It really seems like Ben Simmons isn’t going to play basketball during the 2021-2022 season. After a poor performance in the 2021 NBA Playoffs, Simmons requested a trade from the Philadelphia 76ers before the season. The Sixers haven’t found a team willing to meet their steep asking price. As the trade deadline approaches, it appears Simmons will not be traded. Philadelphia is reportedly targeting a superstar like James Harden, Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, or Jaylen Brown in any deal, and it appears the team will wait until the summer before revisiting a potential trade.
Let us explain how Simmons and the Sixers got caught in one of the strangest situations in NBA history.
Once upon a time, Simmons was considered a precocious talent. He left his native Australia for Florida prep powerhouse Montverde Academy in 2013 and established himself as the No. 1 recruit in the country. Simmons spent one up-and-down season at LSU before entering the 2016 NBA Draft, where the Philadelphia 76ers took him with the top pick.
Simmons missed his entire rookie season with a foot injury, but when he returned he was immediately a star, and he lifted the Sixers up with him. Philadelphia has made the playoffs in all four years Simmons has been on the court, and he’s been an All-Star three times.
What started out as a promising relationship has since deteriorated. The relationship between the 25-year-old forward and the team became damaged during the 2021 NBA Playoffs, and at this point it may be beyond repair.
Simmons’ trade request from the Sixers has been the biggest storyline in the league since the end of the 2021 playoffs. Simmons still isn’t on the floor. Here’s how we got here.
The Sixers offered Ben Simmons for James Harden days into last season
The Sixers hired Daryl Morey in the offseason, and he immediately made some solid trades, acquiring Seth Curry and Danny Green in place of Al Horford and Josh Richardson. Morey still had one big move he wanted to make: trading Simmons for James Harden.
The Sixers and Nets were the finalists in the Harden sweepstakes. The Sixers thought they had Harden, reportedly informing Simmons to watch out for a trade. Ultimately, Houston chose Brooklyn’s package of draft picks over Philadelphia’s offer. There were reports that the Sixers were unwilling to part with rookie guard Tyrese Maxey in the deal.
The Harden trade saga dragged over the first three weeks of the season. By the time it was over, the Sixers were already off to a promising start.
The Sixers and Simmons both had a great regular season
It’s hard to remember now, but the Sixers were a popular pick to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals at the start of the 2019-2020 season. Instead, the team’s experiment with Horford never worked, Philadelphia fell to the No. 6 seed in the playoffs, and they were swept in the first round of the bubble by the Boston Celtics.
While expectations were lower for the Sixers the next year, the team proved to be way better despite failing to acquiring Harden.
The Sixers finished the season at 49-23 with the No. 1 seed in the East. Joel Embiid was in contention for the MVP all season, and ultimately finished No. 2 behind Nikola Jokic. Ben Simmons turned in another All-Star season, finishing the year with averages of 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. He was in contention for the Defensive Player of the Year award all season.
Here are some of Simmons’ best defensive highlights.
Simmons ultimately finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting behind Rudy Gobert. He had established himself as one of the league’s best defenders and one of its better young players. As the Sixers entered the playoffs, there were no real signs of the upcoming tension.
Simmons’ playoff run started off well
It’s not like Simmons is always bad in the playoffs. He was pretty great in the Sixers’ first round series against the Wizards.
Simmons averaged 14.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 9.2 assists as Philly won the series in five games. Watch these Game 2 highlights — where Simmons finished with 22 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists — and you’d think he was a clutch playoff performer.
While Simmons played well in the series, he did struggle to make his free throws. He shot just 10-for-28 from the foul line during the series.
The Sixers advanced to face the Atlanta Hawks in the second round after the Hawks upset the Knicks. The Sixers would have home court advantage against Atlanta and a clear path to the Eastern Conference Finals against whoever survived the Bucks-Nets showdown on the other side of the bracket.
Ben Simmons melts down vs. the Hawks in the playoffs
The Sixers were a heavy favorite against the Hawks heading into the series, but Atlanta quickly proved they weren’t going to roll over with a 128-124 win in Game 1. Simmons was solid in the opener, finishing with 17 points and seven assists on 7-of-7 shooting from the field. There was only one problem: he shot only 3-of-10 from the foul line.
The Sixers would win Game 2 and Game 3 to take control of the series. The Hawks would win Game 4 and Game 5. Along the way, Simmons’ free throw shooting was becoming a major liability, and he was tentative to even attempt a field goal in the fourth quarter of games. Philly won Game 6 anyway to force a Game 7, and that’s when things got really bad for Simmons.
Late in the fourth quarter of Game 7, Simmons passed up a wide open dunk with a chance to tie the game.
The Sixers never recovered. The Hawks won Game 7, and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. After the game, 76ers head coach Doc Rivers and superstar teammate Joel Embiid both essentially threw Simmons under the bus.
Here are the quotes from Rivers and Embiid in the immediate wake of the loss.
