try to babysit somebody. That’s not our job, and I’m sure my teammates feel that way. We’re really focused on just winning and playing as a team. The main thing for us is to have fun, and I think we’re going to have that a lot this year.”
Leaks to the media support Embiid’s statement on behalf of his teammates. According to a deep dive into the Simmons saga published by ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne on Tuesday, “many within the team questioned whether Simmons had actually seen the masseuse” whose inconclusive COVID-19 test had called into question his availability for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. In other words, some Sixers wondered if Simmons was seeking an excuse not to finish a series he had spent six games squandering.
True or not, someone expressed that belief to the media, and that is a violation of locker-room dynamics that should make it impossible for Simmons to tuck his tail between his legs and recommit to the Sixers.
It cannot be fun to have an All-Star teammate who is actively disrupting practices, nor can it be fun to repeatedly answer questions every time his insubordination makes headlines. It will be even less fun once Simmons’ absence costs the team wins. If and when Embiid decides it would be more fun to remove that distraction completely and insert a helpful player or players in his place, he has a say in the matter. He can ask the Sixers to trade Simmons now, whatever the cost may be, or risk his own happiness in Philadelphia.
Whatever trades were on the table may no longer be. Malcolm Brogdon’s extension with the Indiana Pacers removes their best reported offer. There is no motivation for the Portland Trail Blazers to swap CJ McCollum for Simmons, let alone the three first-round picks Morey reportedly sought in addition to McCollum. The Minnesota Timberwolves preferred not to deal Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards or D’Angelo Russell in a package for Simmons, meaning Jaden McDaniels and/or Malik Beasley would be their centerpiece.
That is the kind of paltry offer Morey has thus far refused, and for good reason, but there will come a time sooner or later when the 76ers have no choice but to cut bait on Simmons. Embiid just has to ask for it.
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