The Philadelphia 76ers are now engaged in a good, old-fashioned standoff with Ben Simmons. The organization failed to find a trade they considered adequate for Simmons' services over the summer. Simmons decided he'd rather take all of it public than show up to work pretending like nothing happened. That leaves Daryl Morey in quite a bind; he was already asking for an exorbitant return for Simmons before everything came into the light, and now he has no leverage with a trade demand in the open.
This means the two sides will now engage in a PR battle. The Sixers have nothing to lose by calling Simmons' bluff. If he stays true to his word and refuses to show up, nothing they say publicly will change their position in trade talks. But if they apply enough pressure through leaks and media appearances, there is a chance (however slim) that Simmons concedes and shows up to play, which can only improve the likelihood the team can trade him for useful assets.
Simmons also has nothing to lose, though. He wants out and made it abundantly clear he doesn't feel like he owes it to the team to help facilitate the move. By not showing up to work, he avoids the chance of injury and puts the pressure on Philly to get rid of a lame-duck roster spot. In a vacuum, it would probably be in his best interests to play, since the Sixers would receive more offers with proof of life on the court. But now it is a matter of pride, too, and Simmons will almost certainly not go back on his word as long as he's fine with forking over a good chunk of his salary as penalty for his ongoing absence.
While each side waits for the other to blink first, they'll attempt to garner sympathy in the public eye. It's how these things always go. But in this situation, there will be no winners in that battle.
Things began in earnest yesterday during Philadelphia's opening-season media day. Joel Embiid talked about how disappointed he was that Simmons wasn't there and reflected on the success the pair has had despite the shaky on-court fit of their skillsets. Doc Rivers walked back his damaging comments from the playoffs (again) and made it clear he simply does not know why Simmons wants out so badly. Morey acknowledged it was happening and not-so-subtly pointed out the financial ramifications of Simmons' decision, in the process pointing out the weapons the Sixers have at their disposal if the All-NBA defender continues down this road.
Simmons responded this morning. Well, the man himself probably did not, but someone in his camp did. It's hard to read the latest report from The Athletic as anything else. Sam Amick reported on how Simmons' team responded to the Sixers' media day quotes and noted that the forward feels his partnership with Embiid has "run its course." More via The Athletic:
Specifically, Morey’s claim that “there’s a lot of hope” for a reconciliation here — paired with the inference that Simmons is the NBA’s version of the NFL’s Aaron Rodgers — was seen as laughable and out of touch.
“It’s total bullshit,” one source with knowledge of Simmons’ outlook said of Morey’s analysis.
People who have intimate knowledge of how he sees this situation continue to insist that he’s done playing with Embiid. 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.
As he 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.
Either way, the claim from the Simmons side is that there is no coming back from this. Even if he returned to avoid the stiff penalties, sources close to Simmons say the notion that he would up his trade value by re-engaging mentally and playing well enough to convince suitors that he might be willing to stay is, well, just that. Delusional.
The Sixers will continue to do and say the "right" things about Simmons in order to preserve his trade value and leverage in negotiations, while probably fining him up the wazoo. Simmons and his Rich Paul-centric camp will continue to leak various basketball-related reasons as to why he wants a trade so that he is perceived as a hard-working player who is simply in the wrong spot, mostly due to the fault of management. Round and round we go.
It just won't change anything. Philadelphia fans have turned on Simmons as loyalty means everything to that fanbase so that bridge is burnt and everybody knew it a while ago. Potential suitors in a Simmons trade are more than happy to let these two sides wear each other out while waiting for the opportune moment to strike regardless of who is "in the right." Yet the two sides will continue to go at it via leaks and reports in an effort to gain the slimmest of edges to get what they want.
There were never going to be any winners here. That hasn't changed. Nevertheless, we all must buckle up for the river of anonymously sourced quotes coming our way until something gives.