Saturday, November 27 2021
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There are several obstacles and issues surrounding the Philadelphia 76ers‘ — and Ben Simmons‘ — efforts to end the stalemate and find a trade resolution.  

Yet the most difficult and important of those may be the one factor most likely to prolong a divorce long overdue: The massive egos involved in what has become a running NBA soap opera that shows signs of having veered from hoops dilemma to one dominated by the worries, insecurities and stubbornness of those involved. 

This much is clear: Ben Simmons has no future in Philadelphia. 

But as Simmons continues to miss time with his team, a path forward remains as much about the personalities involved as the would-be basketball assets and players that should actually shape a trade.

Start with Doc Rivers, the Sixers head coach and a presence many around the NBA view as more politician than behind-the-scenes magician. In this view, Rivers’ lack of authenticity and at times disconnectedness from his teams can create a coach players don’t always trust when things get dicey. 

Right or wrong as a read on Rivers — and it is a widespread, though far from universal, one in NBA circles — he has his own ego tied up in this mess. And there are few signs yet that he’s capable of reaching across that breach and bringing Simmons back into the fold. 

Even bringing Simmons back in the short term would help. It is much easier to trade a player who is playing well — or just playing — than one who is not. And Rivers did fire the first shot in this souring Philly-Simmons relationship. 

Go back to the Hawks winning Game 7 in Philadelphia in the second round of last season’s playoffs. Rivers was asked if Simmons could be a point guard for a championship team.

Yes, the talented-but-flawed young disgruntled star had just vanished during critical stretches of a playoff series. Yes, he’d actually passed up on an open dunk. And yes, a thousand times over, his lack of commitment to his craft and anxiety-level aversion to shooting was a glowing red flag.

But Philly had still just come within one game of the Eastern Conference finals despite Joel Embiid playing through an injury. And most coaches — most people, rooted in some kind of empathy and sense of tough situations beyond themselves — would know what to say there. 

Or at least not say. 

In this case, doing so was literally a part of Rivers’ job description as an NBA head coach.

Instead, he unfurled this gem: “I don’t know that question or the answer to that right now.”

But more egregious than that comment — the implicit, “Yes, Simmons is awful” — is the coach’s refusal to acknowledge his own error in judgment, months later and far from the emotion of the moment, and the natural reaction someone like Ben Simmons might have to it.

How can Simmons listen to Doc talk about taking responsibility for his mistakes and shortcomings if Doc himself can’t do it?

That quip was the perfect slight heard round the NBA, and one that incidentally placed the headlines — and thus blame — on Simmons. Rather than, you know, Doc’s historically awful postseason collapse record. 

“I was basically saying, ‘I’m not answering that crap,'” Rivers said on TV earlier this year, in a poor attempt to gaslight an entire league. “Those questions. What disappointed me, and I don’t do this media thing very often. It was being portrayed that I was out there saying, ‘I don’t think we can win with Ben.’ And I do.” 

No, he wasn’t. Yes, he does. And no, very much he does not. 

Which is a big part of the reason Simmons threw a Category 5 tantrum and brought us to where we are now.

Which brings us to the player himself. 

Learn to shoot. Or at least work on it. Come to work. Do your job. Have the toughness to see out the drama you’ve conjured from your own confusion about your standing in the league. Simmons is a what-he-could-be kind of star, not one who’s arrived. Yes, his defensive skills may be second to none. But his ego, and insecurities, loom equally large here — thus the stunning lack of development, commitment to improvement and brutally tone-deaf antics.

None of this is easy, nor particularly surprising. Ego drives all greatness, in sports and beyond, and the line between the greatness worthy of it and arrogance-as-a-liability is thin. In the NFL, take the Patriots. Whatever really went on behind the scenes in Foxborough, Tom Brady turned out to be worth whatever you had to go through. Bill Belichick didn’t. 

This is normally where an impartial power player — think a GM, if that wasn’t also Belichick’s purview with the Patriots — would step in. Cut through the BS. Set aside the ego. Do the analysis. And do what you got to do.

Which makes the third piece of this puzzle so utterly ironic.

Daryl Morey, at least by my estimation, is a world-class executive. And having neither drafted Simmons nor hired Doc — plus being well known as a data-crunching wiz who’s not exactly bogged down by the psychology of a decision — he should have been in a unique position to step in and do just that.

But an interesting theory posited by several NBA league sources contends that Morey’s ego is a would-be deal’s biggest hurdle.

This view goes something like this: The normally analytically minded Morey is instead so focused on the perception (and reality) that he badly lost the 2019 trade featuring Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook that he’s kept the price for Simmons unreasonably high for fear of getting bested again.

Refresher: In hindsight, with Westbrook’s rapidly shrinking value and Paul’s recent run to the Finals with the Phoenix Suns, even a dead swap would feel off. But Morey also threw in a 2021 first-round pick swap, a 2024 first-round pick, a 2025 first-round pick swap, and a 2026 first-round pick.

Yikes.

“He’s terrified of getting embarrassed again,” one league source told CBS Sports, echoing others’ views. 

Ego, and the worry of losing face. 

It’s everywhere in this Philly mess. 

Doc has to accept that his decision to throw Simmons under the bus after that elimination game turned a bad situation toxic. Simmons — well, we could fill up another 1,000 words writing about what he needs to accept and work on.

Doc isn’t going to change. And Simmons, at least as a Sixer, is so far past changing that we’re now left wondering when and if he’ll ever play for them again.

But Morey is the boss, and the one who needs to rise above the past mistakes, egos, and insecurities dragging this thing out.

Stop worrying you’re going to look bad a year or three from now. It’s time to move on. Get a deal done.

Source: CBSSports.com

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