The divorce of Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers has become such a public spectacle, so much so that it could impact the entire NBA.
The NBA has been a star-driven league for quite some time. With a singular player possessing the ability to change the franchise’s direction, it is no surprise why. More than any other professional sports league, the NBA thrives on the drama connected to its players. While the NBA is entertainment at the end of the day, there is a real argument that the “soap opera” aspect of the league takes away from the sport itself.
Ben Simmons Saga
He is far from the first player to take this route, but Ben Simmons has been the story of the offseason across the NBA due to his strained relationship with the Sixers. The three-time all-star hit his breaking point in Philadelphia following a playoffs in which Simmons averaged a career-low 11.9 points and was criticized heavily for his lack of interest on the offensive end. With the 25-year-old set on never playing a game in a Sixers uniform again, he has elected to allow Rich Paul to pull the strings and ensure a trade occurs.
Simmons has no intentions of returning to the team despite having four years remaining on the $177 million max deal he recently signed. Going as far as cutting off all communications with the organization and refusing to meet with teammates, Simmons appears willing to sacrifice any amount of money or relationship to ensure this goal is accomplished.
Other Players That Held Out
While many people are rightfully upset with how Simmons is handling the situation, it, unfortunately, says much more about the system setup than it does about Simmons specifically. As the lucrative amount of money has poured into the NBA due to the impressive product that has been put on display, the power has swung back in favor of the players.
One example of this is Anthony Davis, who managed to strong-arm his way to the Lakers after growing unhappy with the New Orleans Pelicans organization. Despite having a year and a half left on his contract, Davis made it known that he would not agree to an extension with the Pelicans and made a public trade request, for which the NBA fined him. Following the remainder of the season, where Davis caught the NBA’s attention for sitting out when he was healthy, he was shipped off to the Lakers, where he was able to win the 2020 championship.
Just last season, James Harden was seen demanding to be traded from Houston with two years and an additional player option on his deal. Following his MVP season and amid the reports of the Rockets organization looking in the other direction on his off-court activities, Harden publicly stated that he had given it all he could in Houston and wished to move on to another team. Despite the organization’s attempts to hold on to him in search of a deal on their timeline, Harden was ultimately traded to the Brooklyn Nets just as he had hoped.
How is Simmons Different?
It is fair for Sixers fans to be frustrated with Simmons’ handling of the situation, but the fact of the matter is this an issue that lies much deeper than a guy who was once looked at as a cornerstone of the franchise. The NBA must give some serious consideration to the system that they have in place due to these reoccurring messy situations. It can be considered immature, and it is certainly frustrating from the Sixers’ perspective, but in the end, Ben Simmons is only doing what gives him the best chance to accomplish his goal of being traded.
If Simmons is able to force his way out of Philadelphia successfully, there may be league-wide repercussions. The Sixers have no interest in trading Simmons for reduced value and are attempting to do everything possible to mend the broken relationship. Despite the four years remaining on his contract and Simmons having no leverage in the situation, it seems there is little to no chance of him ever putting on another Sixers uniform.
The other part of the situation that is different about Simmons is that he is simply a notch below the talent level of the stars that this plan has been effective for in the past. Anthony Davis and James Harden are consensus top 15 players who every team could benefit from adding to their roster. Ben Simmons is very good at what he does, but he is a niche type of player who likely will never show the offensive development that was once hoped. The fit issues that have been talked about since he entered into the league are still relevant, and there are likely teams that believe he is not worth the paycheck for what he brings to a team.
The NBA will forever be reliant on its players in order to get their product on the floor. However, contracts seem to have become less and less meaningful, and rewarding players for acting out by trading them (just as they want) could create some long-term problems. There certainly are things about Ben Simmons’s time with the franchise that Sixers fans should be upset about. However, the ongoing holdout situation represents a standard set long before Ben Simmons, and the entire NBA should pay attention to how it is resolved.