- Philadelphia 76ers point guard Ben Simmons will make roughly $145 million over the next four seasons and will be the topic of trade rumors this NBA offseason.
- The NBA All-Star has fallen out of favor with the team's fanbase after his postseason performance against the Atlanta Hawks.
The Philadelphia 76ers are "bullish" on All-Star point guard Ben Simmons after struggling in their recent National Basketball Association playoff series, which damaged his value around the league.
Simmons, 24, is in the middle of a sports public relations nightmare following his performance against the Atlanta Hawks. The co-franchise star averaged 9.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, 8.6 assists and shot an abysmal 15-of-45 from the free-throw line. Simmons was passive on the offensive end. He appeared to want no part in shooting the ball from a distance, and at critical moments in Game 7, seemed to avoid the foul-line by passing the ball.
Following the loss, Sixers head coach Doc Rivers was asked if Simmons could play his current position for a championship-caliber team in today's National Basketball Association. Rivers had no answer.
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And a peek on social media, the team's fanbase doesn't seem to trust this part of the process.
After Simmons' struggles on national TV in the playoffs, where clutch performances are highly valued, what's his NBA market value? And can Daryl Morey, the Sixers' president of basketball operations, pull off the NBA trade heist –earning the advantage in a Simmons package?
What's wrong with Simmons?
Morey spoke to the media Tuesday after the Sixers' collapse against the Hawks Sunday. The team fell in a Game 7 at home and blew double-digit leads in two of the last four contests in the series.
One former NBA coach pointed to Rivers' failure to adjust and suggested Hawks coach Nate McMillan out-mastered him. And Rivers' history of coaching teams that blew series leads didn't favor him in that discussion. Still, Simmons felt the majority of the fanbase's wrath, even among NBA greats like Shaquille O'Neal.
The chatter in basketball circles suggests Simmons doesn't work on his game enough. Scouts go back to his days at LSU and mention Simmons hasn't improved since his NBA debut in 2017. They also point out his reluctance to shoot. Some believe Simmons' shot mechanics are broken.
A former player turned NBA broadcaster disagreed, though.
Discussing the matter on the condition of remaining anonymous to speak freely, the ex-player pointed out that Simmons showcases his shooting on gamedays before the majority of fans arrive at arenas. In these moments, Simmons shoots with ease and makes his 3-point attempts. The broadcaster suggested it's a mental block.
But does Simmons have any incentive to improve?
Simmons is in the first of a five-year contract valued at $177 million that will pay him $33 million next season. Rival executives suggest the Sixers paid that price too early and before Simmons truly improved his game. One long-time team executive added Simmons' character and attitude will be tested this summer.
But in situations like this, and considering the sports market, Simmons' return to Philadelphia could do more harm than good. Corporate partners may elect not to activate team sponsorships with Simmons' image since Sixers consumers aren't favoring him. And should Simmons return without notable improvements to his jumper – and confidence – the wrath could get worse.
"He may not be the right image right now for you," said sports marketing executive Tony Ponturo. He added if a team or player's "performance is bad, you don't want their bad performance rubbing off on your product's perception of performance." Ponturo also noted team partners may avoid products that feature Simmons, fearing he could be traded and they'd be stuck with "wasted material."
Morey didn't commit and declined to address Simmons' future when asked if Simmons will be on the roster for the start of the 2021-22 season. "We have a very strong group we believe in," he said. "None of us can predict the future of what's going to happen in any place."
Morey later added, "we're going to do what's best for the 76ers to give us the best chance to win the championship with every single player on the roster."
Getting on the same page
On Monday, Rivers said the team is "bullish" on Simmons, who made the All-NBA Defensive Team for the 2020-21 season. The public message is that the Sixers appear willing to fix his shooting woes in hopes this piece can be rescued.
Few in NBA circles are buying it, though.
Rival executives also watched the series against the Hawks and will inquire about Simmons, likely through his agent, Rich Paul. But to facilitate any trade, Morey and Paul will need to get on the same page.
Where can the two agree to ship Simmons? Will a package bring back value to help the Sixers avoid another collapse? And will Morey be challenging within the process? Despite his media charm, executives suggest he's one of the more difficult team decision-makers.
Most major NBA trades need to match salaries, which means the Sixers must identify a package equivalent to Simmons' price range. Paul's history suggests he'll try to pair Simmons with his top two clients – LeBron James and Anthony Davis – in Los Angeles. There, perhaps James' approach to the game and influence can help Simmons.
Could a package centered around Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope suffice? The Sixers get more 3-point shooting to surround franchise star Joel Embiid and gain roster balance. Paul gets to keep his clients together, and where he's based.
Other rumors suggest Portland's CJ McCollum could be traded to the Sixers during the offseason to help alleviate the Trail Blazers' problems. McCollum will make $30 million next season and played college hoops at nearby Lehigh University. So it'll be a mini homecoming for the Ohio native.
Behind the scenes, scouts say McCollum is a worker, pointing to his improved game since arriving in the NBA in 2013. He's one of the better scorers in the league, not afraid to shoot 3-pointers (attempted a career-high 8.9 last season), and he's a career 82% free throw shooter. Injuries are always a concern with McCollum, 29, but considering today's NBA, where shooting is vital, the Blazers may seek more than just Simmons in any negotiations.
Simmons will make roughly $145 million in the remaining years of his current deal, so financially, he'll be fine. But despite career averages of 15.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, 7.7 assists, the triple-doubles, and being selected to three All-Star teams, his NBA market value has declined. So using ESPN's trade machine to explore a Damian Lillard or even Bradley Beal-like deal is fun but probably futile.
It's early, but discussions about what Morey could get in return for Simmons will dominate NBA Twitter gossip. The rumors will suggest all kinds of proposals. Some will be interesting but most won't happen. The only thing certain in Philly is that Morey is running the show.
"I'm going to operate as the general manager of the 76ers," he said on the Zoom call with media, prior to playful bickering with a local reporter.
Perhaps the Sixers aren't as bullish on current GM Elton Brand as they say they are on Simmons' future.