The Ben Simmons trade demand is an official dumpster fire- soap opera. Like any good victim, Doc Rivers is walking back his comments that he refused to walk back the entire summer (about Simmons value on a contending team), and the only thing left of interest is Ben Simmons taking the Doc Rivers phone call and listening while Rivers sobs his apology. I imagine Doc’s eyes will tear up and his voice will break and he will say that what Simmons and his camp heard was not what Rivers meant. That Rivers was under stress from the semi-final loss. That he shouldn’t be punished for what he said in the heat of the moment; he’s human. That he cherishes Ben.
But Ben Simmons, I imagine, will just roll his eyes. He has dug his line in the sand and is willing to die on that particular hill, even if it costs him hundreds of thousands per day.
$227,613. Each. Day. He. Pouts.
The Sixers aren’t under the gun to trade Simmons, not yet. They can wait him out, fine him, watch while his bank account depletes, and make him feel the pressure that he hates. Then we can all see how big of a baller Ben Simmons really is. Is he willing to throw away $10 million for a principle?
By playing the victim, the Sixers are creating a perception of Simmons that he is not just difficult to coach, but that he is thin-skinned and doesn’t live up to his word- meaning the contract he signed. Simmons is the problem now because he can’t accept an apology. The Sixers are effectively cornering him by saying all of this is his fault. Should have shot the ball and we wouldn’t be here.
But that tactic only has so long to work. Come January, when contracts are guaranteed the Sixers will have lost all their leverage. They will have to do something because by then they’ll be trying to dig in on a style of play for the postseason and contending teams who have had their season wrecked because of injury or apathy will be greedy to make a trade.
In the short term, there is collateral damage. Players get grumpy when a teammate wants a divorce because for them it feels as if Simmons is divorcing them as well, that he doesn’t want to be teammates with them. While Simmons wants to divorce Doc, in marriage terms, it’s the kids who suffer. Teammates like to rise up and show that they don’t need the disgruntled player. The Sixers will start out hot and then the reality will set in. Ben Simmons is not walking through that door.
The Sixers led the East because they had Joel Embiid (29 points, 11 rebounds), Tobias Harris (20 points, 7 rebounds), and Seth Curry and Shake Milton (26 points, 6 assists, 41%-3 point). And Ben Simmons.
If the Sixers don’t need Simmons, they need someone like him. He wasn’t their best defensive player. Joel Embiid was. But he was their second-best defender and his 7 rebounds and 7 assists mattered.
The Sixers want an All-Star and teams know they want an All-Star. It’s a pissing contest. The Sixers are trying to play chess. Philly doesn’t want draft picks or young players. They want an All-Star veteran; Bradley Beal is perfect.
The problem with the Ben Simmons strategy is that it has amnesia. It misremembers. All anyone can think of is that dunk Ben Simmons refused, and his free throw brain freeze, and his reluctance to shoot, and ducking out of the Olympics to work on his game when he should have worked on his game three summers ago. Ben Simmons is his worst enemy because by throwing down this gauntlet he hasn’t changed the narrative of him. That he doesn’t really need basketball. That basketball is a take-it-or-leave-it thing for him. That he gets scared in games. What we think of Simmons has everything to do with the last thing we saw of him and it was a disaster. If Simmons really wants out of Philly he has to help them by rebooting his image.
A mad player is a bad player.
Simmons has to show that he’s worthy, particularly in the postseason. That doesn’t happen sitting on Rich Paul’s couch.
And so here we are. In lieu of Simmons helping himself, and Philly, and the league because this storyline is black privilege run amok, the Sixers are on to Plan B. Put Doc Rivers on television begging his case, pretending he wants Simmons back. Do a mea culpa. It’s probably gut-wrenching for Doc to pretend he wants something he doesn’t really want.
But at least he’s making the (fake) effort. He didn’t do that much for Chris Paul.