Ben Simmons appeared on the bench last night in the best of spirits. Seen laughing and enjoying himself. It marked the first time he sat so close to an NBA floor in nearly eight months.
At some point soon, Simmons will play basketball. He’ll do all of the things he’s known for doing. Finding open teammates, grabbing rebounds, defending any opponent’s best player. There’s been a lot of chatter about everything Simmons related. Brooklyn, excited for what to come. Philly, happy he’s no longer there.
Mental health continues to be a focus. There typically won’t be any helpful conversations centered on it because it’s not only a complicated issue, but fans will make it personal which disbars a nuance understanding. Simmons clearly has issues. You don’t pass up a wide-open dunk in a one-possession game if you don’t have something bigger on your mind. You don’t actively avoid trying to score in fourth quarters of playoff games. Following the dreaded Game 7 loss, Simmons spoke about how he needed to get mentally right. He maintained that sentiment during his opening press conference with the Nets Tuesday morning.
Soon after the season, as he weighed what just transpired, he came to conclusion he no longer wanted to be in Philadelphia. He had his reasons. For one, Philly tried trading him for James Harden in January, but many saw it as Simmons running away from his fears, from the fans, from his teammates. Especially, because he never addressed the general public. He chose not to hold a press conference or make a video expressing his desires once the season ended. He didn’t owe that to anyone, of course, but it would have helped him generate sympathy. He kept telling the 76ers he wouldn’t report to training camp. Eventually he did. Being passive aggressive, however, the only real issue he caused outside of refusing to play was getting kicked out of practice right before the season began. Things randomly appeared in the media sparingly. “He wanted his own team.” Or “He wasn’t able to make mistakes as a younger player because the 76ers were too good right away”. The most laughable one came a week or so before he was finally traded when Ramona Shelburne reported Simmons was upset Joel Embiid blamed him for the series loss to the Hawks when Simmons didn’t blame him for the series loss to the Raptors in 2019. Let’s quickly dissect that assertation.
I went to Game 4 in that series, with Philly coming off its best win since Game 1 of the 2001 Finals. It became a turning point for a number of things for the franchise, truthfully. NBA teams that go up 3-1 in a best of 7 series usually win. The 76ers lost that game. Embiid struggled offensively as he battled with an unfortunate sickness. After the game, my cousins and I got into an Uber. The driver spent the entire drive telling us how Philadelphia would never win as long as Simmons was on the team. The 76ers ended that series a plus-90 in Embiid minutes. Somehow, they lost by 112 points when he wasn’t on the floor. Embiid didn’t have this incredible series, but he (or maybe Jimmy Butler) was their most impactful player. Everyone knows what happened as Kawhi Leonard won Game 7. Butler and Redick left. Tobias Harris signed a maximum contract with Philadelphia. Al Horford joined, too.
There are scenarios where it would have worked. A healthy Markelle Fultz, maybe. The aforementioned Butler. Simmons reportedly clashed with the elder swingman. Philly, at the time rightfully so, chose Simmons. It’s true Simmons, not Embiid, made an All-NBA team during that disastrous 19-20 campaign. The team, however, didn’t fit at all. Spacing all wonky. No true threat off the dribble. It ended Brett Brown’s tenure as head coach. With a shorten offseason, Doc Rivers quickly got hired, but as far as trades and the draft it was unclear what the 76ers could do. Daryl Morey then left Houston. He found himself in Philly where he immediately made a difference, adding actual shooters in Seth Curry and Danny Green while drafting Tyrese Maxey.
Things were back on track. The Simmons-Embiid partnership seemed as good as ever as Philadelphia finished first in the conference. Then the playoffs happened.
As the Atlanta collapse took shape, it became apparent that Simmons would be gone. His value being tanked, however, put the 76ers front office in an impossible situation as far as trading him for anything that would help Embiid. In the end, Philadelphia received its wish. As did Simmons.
Nobody can understand what happened to Simmons outside of him. Some personal stuff trickled out last season. Things you can’t imagine having to comprehend. It’ll be miserable for him whenever he does play in Philadelphia for the rest of his career, beginning March 10. You hope for his own sake he finds that happiness. It’ll be weird cheering against him given the rivalry that exists. It’s one thing if he went to Sacramento or Indiana, destined to be irrelevant to Philadelphia for the rest of his career. But he’s in proximity, playing alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving for the foreseeable future. It’s impossible to avoid him. A playoff series seems inevitable.
There’s really no ill will to Simmons, at least from my perspective. He provided many highlights. Some truly incredible moments during his career. But I’d rather have Harden, and now all you can do is wish him well outside of those games against his former team.