Philly can be an angry place. Just ask Santa.
Sometimes that anger is misplaced, as Jayson Werth can attest. But, in this moment, every ounce of Philadelphia’s fury directed at Ben Simmons and Carson Wentz is justified.
Wentz forced a disastrous trade this spring to the Colts after logging one of the worst seasons in NFL history. Simmons, gun-shy in the playoffs, is trying to trump that unholy departure by strong-arming the Sixers, according to an Inquirer report Wednesday.
They should have returned to the Eagles and Sixers, rehabilitated their images, and enhanced their trade values. They could not, and cannot. They fear competition. They abhor accountability. They see themselves as victims. So, instead, they sabotaged their trade values, which crippled the Eagles, and which probably will cripple the Sixers. That, on its own, should infuriate fans, even if the pair’s dismissiveness didn’t.
Wentz and Simmons should have spent the summer of 2021 down on their knees, begging for your forgiveness, working on their flaws, willing to accept whatever role their bosses decided would best help the team. They should have apologized to their teammates for their shortcomings and for the distractions they caused. They should have pledged to, in the future, actually earn the millions of dollars that you lavish upon them -- paying to watch them on TV, online, or in person; parking your cars and buying beers at the stadiums; purchasing their jerseys and shoes online.
So yes, this pair warrants your wrath.
Their audacity is breathtaking. What have they done? What have they won? They are postseason nonentities who’ve pocketed a combined $90 million, with tens of millions more guaranteed. All that money, for nothing.
Still, Wentz and Simmons are convinced their demons and their failings originate not from them but rather, somehow, from us -- the fans and the press and the pundits. They demand unconditional loyalty, reject all criticisms, and refuse to take responsibility for their actions.
They suffer from a tragic and pathetic disillusion, which likely is incurable.
Granted, Simmons and Wentz are not alone in their desires to jump from their current ship, but their particular circumstances are unequaled.
Simmons and Wentz happen to dwell at the bottom of this barrel of swindlers -- that is, players who sign lucrative, long-term contracts with franchises with the full knowledge of what that franchise’s circumstances are and are likely to be.
Such was the case with NBA stars Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, Anthony Davis, and Paul George, twice. In the NFL, Matthew Stafford got it done, while Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and Deshaun Watson all have at least teased their intentions to force an exit.
The biggest difference between the bottom of this barrel and the top is, the apples on the bottom are rotten. Kawhi and Harden and Stafford and A-Rod, and the rest, one day will be in their sport’s Halls of Fame. In general, when they indicated their displeasure they’d logged a fine season, the latest chapter of a wonderful career, and they had (or have) relatively legitimate gripes. This does not excuse reneging on a contract, but still.
Neither Carson nor Ben can claim any of that, especially the part about not being prioritized by their teams. Wentz and Simmons not only had the support of their organizations, but those organizations accommodated virtually every whim, often at the cost of the team’s greater good.
The Sixers never acquired a viable point guard to protect Simmons’ fragile psyche. The Sixers jettisoned ball-dominant, alpha-dog All-Star Jimmy Butler because Simmons would have been threatened.
Wentz’s insecurities are why the Eagles never acquired a capable backup quarterback after they released Nick Foles in 2019, which actually cost them a playoff win after the 2019 season: They’d coaxed 40-year-old high school football coach Josh McCown out of retirement, and he, predictably, tore his hamstring almost immediately upon replacing Wentz.
Re-read that last paragraph whenever you question the Eagles’ sensitivity to Wentz’s tender feelings.
Further, in 2020, rather than signing a veteran backup such as Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, or Andy Dalton, or reacquiring Foles in a low-cost trade -- the Bears dealt a fourth-rounder to the Jaguars -- the Eagles drafted a gadget, project quarterback who wasn’t even active the first week of the season. That’s right: They drafted Jalen Hurts, and took him in the second round, in order to not offend Carson Wentz.
Which, in Wentz’s paranoic existence, is impossible.
A sad, sad situation
Despite their flaws, neither Wentz nor Simmons is a particularly bad person. On the whole, each is rather admirable, noble, upright, and driven -- at least, each is according to his own standards. But history has shown us that cowardice can tinge any man’s character.
Those closest didn’t help them.
Both were, and are, sheltered and coddled by well-meaning families. Sycophancy can be a crippling drug.
Both were and are enabled by organizations and owners who feared them from the start. Even now, the Sixers have tried to mend whatever fences Simmons considers broken. The Colts and coach Frank Reich will come to regret the fealty they have shown Wentz before he’s even played a game for them. Neither Wentz nor Simmons has known a minute of tough love since being drafted in 2016.
Both were insubordinate coach killers. Wentz audibled out of Doug Pederson’s plays at the line of scrimmage, even if those plays were likely to work, sometimes just to irk Pederson, sources said. Pederson got fired. In December 2019, then-Sixers coach Brett Brown, who transformed Simmons from NCAA power forward to NBA point guard, told Simmons to shoot one three-pointer per game. Simmons finished the season with seven attempts. Brown got fired.
You worry that this immersively narcissistic behavior is a generational trait. That when any uncomfortable situation arises, if they can, young men like Simmons and Wentz will flee the scene, retreat into their insular social media bubbles, and lie to themselves about what really happened.
Don’t like the way you’re treated when you stink? Run home, cry to mama, stomp your foot, and demand a trade.
We understand. Wentz is 28; Simmons, 25. They are young men, unwise and callow, with huge responsibilities, massive egos, and sizable chips on their shoulders.
It can be hard for the most secure of us to face our fears -- but, really, you shouldn’t fear a lowly regarded, second-round draft pick with a 77.6 passer rating.
Or a jump shot. Or a free throw.
It’s might be hard to come back from the knee-jerk criticism that cascaded from fans, analysts, and a media contingent that howled heresy when Simmons refused to dunk late in Game 7 of the playoff loss to the Hawks.
But once you start, it’s a lot harder to keep running away.