National Basketball Association
Ben Simmons won't report to camp while Sixers struggle to plot next move
National Basketball Association

Ben Simmons won't report to camp while Sixers struggle to plot next move

Updated Sep. 27, 2021 9:20 p.m. ET

By Yaron Weitzman
FOX Sports NBA Writer

Last November, people in and around the Philadelphia 76ers were brimming with optimism.

It didn’t matter that they were coming off a disappointing and disheartening first-round playoff loss to the Boston Celtics. Or that a series of miscalculations had left the team with a clunky roster full of ill-fitting pieces. 

No, the organization was entering a new phase, rendering all that part of the past. After all, ownership had convinced Daryl Morey — the Daryl Morey! — to come on board as president of basketball operations. And that was after the Sixers wooed Doc Rivers — championship winner Doc Rivers! — to become their coach. 


"Ownership was looking for more experienced and stable leadership," one person familiar with the thinking of Sixers co-owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer told me at the time. "The pandemic has most teams playing defense and not spending, and Josh was willing to swoop in and spend to upgrade the talent in those positions."

Nearly one year later, it’s fair to ask whether the Sixers have received what they hoped. Because while stability might exist at the top (and for a team that has cycled through six chief basketball executives since 2015 — never mind all the meddling would-be GMs with ownership stakes — stability is certainly a feat worth celebrating), here we are at the start of yet another training camp, and the word that best summarizes the state of the team known for its Processes and mysterious injuries and shooting yips and burner Twitter accounts is, once again, chaos.

By now, you know the situation. Ben Simmons — one of the two crown jewels of The Process — has demanded to be traded. The Sixers don’t want to trade him. Or, rather, they’re open to trading him but haven’t received any offers that they view as fair. Part of that is because the packages they've sought have thus far been outrageous. Part of which is because Simmons is in this funky category as a player where he’s too good to be swapped for spare parts but not quite good enough to net a star.

The other problem is that every NBA GM knows the Sixers need to trade Simmons. That hasn’t exactly allowed Morey to negotiate from a position of strength. It’s understandable why he’d be hesitant to trade Simmons at a low point. But after hearing Morey, Rivers and Joel Embiid address the situation during Media Day on Monday, it’s fair to wonder what exactly Morey’s plan is, whether he has misread the situation and, in doing so, misplayed his hand. 

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Morey’s mistake seems to be that he has underestimated how personal this all is to Simmons. How stung Simmons was by some of the comments from Rivers and Embiid after the Sixers’ Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks last season. How bothered he was that Morey could tell The Athletic’s Shams Charania in December that the Sixers "were not trading Ben Simmons," then dangle him in offers for James Harden afterward. 

Simmons’ decision not to report to training camp isn’t just a negotiating tactic. His agent, Rich Paul, has told people around the NBA that Simmons is adamant about never suiting up for the Sixers again. Morey knows this. Simmons said as much during a late August meeting with Morey, Rivers and Harris, which was first reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey. 

That this meeting occurred just one week after I was told by someone in Simmons' camp during the NBA’s Summer League that there was no way he was returning to Philadelphia, but they were willing to be patient and "let the team do its job," is telling, too. It goes back to the trust between player and team. Simmons clearly was tired of waiting on Morey and didn’t trust that he’d make a deal without a push.

To be clear, Simmons is far from a victim here. His on-court failures and limitations — and unwillingness to address them — have been the primary reason for the Sixers’ recent postseason failures. What Simmons is, though, is the party with the leverage, and so far, Morey and the Sixers have yet to adjust. 

Take, for example, some of their comments Monday at Media Day. Nothing anyone said was wrong or unfair.

"They came to us and asked for a trade shortly after the season," Morey said. "We were not looking to trade him. … Ben is a very good player, a big part of this team."

"I still think the world of him," Rivers said. 

"Of course we want him back. He’s a big piece of what we’ve been building the past few years," Embiid said.

But all three spoke with a level of honesty that is likely to undermine what their goal should be: Get Simmons into training camp so that it’s easier to trade him. 

This all started last week when, during a media tour to promote a new podcast, Rivers compared Simmons and his camp to "people who still believe Trump won the election." 

Embiid didn’t go quite that far Monday. But in a long and eloquent answer about the need for self-awareness from everyone on the team — including himself — and how difficult it could be to find yourself in trade rumors, he said, "We all just need to grow up. ... If Golden State came and offered Steph and Klay for me, wouldn't the Sixers say yes to that? I would probably say yes to that."  

It’s a fair point. But also not one Simmons is likely to appreciate. Same goes for Embiid’s reply when asked what he’d like to see from Simmons if he does rejoin the Sixers. 

And then there’s Morey, who, when asked how he’d respond if Simmons continues to not show up to training camp, offered a blunt and pointed response. 

"We're not going to talk about the specifics of fines, things like that," Morey said Monday during a media conference. "But I will say it's pretty clearly spelled out in the CBA and his contract what happens."

It’s not surprising that Morey would say this. Simmons is strong-arming the team; the classic counter-negotiation is to re-raise. But what would this accomplish? The threat of a single fine isn’t going to push Simmons off his stance. Fining him daily would only make the situation messier and anger Simmons further — making it even more unlikely that he ever suits up for the Sixers again, giving them even less leverage in negotiations. 

The Sixers can take this route, keep Simmons around for a few months and hope that eventually a star such as Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal demands a trade. That path holds the most upside, but it also has the potential to derail the entire season and waste a year of Embiid’s prime. And it’s especially dangerous, given that neither star appears on the verge of being traded.  

The other option for Morey is to lower his asking price, trade Simmons as soon as possible and move on. Doing so might not get a great return, but Morey could save his team from months of drama and, maybe, find some players who fit better alongside Embiid.

Maybe Morey has something up his sleeve, but in talking with various executives around the league, all indications are that he has no interest in taking this approach. It’s just not his style. He has built a successful career doing the opposite. His ability to withstand chaos is considered one of his strengths. But that doesn’t mean that diving headfirst into it is the best path. 

Withstanding chaos is one thing. Ignoring it is another.

Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports and the author of Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports. Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.


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