"I don't know the answer to that right now."— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 21, 2021
-Doc Rivers after being asked if Ben Simmons could be a point guard on a championship team. pic.twitter.com/rw51V7rkRE
Embiid said he thought the turning point in the game was when Simmons passed up the open dunk.
Simmons only shot 32.7 percent from the foul line in the series.
He didn’t attempt a fourth quarter field goal in five of the seven games against the Hawks:
Ben Simmons 4th quarter this series:— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) June 21, 2021
Game 1: 2-2 FG
Game 2: 0-0 FG
Game 3: 1-1 FG
Game 4: 0-0 FG
Game 5: 0-0 FG
Game 6: 0-0 FG
Game 7: 0-0 FG
The 76ers open up trade talks ahead of the draft
Simmons’ agent Rich Paul met with the 76ers brass shortly after the end of the season. From ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on June 24:
Paul engaged the Sixers on whether it makes sense to work together to find a trade before the start of next season, but no request was made and the sides are expected to continue talking ahead of the July 29 NBA draft and August free agency, sources said. The 76ers are committed to keeping Simmons as a central piece of their franchise, sources said.
The Sixers opened trade talks on July 13, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic. If another team wanted Simmons, he wasn’t going to come cheap. Charania reported Philadelphia was seeking an All-Star player in return.
Philly’s offers were rejected around the league. The Raptors reportedly turned down an offer based around Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and the No. 4 overall pick. The Warriors reportedly rejected an offer from Philly for Andrew Wiggins, James Wiseman, the No. 7 and No. 14 overall picks, plus two additional future first rounders. The Spurs reportedly turned down a deal, too. League executives said Morey was making “totally outlandish offers.”
It was easy to speculate the Sixers were waiting for Bradley Beal or Damian Lillard to become available. Only one problem: neither player hit the trade during the offseason despite plenty of rumors.
Simmons officially requests a trade, and says he will not show up to training camp
In a meeting with the 76ers last week in Los Angeles, Simmons told team co-managing partner Josh Harris, president of basketball operations Daryl Morey, general manager Elton Brand and coach Doc Rivers that he no longer wants to remain a Sixer, according to multiple sources.
Sources said the three-time All-Star also does not intend to report to training camp.
76ers training camp opened without Ben Simmons
Simmons was a holdout as the Sixers started training camp despite having four seasons left on his contract. Rivers, Embiid, and Tobias Harris spoke of wanting Simmons to return, but it didn’t matter. Simmons’ side continued to leak reports through the media that he was done with Philly. One leak just before camp focused on his relationship with Embiid. The Athletic wrote: “As (Simmons) sees it, sources say, the organization’s choice to build its basketball ecosystem around Embiid’s style simply isn’t conducive to the way he needs to play.”
Embiid responded after a practice, saying the Sixers had always been built around Simmons’ needs. Here’s the full quote from Embiid:
Joel Embiid, who does note the Sixers are better with Ben Simmons around, says today that report suggesting they're not a fit together is "borderline disrespectful" to other guys on the team in a wide-ranging answer pic.twitter.com/UUeu5xtNAK— Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) September 30, 2021
76ers start to withhold money from Simmons
As the Sixers opened the preseason and Simmons continued his holdout, the team did not pay him the $8.2 million he was owed.
Reporting with @WindhorstESPN and @BobbyMarks42: Sources confirm the 76ers have not paid Ben Simmons the $8.2 million he was owed today. The money has been put in an escrow account, & any fines accrued by him for not showing up will be deducted from that amount moving forward.— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) October 1, 2021
ESPN’s Bobby Marks reported Simmons would lose $227,613 for each game missed, with the money coming out fo the $8.2 million the team was withholding.
Simmons shows up to camp without telling the Sixers
On Oct. 11, Simmons showed up to Philadelphia. The team had no idea he was going to report.
Sources: Sixers were unaware Simmons was flying into Philadelphia today. The organization was in constant contact with agent Rich Paul, but Simmons simply showed up at arena to take his Covid test prior to Sixers-Nets tip -- and that's when team officials knew he was in town. https://t.co/j3cGnC6mgG— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) October 12, 2021
Even though Simmons had arrived, he had not committed to being part of the team. ESPN reported Simmons had already lost nearly $1 million in fines to this point.
Simmons returned to the practice court ... with his phone in his pocket
Here’s the first footage of Simmons at Sixers camp this year. He was seen wearing sweatpants and going through drills with his phone in his pocket.
Ben Simmons practicing in sweatpants with his phone in his pocket. pic.twitter.com/MEdQLxudcK— Jeff Eisenband (@JeffEisenband) October 18, 2021
Simmons gets kicked out of practice, and suspended for one game
Simmons was kicked out of practice the next day, and later suspended one game by the team. Rivers reportedly asked Simmons to participate in a defensive drill, and Simmons refused:
Sources: Doc Rivers asked Ben Simmons to join a defensive drill today. Simmons refused. Rivers asked again. Simmons said no again.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) October 19, 2021
Rivers then told Simmons he should go home, and Simmons dropped the ball and left.
