Ben Simmons is still very much the player he was coming out of LSU. An elite lockdown defender with incredible size and athleticism. A pass-first point guard who can't shoot a lick but is more than capable of being one of the 15-20 most impactful players in the league — at least in the regular season. His inability and unwillingness to develop a jumper is confounding yet not entirely unpredictable.
Simmons' unfortunate physical and mental shortcomings were on full display as the Philadelphia 76ers once again failed to make it out of the second round of the NBA Playoffs, bowing out to an Atlanta Hawks team that won 20 games last season. The low point of the series — and possibly Simmons' career — came when he inexplicably passed up a fourth-quarter dunk.
Joel Embiid, who became the first player in postseason history to commit eight or more turnovers in back-to-back playoff games, helpfully identified the moment as the turning point at which things began to break bad for the hometown team. Doc Rivers, who has now lost more playoff series his teams have led than anyone in league history, did not offer a ringing vote of confidence for his 24-year-old lefty either.
Simmons is often held high as evidence The Process is a failed experiment, which is a misguided notion as he predates the movement. But figuring out just what in the hell to do with him will be the next step in the experiment as it desperately looks to show some results after all these years. Being thrown under the bus by Philly's best player and head coach doesn't exactly inspire confidence for the future. And, to be perfectly clear, the criticism is more than warranted.
It is simply unacceptable for the No. 1 overall pick and primary ball-handler to go full Chuck Knoblauch wilting under the bright lights. But allow me to suggest that Rivers, Embiid, Tobias Harris and several others associated with the franchise are more than happy that all the scrutiny be localized on Simmons. If he's the singular problem, then it can be addressed.
Yet he's not the sole problem facing the Sixers — regardless of the narrative. And it's not like moving on from Simmons will be an easy road. There are surely teams who look at his talent and youth and decide that they alone can fix him. Thats the good news for a Philadelphia front office being forced to audible.
The bad news is his trade value has plummeted far from the apex and won't be helped by his own teammates and coaches throwing gasoline on the fire. For all his faults, it's impossible to imagine a scenario in which the Sixers get better after moving him. Not ideal for a team with a championship window already closing.
Then there's the Klutch element gumming up the works. Throwing Simmons to the Wolves or Pistons or Knicks won't engender any good will with the agency, making it even harder to attract top-tier free agent talent.
It's worth wondering if Simmons will ever improve as a shooter. Or be a reliable scoring option in the playoffs. And if greener pastures will do anything for his game. Yet it's also worth considering if the heat-of-the-moment stuff from Embiid and Rivers is premature bridge-burning that will effectively end any Philadelphia hope. Because the best option forward for all involved by be learning to live with the situation, warts and all.
Tough to imagine the postgame selling out did anything to improve the problem at hand.