Misplaced Anger the Source of Sixers-Simmons Disconnect


It finally happened.

The Ben Simmons trade happened!

Philadelphia got James Harden! Not CJ McCollum. Not Jerami Grant. Not D’Angelo Russell. Not De’Aaron Fox

Months of tweets and empty SportsCenter segments on trade rumors, reports out of Ben Simmons’s camp, quotes from Joel Embiid, and public outcry lamenting the waste of an MVP season from Embiid. The Sixers got James Harden!

I am…speechless.

I am without words.

Actually, I do have a few words about this.

Brooklyn is Still A Finals Contender

Brooklyn will get a version of Simmons that Philly was never going to access. In addition, the acquisitions of Seth Curry and Andre Drummond give Brooklyn two more starters. They essentially got three starters for one. Curry takes over Joe Harris’s spot as the floor spacer. Drummond gives them the true big they’ve lacked since [checks notes] Jarrett Allen, who they traded to get Harden.

You really only need two offensive superstars to win a title and they have that in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, but the fun part is how they can use Simmons. Kyrie has shown a willingness and ability to play off-ball as has Durant who learned to do so in Golden State. Simmons can be a primary ball-handler, but he doesn’t have to be. Just the fact that he’ll be happier means that he’ll probably be more willing to do any number of things that Philly was unable to get him to do either out of stubbornness or poor roster construction.

Speaking of Ben.

Thoughts on Ben Simmons

Good for Ben. Don’t laugh Sixers fans, I really mean it! Ben was clearly unhappy in a deep way in Philadelphia. I’ve argued before that this wasn’t entirely on him.

Simmons, Sixers Reach Staggering Impasse

He’s been a good company man for pretty much the entirety of his career. He could’ve bristled when the team acquired Jimmy Butler.

He didn’t.

He could’ve complained when the Josh Richardson/Al Horford acquisition proved to be an almost immediate failure.

He kept his mouth shut.

He could’ve demanded a trade when he found out he was being dangled to the Rockets the first time the Sixers tried to acquire him.

He kept quiet and balled.

I understand the sentiment that Ben didn’t improve leaps and bounds offensively like the team needed him to. That is often the case with a lot of NBA players. They reach a certain point in their career and they just are who they are.

But with Ben in Philadelphia, he never got that latitude. Not when he would flash his full repertoire of skills on occasion when Embiid was out and the car keys were given to Ben. 

Misplaced Anger?

Philly was angry because they believed it was in him. They wanted him to try, even if trying meant falling on his face.

On that, for reasons we’ll have to wait on to fully know, he didn’t budge. But I’m happy for Ben today. I hope he doesn’t get booed on March 10th when Brooklyn visits Philadelphia (at least not booed anymore than any other opposing player).

Ben wasn’t responsible for the questionable roster moves Philadelphia made throughout the process. He didn’t air out any dirty laundry to the media. It wasn’t his fault Kawhi hit that miracle shot. He wasn’t dogging it all of last year as a first-team all defensive player and runner-up to the defensive player of the year.

Perhaps the constant finger pointing by us and the media got us to this point. Maybe Ben finally had enough. Philly is a city that will embrace its stars when they see their effort. Perhaps Ben needed a little more love first before he could open up. If so, maybe things were doomed from the start. Or perhaps this is who Ben has been all along behind the scenes. The truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.

I’ll be happy for Ben in Brooklyn. They have the type of roster flexibility that can make them play like a modern-day seven-seconds-or-less Suns (good thing they have the coaching staff to pull that off). I’ll be happy seeing Ben playing in more lineups without a traditional big, where he and Durant can be flanked by shooters and run roughshod over the league.

I’ll be rooting for Ben because the league is best when we see the best version of its most talented unique players. And for whatever you think about Ben, he is uniquely talented. And Ben utilizing all of his skills will be fun to watch.

Call me a sucker but I like watching fun basketball.

A 10-15 minute gap

A lot of Sixers fans are lamenting the loss of Drummond. He was a steady backup, traditional big man (you know Doc loves those) who swallowed rebounds and played reliable defense. Although Philly got Paul Millsap in the deal, if he proved to be unplayable in that barren wasteland that was the Nets’ center rotation, we can only pray Doc doesn’t force-feed us 15 minutes of Millsap a night.

Where does that leave the team? Homegrown, young talent (Doc’s kryptonite). He’ll be forced to give Charles Bassey and Paul Reed chances as Embiid’s backup. Two former second-round picks who have not seen a lot of time on the main roster will get a fighting chance to be part of the rotation. Neither is a fully formed product. Bassey being a rookie, and Reed spending most of his short career absolutely killing it in Delaware. 

Opportunity is Everything

Both offer a departure from the traditional big man that have usually been the backup to Embiid to potentially, maybe — fingers crossed, — play a slightly different style of basketball and not just be a placeholder when Embiid sits.

At this point, if one of them can consistently protect the rim, demonstrate some pick-and-roll IQ, and have soft enough hands to get the occasional putback, we’ll be thrilled to get it in a player who will be on their rookie contract as opposed to finding another one on the open market this offseason.

Missing Seth

You know my love for Seth. And more people are noticing. He is the spiritual and literal successor to J.J. Redick, a sharpshooter with immaculate chemistry with Embiid that seemed so vital. The process has seemed darkest without that type of player in the lineup.

I get the counterargument– he’s a defensive liability. Yet, I didn’t hear much of an argument for defense when everyone wanted to rail on Simmons. Tyrese Maxey’s burgeoning jumpshot made it a bit easier to let go of Curry. Ideally Isaiah Joe, who came into the league with outside shooting as his main attribute, could step up.

Unfortunately, he hasn’t quite popped yet, and Shake Milton has been in and out of the lineup. One of those two can hopefully be the next person in line, but we can cross our fingers and toes that Doc allows them enough opportunities to realize their potential. Their ceilings may be higher than Furkan Korkmaz and Danny Green at this point.

Moving Forward

Where do things stand? Both sides are correct– Harden is a malcontent who is on the decline and has shed the ultra durable label he had earlier in his career. Harden also gives the Sixers the best chance to win the title THIS year.

There’s a logjam at the top now with Brooklyn (pending Kyrie’s availability and Durant coming back healthy), Milwaukee (reigning champs who upgraded their frontcourt with the Serge Ibaka acquisition), Miami (quietly near the top of the East and is getting their team fully healthy) and Philadelphia. The Sixers’s closing five is very formidable with: Harden-Maxey-Thybulle-Harris-Embiid. Their depth is less so outside of Georges Niang— a similar depth problem when they acquired Butler. But if you’re Philly, you have to do this deal.

Admittedly, I haven’t watched much of Harden these past few years. Living in San Antonio during his Houston days, I was obligated to hate all things Houston Rockets. Being originally from New Jersey, I grew up being apathetic about anything concerning the Nets, so today I am conflicted.

I would like to imagine a world where the Sixers championship comes the way of Milwaukee or Toronto’s recent championships – depth around one super-duperstar. I’m more of a basketball purist at heart. I don’t like collecting cheap shooting fouls, I like my team to have depth, and I don’t like superstar stacking a team, but here we are. 

This has to work. Embiid needs this. Harden needs this. Doc needs this. Daryl Morey needs this. Philly fans needs this most of all. The city was hopeless after the Andrew Bynum deal. Patient through the Process. Despondent after the Kawhi shot. Furious after the Simmons pass.

Among many things, Philadelphia is resilient. But I fear the worst for all involved if for whatever reason this doesn’t work out.

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About Matthieu Hertilus

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