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BenWatch: Ben Simmons Unmoved By Attempts At Pretending To Placate Him

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers, flails weirdly
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Disgruntled would-be former Philadelphia 76er Ben Simmons, according to The Athletic’s Sam Amick, is “clearly hurt by the way he was, in his eyes, scapegoated after his widely criticized finish against the Hawks and how that blame-game tone remains.” Also:

Yet of all the problem areas to explore, there’s none more unyielding and impossible to ignore than this: People who have intimate knowledge of how he sees this situation continue to insist that he’s done playing with [Joel] Embiid.

The Athletic

Neither of those are really news; I think pretty much everybody who has paid even casual attention to the ongoing story of Simmons’s failing relationship with his first NBA team has heard or read at least tens of iterations on these themes by now. I just wanted to call your attention to some amazingly avant-garde basketbloggerese by Amick. Simmons is hurt by how the blame-game tone remains. (How does it remain?) Ben Simmons’s intimate associates—or anyway, those intimately familiar with his view of the situation—insist he’s done playing with Joel Embiid; this insistence, truly, is the least yielding or ignorable of all the problem areas to explore. Here I am picturing a vast stone cliff face, sheer, looming, and implacable, with eldritch striations across its surface inadvertently depicting, like, a colossal dick and balls. It’s an area, it is for sure a problem, and you can explore it—but it is very difficult to ignore and it shall not yield.

This is high-test shit, man. Lean in and get a nice deep honk of those fumes. “When it comes to understanding Simmons’ hardline stance, one that could become quite costly soon if he starts missing games, it’s all so layered at this point that it’s hard to know where to begin.” Oh yeah. That’s the stuff. I’m unmoored from space and time now.

As for the actual news, here’s the funniest bit:

There’s nothing personal about this choice, it seems, but the 25-year-old Simmons has clearly decided that his career is better off without Embiid blocking the runways in the paint that he so badly needs to succeed.

The Athletic

Ben Simmons, standing uselessly in the dunker’s spot while the most splendidly gifted and dominant interior scorer in a generation pours in 28 points and totally unmakes the opposing defense: “If only somebody would get this asshole out of my way, I could be bricking open layups harmlessly off the top of the shot-clock right now.” Wherever he goes next, you can be sure Simmons will lead the NBA in unwarranted self-regard. And also in airballed free-throws.

Here’s another funny line:

Truth be told, sources say Simmons thought he would have been traded by now.

The Athletic

The blog leaves unclear whether Simmons recognizes this sentiment as a self-own. Yes, Sixers GM Daryl Morey does appear to have set a sky-high price on any possible Simmons trade; at this point the choice is between nothing and anything at all, in which case he probably should just accept the latter and be done with the whole mess. Still, if Simmons’s services were in all that high demand around the league, competitive bidding would seem likely by now to have delivered a trade offer more attractive to even a minimally reasonable organizational braintrust than a protracted, public, leverage-sapping feud with a player who has (reportedly) promised never to play for the team again. That is to say: What Simmons thought, mistakenly, was that other NBA teams would want him a lot more than they do.

Which brings us, at last, to the visibly halfhearted public statements Morey and Embiid have given in the past couple weeks—and the considerably sweatier and more desperate contributions of coach Doc Rivers—asserting Simmons’s importance to the team and expressing some battered confidence that he at least can be persuaded to remain a 76er. I encourage you to watch the following video of Rivers’s and Morey’s joint media day press availability from Monday for some context, as well as some hilariously futile work by Rivers in particular.

My favorite bit comes around the 8:55 mark. Rivers has just extensively dismissed the idea that he alienated Ben Simmons back in the summer when he answered a question about whether Simmons could ever be the point guard on a championship team with a gruff and pointed, “I don’t know.” Cannily, the next reporter called upon asks the two of them, straight out, what they then believe is the reason for Simmons’s unhappiness and (reported) vow never to play for the 76ers again. Here’s Rivers’s response, as faithfully as I can transcribe it:

“That’s a good question. Um, you know, it’s, it’s a tough answer, um, [grumpy, withdrawn] because it wasn’t as clear as we probably would want it. Um, you know… wanting… to… [baffled, shrugging, hey, don’t look at me energy] change places! To, y’know, for whatever reason, so, um…. [brightening a little, maybe this is the ticket] You know, it’s tough to play here, you know, um… [immediately backtracking] but Ben didn’t say that, but, you know, you gotta assume that’s probably part of it, and I can’t say he said that. Um, that’s just an assumption. So, [filled with despair] you know, that’s it.

He found his footing a little bit after that, pivoting into a little lecture on how normal an occurrence it is for players to make hot-headed proclamations about their futures in the immediate aftermath of season-ending defeats. That seems plausible—pissed-off and embarrassed players, still sweaty from the clincher of a humiliating first-round sweep, venting to their agents that they’d rather retire than put up with another season of this shit—if also a slight misdirection. As Rivers himself acknowledges, Philadelphia’s season did not end yesterday, or last week; it’s nearly freaking October now! If generations of NBA stars have been out here swearing solemn Autumn equinox blood-oaths never to don their present team’s colors again henceforth unto the extinguishing of the very stars themselves, I simply have to believe it would have made the news sooner than this.

Morey, for his part, followed this (at 10:10 in the video) with some straight junk, undermined by his total inability to maintain even a halfway straight face, about how Aaron Rodgers’s continued thriving on the Green Bay Packers gives him confidence that a once-fractured athlete-team relationship can indeed be healed. If all of this—including Embiid’s various recent Yes, we need Ben … to suck less than he does responses to questions about Simmons—strikes you as somewhat less than a fully sincere effort at reconciliation, Simmons himself reportedly shares your evaluation.

“It’s total bullshit,” one source with knowledge of Simmons’ outlook said of Morey’s analysis.

The Athletic

He’s right, of course. To whatever extent any of this is even intended to repair Simmons’s feelings toward the Philadelphia 76ers organization and his teammates, it’s much, much more about reinforcing the organization’s weakened leverage in the trade market, with the former purpose clearly subordinate to the latter. We’re willing to keep Ben Simmons is the subtext, particularly in Morey’s case, so don’t expect to get him cheaply. Rivers’s and Embiid’s job in this effort is to sustain the illusion that the Sixers may yet persuade Simmons to play for Philadelphia again, or at least that the Sixers believe they can, so that potential trade partners will see their bids as competing against the value of Ben Simmons as a player, rather than against the Sixers’ desperation to avoid being stuck with a guy who won’t play for them.

The low and sheepish energy of this campaign, at least in Morey and Embiid’s case, seems like a pretty strong indicator of how convinced they are (not at all) that it might work. They’re doing it as a formality. Rivers, with by far the least job security of the three, has the most to lose and the greatest danger of losing it. One way or another, he needs to take the court with a team that can keep him employed; he gets nothing out of either the Sixers trading Simmons at the point of the club’s weakest negotiating leverage, for players and draft assets that cannot help them improve on last season’s finish, or the organization saving some payroll money by docking Simmons’s pay during a protracted holdout. So he’s putting a little more effort into this sad theater.

What have we learned? Ben Simmons, who wants the Philadelphia 76ers to trade him, still wants the Philadelphia 76ers to trade him. The 76ers, who want to trade him, want you to think they do not want to trade him. As for the blame-game tone, its manner of remaining remains unknown at this time.

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