If Ben Simmons’s reputation was in the toilet after Philadelphia’s playoff exit last year, it made its way into the septic tank when he refused to turn up to preseason training, and now it’s somewhere in a sewage treatment facility.
The good news is those places have some enzymes that can work wonders. The bad news is they’re still full of poop.
So, now that Simmons has been moved to Brooklyn to link up with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Boomers great Patty Mills, what lies ahead for the Australian star?
Why was he so hard to trade?
Like one of Ye’s $120 plain white T-shirts, it’s simply too much money to spend on a product that isn’t necessarily worth it.
That’s not to say the thread count on those bad boys isn’t great. I’m sure they’re very comfortable, but at the end of the day, in a capitalist society, you have to expect a decent return on investment to fork out your hard-earned.
Simmons is just too expensive.
The 2021/22 season is the second of a five-year contract for Simmons that’s worth something in the ballpark of $245 million.
Now, Simmons is a good player — great in some areas — but his deficiencies — can’t shoot from any sort of distance, not very aggressive, not showing marked signs of improvement as he hits his mid-20s — are well known and eminently exploitable.
And a contract of that size is reserved for superstars of the game. MVP-level players who can carry a team to the last few games of the playoffs; think LeBron James, Steph Curry, Durant, Damian Lillard or, indeed, James Harden.
Basically, even the teams that might have wanted Simmons struggled to afford him, but most were turned off anyway.
Still, what better place than Brooklyn to find someone willing to pay overs for a T-shirt?
The Nets had Harden on the books on similarly massive money, and while the 2018 MVP has infinitely more credentials to back up that price tag, he had made it clear that he too wanted a sea change.
How did we get here?
This is a result of, among other things, Philadelphia trying to do the right thing by showing faith and investing in Simmons before they had to.
He missed his entire rookie season but before he had finished his sophomore year, the team handed him that massive five-year deal. While it’s not his fault that the team offered him that money and he did nothing wrong by accepting it, that should have told him: “You’re our guy. You and Joel Embiid are the future of this franchise.”
It’s the sort of encouraging move that NBA franchises are told to do more often.
And Simmons did some things during his time in Philly, including winning Rookie of the Year, making three All-Star teams, an all-NBA team, two all-defence teams, and leading the league in steals. Again, he’s a very good player.
But a few years later, that monster contract made him next to impossible to trade and was also how he could afford a $US300,000 fine every time he missed a game.
Why was Ben so mad at Philly?
Because of what can only be deemed light criticism from his team in the wake of a playoff capitulation last year.
Simmons averaged 10.7 points, 7.8 assists and six rebounds per game as the 76ers were eliminated by Atlanta in the second round of the 2021 post-season, but the nadir came in game seven, when he passed up an open dunk with his team down two late in the fourth quarter.
After the game, Embiid described that as “the turning point”, and when coach Doc Rivers was asked if Simmons could be the starting point guard on a championship team he said: “I don’t know … the answer to that right now”.
Simmons was reportedly unhappy with what he perceived as being thrown under the bus by his colleagues and requested a trade in the off-season, initially refusing to turn up for preseason training, and then giving next to no effort at the session or two that he did attend.
Since then, he has not suited up for the team, copping millions of dollars’ worth of fines along the way.
Where to now?
Simmons needs to look to the man to whom he has so often been compared for any hope of rebuilding his reputation.
LeBron James wasn’t always as beloved as he is now.
After “The Decision”, an ill-advised TV special he used to announce he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010, pretty much everyone hated him.
Even the most ardent Miami Heat fans would probably admit it was a dick move to tell your hometown team you were shipping out via national TV rather than giving them the courtesy of letting them know in person.
While in Miami, LeBron leaned in to his villain persona, right down to sharper facial hair and meaner facial expressions. He even had a disastrous playoff series — the 2011 finals — like Simmons.
But two Heat championships later, his return to Cleveland and all the charity work and NBA title it wrought completely rehabbed his image. The fans that once burned his jerseys and made it dangerous for him to play away games there were once again enamoured with him, and when he left again for LA he did so with their blessing.
For Simmons, the road back will be harder for a lot of reasons.
He did not do for Philly in his four seasons anything resembling what James did for Cleveland in his seven, which included perennial contention, two MVPs, a trip to the NBA finals, and bringing legitimacy to a franchise that had long been without it.
James also never packed it in for a full season the way Simmons has. The worst you could accuse him of doing was phoning in a few quarters very late in his tenure.
But mostly, Simmons just isn’t as good at basketball.
If the day after The Decision, James had spun around, apologised and said he wanted to be a Cav again, those fans would’ve happily risked second-degree burns pulling on their still smouldering number 23 jerseys to welcome him at the airport. Can you really say the same for Simmons?
While his passing and defence is otherworldly and he’s had moments where, if you squint, you can see him surrounded by four shooters and leading a team like a discount Magic Johnson, his results and lack of growth since being drafted first in 2016 has tired Philadelphians out.
Philly is the home of Rocky Balboa and the Always Sunny gang who, for all their faults, work bloody hard at their schemes. The city loves grit, grind and guts, so Simmons got them offside by carrying himself like an MVP when he’s only just proven he can be a VP.
Everyone knew he couldn’t shoot when he was drafted, but the assumption was, in a professional environment with world-class coaches around him, he would improve. He hasn’t.
Now in Brooklyn, he needs to get back to work and show some improvement.
Maybe Mills can help get his nose to the grindstone, maybe he’ll find a kindred spirit in the similarly enigmatic Irving, or perhaps former MVP and champion Durant can teach him to block out the haters.
At the very least, the on-court spacing should be better with so much three-point shooting and ball-handling around him and no need to play an enormous centre under the rim for most of the game.
But if he wants to attempt a James-style image rehabilitation, he needs to be willing to work as hard as the 37-year-old King, who was supposed to be handing over the throne to the Fresh Prince by now.
Simmons is nowhere near ready to take the crown, and it’s honestly fine if he never is, but getting back on court and playing good, hard basketball is the only cure for sitting on the sidelines.
If he does that, maybe in a few years people will forget this whole mess ever even happened, or at least he’ll have won enough that he no longer needs to care what they think.