Simmons didn’t go through a planned individual workout, and reported back soreness
Simmons has yet to fully engage in a Sixers practice. He bypassed an individual workout on Thursday due to tightness in his back. Philadelphia’s medical staff has cleared Simmons, but his status remains up in the air. Simmons said he is not ready to return to the team mentally.
Sources: 76ers All-Star Ben Simmons is currently not mentally ready to play for the team and was receiving treatment on his back today due to ramp up process. He will miss Friday’s home opener vs. Nets and is not expected to play for an undetermined period of time.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) October 21, 2021
Morey tells fans to ‘buckle in’ over Simmons situation
Morey gave his first public comments on the Simmons saga during a radio interview on Thursday. It doesn’t seem like this situation is going to end any time soon. These quotes are via NBC Sports Philadelphia:
“This is a very good player, and to give ourselves the best chance to win the title, you need difference makers. You don’t need role players. Right now any sort of trade — which obviously Ben Simmons wants — the best thing we can do is get role players back. That makes no sense. That will gives us no better chance to win the title, if we were to move Ben Simmons for role players.
“So people should buckle in. This is going to go for a long time, because my only job is to help us have the best chance to win the title. Ben Simmons is a difference maker, so if we can get him back, he will help us win the title. If we can trade Ben Simmons for a difference maker, we will do it. I think that’s best for everyone in this situation.”
“You guys think I’m kidding,” he said. “I’m not. This could be four years. The conditions that I’m pointing out to you don’t change. Unless Ben Simmons is traded for a difference maker, we’re in the prime of (Joel Embiid’s) career. We have to get back either Ben Simmons playing well for us, who helps us win the championship, or we have to get back a difference maker for Ben Simmons — or this could be four years from now and we’re still like, hey, we took the best shot at it we could.
“So this could be four years. This is not a day-to-day thing. This is every day we’re going to expect Ben Simmons to be back here, or we’re trading him for a difference maker. There’s no other outcome that doesn’t materially hurt our chance to win the championship in Joel Embiid’s prime.”
Simmons tells Sixers he’s not ready mentally to start playing again
Sources: Ben Simmons spoke to Doc Rivers, Joel Embiid and entire 76ers team today and accepted everyone needs to take responsibility, including himself — but Simmons informed them all that he’s not mentally ready to play yet and needs time.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) October 22, 2021
Simmons and 76ers fight over mental health clearance
The Sixers have gotten off to a hot start without Simmons, who is telling the team his mental health isn’t in the proper condition for him to get back on the floor. According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, the team wants Simmons to begin ramping up for his return unless a team doc says he isn’t mentally fit to play.
“I truly believe the fines, the targeting, the negative publicity shined on the issue — that’s very unnecessary and has furthered the mental health issues for Ben,” Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul said. “Either you help Ben, or come out and say he’s lying. Which one is it?”
Simmons has reportedly been participating in individual workouts, team shoot-arounds, and team meetings. The Sixers want Simmons to start ramping up to play unless a medical professional tells them he’s unfit to do so. Simmons’ camp believes the Sixers are pressuring him to play while he’s going through a mental health issue.
Simmons’ camp says there is still no timetable for his return. Here’s more from The Athletic:
The 76ers stopped fining Simmons on Oct. 22, but after two weeks went by without further information from Simmons about his process and clarity on his return-to-play status, the franchise reinstated fines and withholding payments on Nov. 5. Only then, team officials say, did Simmons meet with the team-affiliated specialist, on Monday, Nov. 8.
Team officials insist they have shown good faith throughout the process, such as releasing to Simmons the $8.25 million they withheld in an escrow on Oct. 19 — hours before he was thrown out of practice for declining to participate in a defensive drill — providing him with specialists to treat his back injury and mental health assistance as needed. Sixers officials emphasized that, to date, the team has yet to receive any information from its team therapist or Simmons’ personal specialists that would preclude him from playing or practicing.
The 76ers are targeting James Harden or another superstar, will hold on to Simmons past the trade deadline
A new round of Simmons speculation has ignited as the trade deadline approaches, but Morey is still looking for a superstar in return for Simmons. According to a Charania, the Sixers are specifically targeting Nets superstar guard James Harden.
But multiple sources, including people with direct knowledge of the team’s thinking and also from rival teams involved on the Simmons front, tell The Athletic that the 76ers are believed to prefer to wait in order to pursue Harden or another superstar in the offseason and thus want to save Simmons for that potential sign-and-trade rather than take what’s available on the current market.
Harden turned down an extension from the Nets before this season, and will be a free agent in the summer. The Sixers are way over the salary cap, meaning a trade is likely the only route to get Harden in Philly.
Charania also reports that there are a few other superstars the Sixers have their eyes on:
We’ll update this story as it develops.