There are distractions and there is chaos.
It will be fascinating to see where on the continuum the ‘Ben Simmons situation’ falls for the Philadelphia 76ehors.
That reports came out Tuesday that the gifted 6-foot-10 guard/forward/centre will be following through on earlier pledges to skip training camp and to never play for the Sixers again shines the spotlight even more brightly on the NBA’s last remaining off-season drama wasn’t a surprise.
Simmons’ agent, Rich Paul, CEO of Klutch Sports, has a proven track record as a hardliner going back to 2014 when he had one of first clients, Eric Bledsoe, hold out on the Phoenix Suns as a restricted free agent and emerge with a five-year deal for $70 million when the Suns were only offering $48 million for four. He’s gone to the wall the Cleveland Cavaliers on behalf of Tristan Thompson and won and more recently was able to get Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers — the team of his choosing — by playing hardball in public.
Of course in this instance, Paul has a considerable adversary in Sixers president Darryl Morey, who is no stranger to chaos himself as his willingness to push the limits of team building in Houston – where he routinely led the league in transactions – has followed him to the Sixers.
Will Simmons’ reported ‘I’m not coming back to Philly’ stance nudge Morey into action?
Don’t count on it. As one league source put it to me back in August: “Daryl’s being Daryl” which roughly translates to outlandish asks in any proposed deals.
Anything more serious now? Not even close, the same source texted, complete with a ‘LOL.’
And this is where the game of chicken gets fascinating.
As long as Joel Embiid is healthy, the urgency to get a Simmons deal done isn’t really there in the early stages of the season. Given the club had the Eastern Conference’s best record last season, they believe they can remain relevant in the East even if Simmons doesn’t play a game – at least until the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Simmons' contract is structured so that he gets paid 25 per cent of his annual salary ($30.6 million for 2021-22) on July 1st and is scheduled to get another 25 per cent on October 1st with the rest coming in 12 installments over the course of the season.
So, on one hand Simmons should be able to get by for now on the $8 million he received to start the summer but pledging to never return to Philadelphia won’t come without a cost for Simmons who has four more years remaining on his contract.
How messy all of this could get will be told when training camps officially open next week. If Simmons isn’t there he can be fined for practices and events he doesn’t attend before ultimately being suspended under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks Simmons could be docked a day’s pay for each game or practice he misses once exhibition play starts which could cost the Philly guard $227,000 a day. But Simmons is scheduled to get another $8 million on by October 1st – it’s unlikely the Sixers would be able to hold that payment back – so financially, he wouldn’t feel the pinch of any holdout for some time.
Similarly, the rest of the league can sit back and wait.
Morey may be comfortable being uncomfortable, but at some point the pressure would shift back to the Sixers. In Embiid, Philadelphia has an MVP candidate in his absolute prime, but also one with a lengthy injury history who has required the kid glove treatment for most of his career, missing an average of 31 games a season, not included sitting out his first and second seasons entirely to recover from foot and back issues.
Any healthy Embiid season can’t be wasted, and if the Sixers haven’t been good enough to advance past the second round with Simmons who — for all his issues he presents as a poor shooter who won’t shoot in the playoffs is still one of the league’s best defenders, playmakers, and open court threats — then it stands to reason they won’t go any farther without landing some elite talent to replace him.
Which is where things will get really interesting. With the Sixers/Simmons divorce apparently final other than the paperwork, why will other teams rush in with their best offers?
Morey and the Sixers can dream on Bradley Beal shaking loose from Washington or Dame Lillard forcing his way out of Portland, but there’s been no indication that’s going to happen, at least on Morey’s timetable.
And with the Sixers' leverage diminishing with Simmons holding out and – presumably – being suspended, why would either of those clubs rush to do Philly a favour and solve their problems for them?
So as the pressure mounts will Morey bend and accept some of the ‘tier two’ offers that have been bandied about? They may not line up with the originally reported ask of an all-star and multiple first round picks, but they may be the best Philadelphia can hope for.
Would a package centred on the Blazers CJ McCollum begin to look better? Or Sacramento’s Buddy Heild? How hard would the Minnesota Timberwolves push to bring in some defence and star power alongside Karl Anthony-Towns?
Or would Morey circle back to see how adamant the Raptors are about hanging on to Pascal Siakam?
Or will someone else in the league look at their roster, reflect on when a 6-foot-10 slasher, passer and defensive player of the year candidate who is still just 25 years old and under contract for four seasons next become available and conjure up an offer no one sees coming?
In the meantime, the rest of the league will wait to see if the smouldering embers in Philly end up being a distraction or burst into full-blown chaos.