Nobody who watched Ben Simmons play basketball this postseason should be surprised that he has decided to take the easy way out. Resilience is not something that can be developed in an offseason. Rest and relaxation cannot cure its absence.
The guy who passed up that wide-open dunk against the Atlanta Hawks in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals is the same guy who now wants to leave town and is threatening a holdout, according to the Inquirer’s Keith Pompey. Given a chance to answer his critics and regain the faith of his teammates and coaches, Simmons did what he always does. He passed. He made a business decision. Instead of embracing an opportunity for growth, he chose his comfort zone.
At least now we know. Those of us who’ve spent the last few years defending Simmons against his legions of critics can now spend the next few years licking yolk off our faces. That’s the irony in all of this. In playing hardball with the Sixers, Simmons is taking the path of least resistance. And, in doing so, he is proving once and for all that his critics are correct. He is justifying the heat-of-the-moment doubts that his coach expressed about his ability to be a championship-caliber point guard. He is confirming his team president’s decision to pursue a trade. Like Maya Angelou said, when someone shows you who they are, believe them.
Since arriving in Philadelphia, Simmons has shown us just enough of the all-world player that lurks within his skill set to ignore an ever-compiling mountain of evidence that suggested he would forever remain trapped in a failure to launch. Make no mistake, he is a very good basketball player. His arrival will dramatically improve the playoff hopes of any team that acquires him, and his departure could easily diminish those of the Sixers. Daryl Morey knows this, which is why he is holding out for the perfect return. Simmons and his agent, Rich Paul, know this, which is why they are trying to force his hand. But, in doing so, they are only reinforcing the perception that he does not have the mindset to grow.
Again, this is who he is. Actions are character’s atoms, and Simmons has consistently acted like a man who has no desire to face obstacles head on. After spending his youth dominating the next generation of Andrew Boguts and Matthew Dellavedovas and Mountain West sharpshooters, Simmons could have challenged himself to dominate at the highest levels of college basketball. Instead, he chose to take a gap year at LSU. After the NBA showed him that he needed to expand his abilities as a scorer, he could have hired an all-star cast of coaches that would push him to reinvent his game. Instead, he hired his brother. When his coach challenged him to attempt at least one three-pointer per game, he could have answered the bell. Instead? Well, here we are.
Some will tell you this is nothing more than a business decision, the same kind made by plenty of championship-level stars. Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden — nobody doubted they had the mindset to be great. But that’s exactly why Simmons’ trade request is so instructive. He is not Davis, or Leonard, or Harden. He has not come close to showing he can be the first or second scoring option on a championship team.
The problem isn’t that he wants to be traded. The Sixers are never going to be an ideal fit for his skill set as long as Joel Embiid is the centerpiece. To a certain extent, Simmons has not gotten his fair due for the sacrifices he has made to coexist with Embiid. You can’t fault him if he thinks the only way he can get to the next level as a player is with a more complementary surrounding cast. But you can absolutely blame him for handling things this way.
That said, you should not be surprised. From the jump, Simmons and those closest to him have made it clear he would be a Sixer only on his terms. Now that the organization cannot possibly rationalize catering to those terms, its only choice is to allow him to impose them elsewhere. Simmons’ trade demand is a function of the reality of the NBA. The stars have the power. It would be easy to sit here and say the Sixers should play hardball, but they would risk throwing away an entire season in the process. Like it or not, the Sixers are a much better team with Simmons on the court. And if he isn’t on the roster, they need to replace him. Morey’s best hope is to dangle Simmons, impose a deadline, and hope that someone covets his player as much as that player covets himself.
From a transactional perspective, this is probably a move that will achieve the ends Simmons wants. That he wants this end is what speaks volumes. A lack of resolve is not a mental glitch. It is a part of who someone is.