It was the end of the 2020-21 NBA Season for the Philadelphia 76ers, who lost to the fifth-seeded Atlanta Hawks in the second round of the playoffs. After the disappointing finish to the season, Doc Rivers, head coach of the 76ers, was asked about whether he thought his starting point guard, Ben Simmons, could be a point guard on a championship-quality team. “I don’t know the answer to that,” he responded. As someone who had continuously backed his point guard throughout the season, Doc’s answer was self-evident: the 76ers seriously had to reconsider whether Simmons, whom the 76ers selected as the first overall pick in the 2016 draft, was the answer to their championship aspirations.
Simmons, a three-time NBA All-Star and two-time All NBA Defensive selection, was the key to the 76ers’ regular-season success, putting up fourteen points and around seven rebounds and assists per night while leading the 76ers to the first overall seed in the Eastern Conference. Simmons has never before been knocked for his defensive effort. Just this past season, he was a unanimous selection to the NBA’s 2020-21 All-Defensive first-team, a designation reserved for the five best defensive players in the league. Rather, it has been Simmons’s work (or lack thereof) on the offensive end that has been heavily criticized. Over the 76ers’ two playoffs series, Simmons made just 32% of his 73 free throws, the lowest free throw percentage in a single playoffs in NBA history (min. 70 attempts). Along with his struggles at the free-throw line came a complete lack of confidence; Simmons shot the ball just fourteen times in the final three games of the series — a stark contrast to his ten attempts per game in the regular season. Fans have also pointed out a lack of progression in Simmons’s game: his stats have dropped from his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2016 (from 15.8 points to 14.3, from 8.1 rebounds to 7.2, and from 8.2 assists to 6.9 per game this year), and he hasn’t shown any signs of improvement on the offensive end. After an offseason in which fans buzzed over videos of Simmons working on his three-point shooting with his trainer, he attempted just ten total three-pointers throughout the season, making three of them. In fact, in his four seasons in the league, Ben Simmons has made a total of five three-pointers!
The fans’ general frustration with Simmons clearly resonated with the Sixers’ front office as well. Shortly after the Game Seven loss to the Hawks that ended the 76ers’ season, Simmons’s representation and the 76ers management agreed to look for a trade as the upcoming NBA draft approached. The 76ers reportedly rejected a trade offer from the Indiana Pacers and countered with some of their own. Multiple teams, including the San Antonio Spurs, Toronto Raptors, and Golden State Warriors, rejected the Sixers’ request for a package of first-round picks and players for Simmons. To other teams, it became clear that the 76ers’ asking prices were steep, and to some executives, downright outlandish. No deal was ever made.
After the conclusion of the NBA draft and the end of the trade season in mid-August, the 76ers owner, Joshua Harris, and other management flew directly to Los Angeles to meet with Simmons and his agent Rich Paul. The Sixers planned on telling Simmons that they could not find a trade for him and that they hoped to put aside their differences and enter the next season on the same page. According to ESPN, Simmons was steadfast in his earlier idea to be traded: “He didn’t want to play for the team again and that if he wasn’t traded by the end of the month, he didn’t intend to come to training camp,” sources said.
There is no reason to not believe that he will not hold up his promise. On September 21st, Adrian Wojniawoski (one of the most well-respected NBA insiders) reiterated that Simmons would not report for the opening of training camp, that he intended to never play another game for the franchise, and that he had not spoken to the team since a late August meeting when he communicated this message to Sixers officials. Earlier last week, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that 76ers players wanted to travel to Los Angeles this week to meet with Simmons in an attempt to convince him to commit to the 2021-22 season with them, but they were informed not to come and that Simmons did not want to meet.
According to Brian Windhorst of ESPN, Simmons and his management are fully willing to face the financial repercussions that often come with a hold-out. Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, who represents some of the league’s brightest stars alongside Simmons, has used this same technique with his clients before (Tristan Thompson and JR Smith). But Simmons’ situation is unique; he is in the second year of a five-year, $177.2 million extension he signed with the 76ers in July 2019. Since he is still under contract for the Sixers for another four seasons, if he continues to hold out from training camp and team activities, then the team is technically in no rush to move him around.
While Daryl Morey, the President of Basketball Operations for the Sixers, and the Sixers’ front office remain in a standstill with a steadfast Simmons and his management, this situation will almost certainly escalate. The NBA will have to step in if Simmons continues to hold out and the 76ers do not penalize him financially with a suspension. After all, the league cannot afford to have a precedent of high-profile players refusing to play for their teams while under contract. Until then, the stalemate and rift between Simmons and the 76ers will continue.