Within an hour after the Sixers dreadful Game 5 collapse at home against the Hawks, I had talked myself into the Sixers winning the series. This is Philadelphia sports, there is no “easy” route. The path to the NBA Finals would be the one that created heart palpitations even Jacked 3D pre-workout couldn’t muster. I carried that confidence all the way until three and half minutes left in Game 7 back in Philly. Ben Simmons caught the ball in the post. He spun around the slow-footed Danillo Gallinari into the paint and had a clear path to the rim. You know what happens next.
Gets even more unbelievable the more you think about it:
1) This is a dunk(!!) to tie the game
2) He passed it to the back-up defensive specialist
3) At worst, Trae hacks him and it’s his 5th foul with 3.5 minutes left
A microcosm of the Ben Simmons era, which is likely over pic.twitter.com/75n63BMT9j
— A (@aidan_34_powers) June 21, 2021
In that moment, the air deflated from me like a balloon. It was clear the moment that could have defined (or saved) Ben Simmons had came and went. It was over, and the common denominator for the Sixers inability to rise above the Eastern Conference Semifinal ceiling, was clear. It’s Simmons.
I am a firm believer that Ben Simmons never needs to take a three pointer in his entire career. He will never be a good enough shooter to deem it an efficient shot because he is shooting with the wrong hand. But what he did need to be was an ultra-aggressive guard who used his lethal combination of size and speed to attack the rim. Get into the lane, finish throw contact, make your free throws. His reluctance to get to the rim for himself and his physical limitations as a free throw shooter have hindered him from becoming any semblance of an offensive threat. It is hard to envision it ever happening at this point. We have officially reached “the definition of insanity is…” territory.
Ben Simmons is a mentally broken basketball player. He is limited in the most basic concept in the game, shooting, because he performs the action with the wrong hand. And it’s not that the much-maligned guard cannot create his own shot, it’s that he has exhibited an exhausting yet constant refusal to do so. BUT he is still the best defender in the NBA. Even if you still believe VORP matters after Rudy Gobert was exposed and think the three-time DPOY is the best defender, you can at least agree Simmons is the most versatile. As a 6’10 point guard, he can rebound and create fast breaks like an art form. Ask shooters like Seth Curry and JJ Redick, I am sure they will tell you how much they love playing with him.
So what to do with a player who is so uniquely talented yet physically limited to the point he comes an offensive liability in your teams biggest moments?
The instant reaction right now in Philadelphia is to trade him. Let him move on and let us move on. Because it is hard to ever see him return to Wells Fargo Center as a member of this team after that mental collapse against the Atlanta Hawks. But, his value has never been lower and it’s hard to foresee a deal with him that would actually make the team better. Trading Simmons for any player of somewhat equal value would likely require attaching Tyrese Maxey or Matisse Thybulle. And, trading Simmons would almost certainly cause this team to regress defensively. It would not get them any closer to a championship barring some miracle swindle of Portland that netted Damian Lillard.
What’s more likely is that they are forced to keep him because the market demand doesn’t match his true value. If he does stay here, it has to be tough love. Rich Paul is not a mafia kingpin. He doesn’t get to make the call on shooting coaches, the Sixers do. And if the Sixers do choose a shooting instructor, make him shoot with the correct hand. Not the hand his dad thinks would make him ambidextrous.
If he does stay, running the roster back as it is constructed would be asinine. It would be hard to sell anyone on that certain plateau, including your true star, Joel Embiid. It would make more sense to trade Tobias Harris than Ben. As much as the radio callers want Ben gone (and maybe rightfully so) he still at least has some value. He’s the most versatile defender in the NBA. He can be the third fiddle on a elite team, much like the role Draymond Green has carved out for himself. But Tobias clearly cannot be good enough to be the 2nd best option on offense of a champion team. Looking at the small sample of the teams remaining, Paul George is the Clippers second best option (when Kawhi is healthy). Kris Middleton is second fiddle on the Bucks. We are still unsure if those players are capable of being 1B’s to their 1A’s and Tobias will never even be George or Middleton. The Sixers are in dire need of a dynamic wing who can create his own shot in late game situations. It is hard to foresee Tobias Harris being that guy on a championship caliber team. And as long as you have his contract, you will never be able to make room for a dynamic guard who can actually get the job done.
Ben Simmons is not as bad as he is being perceived on the internet right now. But this has been an abrupt wake up call for everyone, including Ben himself. He will never be the second best player on a championship roster like we once thought. Who knows if he has a future here. Who knows if he will be forced into having a future here, even reluctantly, because a fair trade doesn’t present itself. And if he does stay, someone else or multiple people will have to go. They’ll be forced out in order to compensate for Ben’s offensive weaknesses, both physical and mental. The championship window for the Sixers hasn’t closed, it likely won’t as long as Joel Embiid is here. Whether Ben Simmons can still positively contribute to this championship window, is a question the Sixers front office will spend all off-season trying to answer.