Nobody Wins In the Ben Simmons-76ers Saga


Derek McLeod, Contributer

In 2016, when the Philadelphia 76ers selected Ben Simmons with the first overall pick of the NBA draft, the city of Philadelphia prepped itself for the next coming of LeBron James. Simmons stood 6 feet 9 inches tall with a knack for playmaking and defensive prowess that would entrench him as a superstar at the professional level.

All Simmons needed to add was a consistent jump shot.

With that, the upstart 76ers would become a fixture in the league for years to come. However, fast forward to five years later, Simmons became a public enemy in Philly. Despite the drastic turnaround in the relationship, Simmons and the 76ers attempted to mend their strained relationship finally.

But how did the relationship between the three-time NBA All-Star and the franchise turn sour in the first place? For Simmons, the answer to that question is as simple as looking into the mirror.

At first, there was a honeymoon phase. Sixers fans saw the potential in the duo of Simmons and Joel Embiid, a star center out of Kansas picked third overall in 2014. Could they lead the 76ers to their first NBA Championship since 1983? The only thing holding the team back from this status is Simmons’s inability to attempt a jumper in-game. Still, fans gave him a pass.

“Once Ben Simmons gets a jump shot, it’s over for the league,” fans would say.

Basketball fans have held on to fleeting hope that Simmons would become the most dangerous man in the NBA. They have treated his evolution into an all-around threat like it is inevitable. After all, his contributions as an all-around playmaker and defensive stalwart helped Philly has reached the playoffs in four of the last five years. The main issue is that playoffs Ben Simmons is not a compelling version of himself. Even up until the end of the 2021 season, fans still held onto this fantasy.

In 38 playoff games, Simmons has shot the three-ball twice. Eventually, opposing defenses stopped guarding Simmons altogether, and Simmons seems to lack the confidence to take open shots. As a result, each playoff exit is followed with the same empty excuse.

The situation peaked in a do-or-die game seven of 2021 Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Sixers and the Atlanta Hawks.

Simmons’ play was inexcusable. He got the yips.

He passed up a wide-open lay-up underneath the basket in the closing stretch of the game. It was a game-defining moment that led to the Hawks winning the series. Simmons finished with five points on four shots. That is not the performance expected of an all-star, but it is one we have come to expect from Ben Simmons, the NBA’s most hypothetical player in recent memory.

The offseason that followed was turbulent as Simmons requested a trade citing for people in the organization who do not appreciate the positives that he brought to the team. Simmons was not wrong. He placed second in Defensive Player of the Year voting and secured another trip to the All-Star game in 2020-21. Unfortunately, none of that matters when the playoffs come around and Simmons finds himself unable to shoot a three-pointer with his defender sitting just outside the paint.

The imminent divorce got even messier when Simmons initially refused to show up to training camp. First, Simmons claimed it was not his job to get his low trade value up. Then, he was kicked out of practice and suspended for the season opener against the Pelicans for refusing to participate in defensive drills. Three days later, Simmons has stated he is not mentally ready to play for the 76ers.

Athletes can take time to get their mental health in order, and Simmons should take his time returning to basketball if mental barriers are at the heart of this wild offseason. The problem is, this situation may only get worse until Simmons is no longer apart of the 76ers organization.

There is too much baggage. The players and Simmons have been petty this entire summer. Was it as simple as Simmons coming clean with his feelings that saved the team’s chemistry? It is wholly possible, but the best course of action for both sides is to move on.

Simmons is a highly influential player and someone who can push the right team to championship status. He will not find that in Philadelphia, not after all that has transpired. The 76ers had Jimmy Butler on their roster to take over late in games, but they opted to keep Simmons because that is what Ben wanted. Only two years later, Simmons is deferring the role as the chosen one set for him the second he was drafted.

Simmons’ relationship with the organization may never be mended, and that is okay. Simmons can be a major playmaker on a team with a ready-made closer alongside him, and the 76ers can surround themselves with enough quality pieces around Embiid to push through the glass ceiling.

As the saying goes, if you don’t want to get burned, stay out of the sun. Simmons and the 76ers need to part ways–fast.