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‘Strange and surreal mess': What the actual is Ben Simmons thinking?

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21st October, 2021
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There are plenty of questions for Ben Simmons to answer.

Why did he fly across the country and arrive at the doorstep of Wells Fargo Stadium, to check into pre-season for the first time in October and not tell a soul?

Another one: what are the reasons for not just wanting a trade, but not wanting to physically be in Philadelphia anymore?

This week Simmons did some things that prompted further probing.

Why did he show up to training and not want to do a drill his coach asked him to sub in on, which ultimately got him suspended? Why did he look so disengaged when the team huddled after a session and he was standing by himself outside the pack looking like he was a million miles away?

And what was with his white sweatshirt that looked like it had cut-off sleeves, and not the team uniform most of his Sixers teammates were wearing?

Just when Sixers fans felt a tiny bit of hope that their All-Star guard might have returned to the City of Brotherly Love to make peace, move on, and play basketball, Simmons has made some very clear actions he wants out.

If it wasn’t clear when his agent Rich Paul requested a trade shortly after the Game 7 and series loss to the Hawks, it’s now become apparent his future is elsewhere.

But Simmons’ path out of Philadelphia seems complicated.

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Trading Simmons seems easy but it’s not. The Sixers head of basketball operations Daryl Morey is waiting on the right pick that can come in and have immediate impact like a Dame Lillard or Bradley Beal — he doesn’t want draft picks.

It doesn’t look like that is going to happen soon and the Sixers organisation aren’t going to buckle and get pushed into a low-ball trade. Not yet anyway. But how much longer can the Simmons sideshow go on for before Morey is forced into a trade for the betterment of the Sixers, a team trying to get back to the playoffs?

If being traded is what Simmons wants then acting like a brat at training, not fitting in, being unreliable are sure-fire ways to not seem attractive to other teams that could be a future home. What coach wants someone that doesn’t want to engage in a drill? No thanks.

That’s high-school stuff. There are plenty of things that Simmons does at an elite level — defence, rebound, passing — but if he’s showing teams that he’s un-coachable he’s going to find it hard for Morey to get him out of Philadelphia in a hurry.

Simmons’ exploits evoked a comment from Sir Charles Barkley who said “Simmons deserves number one, the blame” and described the situation as a “joke”.

He has a point: he needs to grow up and own this as an adult, a professional basketball player. Nothing Simmons did this week did anything positive for his reputation.

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On Tuesday there were an estimated 45 reporters at the Sixers training session who were expecting Simmons to speak to them for the first time since June 20. One of the reporters was Bucks County Courier Times sports columnist Tom Moore who enters his 34th season covering the Sixers. He said media got word that Simmons had been suspended for one game for conduct detrimental to the team and missed the season opener.

“It’s very strange. The whole thing is kind of surreal. Now he’s not getting paid,” Moore said. “You sort of don’t know what’s going to come next.”

Moore’s first four years included reporting on Barkley’s last four seasons in Philly. He’s seen the good, the bad and a playoff round win with a team that can contend. This week he covered three Sixers sessions — last Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. He didn’t see Simmons on Sunday who was gone by the time media had been granted access. He watched Simmons perform a handful of defensive drills on Monday and said he didn’t look engaged with the team.

“It’s become a big mess. I guess he thinks there’s too much that’s happened here — not happy with Embiid, not happy with Doc Rivers,” said Moore. “He wants to move on and he can’t control it. It’s rare to see an unhappy player, with four years, $140 million left on his contract, one year after he signed a deal.”

The Simmons saga appears to be taking its toll on Sixers players. And while players like Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid have tried to remain diplomatic, their muted frustrations are starting to surface.

“At this point, I don’t care about that man, honestly. He does whatever he wants,” Embiid said this week.

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This is a team that won 49 games last year. It was better than the Nets, Bucks, and Hawks. They owned a 29-7 record at home and were the no.1 seed in the east. They had fairly high hopes rolling into this year. But instead of that, guys like Embiid, Tobias, Maxey, are trying to answer questions they don’t have answers to about Simmons.

Philly fans supported Simmons through all his struggles and for the most part have been on his side, says Moore. Passing on that dunk in Game 7 with three-and-a-half minutes to go is something that struck a nerve with Sixers fans because the perception is that Simmons hasn’t worked on his jump shot, free throws or long range shooting which has been holding him back from being a top 10 player.

On the flip side, apart from the Embiid and Rivers comments post-match after Game 7, Moore said perhaps there’s other things that have built up over the years and the pressure of being the no.1 overall pick that usually comes with being held to high standards that has led to where we are now.

But up until Game 7, Doc Rivers — and even former Sixers coach Brett Brown — defended Simmons’ shot and was “staunchly in his corner”, Moore said.

Aussie basketball star Ben Simmons with the Philadelphia 76ers.

(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Josh Reynolds, a Philly native who went to all seven playoff games against the Atlanta Hawks at home and on the road was in shock when Simmons showed up for practice after hearing reports saying Simmons wanted a trade. It wasn’t until he was a no-show at training camp that the things became real and the penny dropped that Simmons wanted out.

“Everybody wants to talk about the play where he passed it and he should have dunked it. But I don’t think that is what changed the game. He was unnecessarily taking all the heat when in reality there were multiple plays that you could have looked at,” he said. “I wish he was going about this whole trade demand in a different way, rather than not showing up and getting fined.”

If Simmons does play in the home opener on Friday, Reynolds thinks that even if he shoots a bunch of three-pointers, shoots some jump shots, that won’t be enough for the Sixers fans base to forgive Simmons.

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“Philadelphia is a very unique place where if you turn on them in the slightest they will hold a grudge against you forever. And I’m afraid that’s what’s happened here,” he said. “Without Simmons I still think we’re a playoff team. As a fan of the Sixers, I do not think we have any chance of winning a championship without Simmons on the floor — or at least some other talent we could get for Ben.”

It’s hard to know what to expect moving forward when no one knows the answer to anything that Ben Simmons is doing or wants to do. The consensus is that Simmons most likely won’t play against the Nets on Friday. I mean, he could play. But the question is: Does he want to play? Who knows.

The Sixers go on a road trip after Friday’s home opener and head to New York and Oklahoma, only to return and play 7-of-the-next 9 games at home. There’s an opportunity for Simmons to get his match fitness up on the road and get him back in Philly into the locker room and on-court.

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But after what we saw this week, it doesn’t look like Simmons wants to do that. And fans will be supercharged if-and-when he returns to the court either as a Sixers guard or some other team. Doc Rivers has left the door open and said this week that he’s expected and invited when they do train next.

And this is where the stalemate lives.

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