It’s unfortunate that it came to this in Philadelphia.
Ben Simmons was the prize of 2016 NBA Draft class. His size, athleticism, and court vision showed potential for him to be a star in the NBA. There were questions, however, about his game following his one year at LSU — specifically about his aggressiveness on the offensive end and his ability to be a consistent scorer. That’s better than the questions that were surrounding the Philadelphia 76ers top draft pick in 2014, Joel Embiid. There were questions as to whether he would be able to play in the NBA after not taking the court in a single game his first two seasons due to injury.
Five and a half years later, Embiid is an MVP candidate and absolutely worth the price of not playing him for two seasons. Simmons, on the other hand, is at the 76ers’ practice facility in South Jersey while the team is playing a game at their home stadium in Philadelphia.
ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reported that while Simmons is back at the practice facility, he’s working out with his own trainers and still telling the 76ers that he is not mentally ready to play for the team. She is also reporting that one of the reasons that Simmons is so upset with the 76ers is Embiid’s comments following their Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks last season. Especially after he didn’t say anything about Embiid shooting 37 percent from the field in the 76ers’ seven-game semifinal loss to the Toronto Raptors in 2019.
During the postgame press conference following the loss to the Hawks, Embiid was asked about the turning point in the game. He stopped and started a couple times before finally admitting what everyone who watched the game knew.
“I thought the turning point was we had an open shot and we made one free throw.”
The infamous dunk that should’ve been. Never has there been a play with more replay value in which nothing happens than that one. The moment that anyone who watched the game should’ve known immediately that Simmons could never again play for the 76ers.
While he’s right that Embiid did not play his best basketball against the Raptors, that was two years before they were in the exact same position against the Hawks in 2021, Game 7 in the semifinals. They’re both young players who should be much better than they were in 2019, and by being in first place in the Eastern Conference last season it appeared that they were much improved.
Embiid was great in the series and in Game 7 against the Hawks, scoring 31 points on 50 percent from the field. On offense, Simmons tallied 13 assists, but as the 76ers’ second- best player, he only shot the ball four times and attempted two free throws. Two years prior against the Raptors, Simmons shot the ball five times, scored 13 points and went 4-6 from the foul line.
Yes, Embiid was 6-18 in that game, but he attempted 18 shots and nine free throws. He was also 2-4 in the second half, and went 2-2 from the free throw line with 12 seconds remaining to bring the 76ers within one point.
See, Simmons is talking about overall production, while Embiid is talking about making plays. That open dunk was with 3:30 remaining in the game and it would’ve given the 76ers the lead against the Hawks. Instead, reserve Matisse Thybulle attempts the free throws and Simmons goes a fourth consecutive game without a fourth quarter field-goal attempt. Simmons was far less aggressive in the entire 2021 semifinal than in 2019, and it could be argued that he wasn’t aggressive enough in that series.
This is just another example of why 76ers general manager Daryl Morey is being stubborn and delusional about trading Simmons. There is no way to get the caliber of player Morey is looking for in a trade when Simmons is convinced that he has been wronged and is willing to punt on a season with three still remaining on his contract. Either trade him now or enjoy watching him on security camera footage at the facility after hours, because that is all Morey and the 76ers are going to see of him.