June 21, 2021
This edition of What They're Saying should come with a trigger warning for Sixers fans, but after their team lost a Game 7 at home to the fifth-seeded Hawks — a game in which they were favored by seven points — thanks to a disappearing Ben Simmons, questionable coaching decisions from Doc Rivers and turnovers galore from their MVP-caliber center, even the most casual fans likely know what they're getting into today by deciding to read any coverage of their team.
It was about the worst way this weekend could've played out for Philly fans, who had their hopes built up during a Game 6 win in Atlanta only to have their hearts ripped out on their home court in Game 7. So if you're here, reading this collection of takes following a season-ending loss, you pretty much know what you're getting into. You're either, 1) trying to process (no pun intended) yet another second-round exit for the Sixers, 2) a sick individual who enjoys being hurt over and over again or, 3) attempting to go as far down this rabbithole of pain in the hopes that you'll tunnel straight through to the other side.
No matter which type of Sixers fan you are, we've got what you're looking for.
We'll have a lot more coverage in the coming days, especially regarding what comes next for this team. But before looking too far ahead, let's take a quick look (or not-so-quick look in this case) at what the local and national (and international?) media has to say about the Sixers, specifically about the one guy every seems ready to blame for another disappointing finish to a season. Here's what they're saying...
Let's start across the pond with Liam Jenkins' comparison of Ben Simmons and Carson Wentz, which is actually more appropriate than you might think on the surface.
I almost wrote a similar column this morning, but through a different lens, comparing the two based on how divisive they were and how quickly the fanbase turned on them, but I actually think Jenkins' take is much more appropriate, since it's comparing a flaw that the two players share, rather than the similarity in how they were perceived by the fans.
I'll let Jenkins explain what that shared trait is...
If we turn back the clocks to 2018. Coming off of a heartbreaking ACL tear, Carson Wentz would miss the upcoming offseason due to rehab. A lot of people pointed to the way Carson Wentz plays the game when discussing the injury, quite rightly pointing out that the Daredevil mentality could only put him at further risk. The coaches expressed concern, but the NDU product didn’t.
“I’m not going to change,” Wentz said. “I think I’m always going to learn. I thought from first year to second year I learned quite a bit on how to protect myself and going back and watching again. You know there’s things to keep learning from. [...]
After the [Game 7 loss], Ben Simmons spoke to reporters and said the worst thing he could’ve possibly said.
‘I am who I am, it is what it is’
In terms of production and achievement, it’s impossible to compare Ben Simmons and Carson Wentz. But both were once highly-touted picks who were haunted by flaws in their game. As time went on, excuses began to run out and for no reason other than a stubbornness over the players they are, they remained unattended to. While on different trajectories in different sports, the refusal to change a part of your game that’s hurting the team acted as a catalyst to the demise of their time with the franchise that once believed they could conquer the world. [phillysportsnetwork.com]
It turns out that Jenkins and I weren't the only ones who saw some similarities between Simmons and Wentz. Over at NJ.com, Chris Franklin wrote about the similarities between the two and how they appeared to regress after a few seasons in the their respective leagues, right when conventional wisdom would suggest that their career arcs should be heading in the opposite direction.
He also comes away with the belief that Wentz and Simmons will soon have something else in common...
Simmons is in a similar predicament with the Sixers [as Wentz was last season with the Eagles]. Simmons did not want to touch the basketball late in games because he became a liability at the foul line, finishing the playoffs with a 34.2% free-throw percentage. He finished with a career-low in points (14.3 points per game), surprisingly not far from his career-high in the 2018-2019 season (16.9 points per game).
Sure Simmons is a three-time All-Star and runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year, but championships are not held at the end of the regular season. They are won in the summer by players who show up on the offensive end and embrace the moment in front of them. Simmons’ inability to either develop a consistent jump shot or willingness not to use it has hampered the team in four consecutive playoff runs.
If the Sixers cannot trade him, they will have to find a way to salvage Simmons, similar to what was said of Wentz before he was traded. However, Simmons is in his head, and sometimes that’s a tough, dark place to come out of. [...]
Five years is a long time to wait for something to develop, only to see it wind up in disappointment. Just as Eagles fans did with Wentz, Sixers fans should prepare to say goodbye to Simmons. [nj.com]
"Trade Ben Simmons" seems to be the common refrain from both the local and national media today — as well as some fans in the arena during last night's game — and for good reason after the former No. 1 overall pick and max contract player didn't just disappear, but actually became a liability on the court and had to be removed in the final minutes of a do-or-die Game 7. That's simply inexcusable for any reason.
Last week, our own Kyle Neubeck wrote that the Sixers have a Ben Simmons problem, because no matter how the team tries to reinvent themselves, they continue to run into the same issues, and they all seem to revolve around a point guard who is allergic to the rim. On Monday, Kyle wrote that the Sixers now need to trade Simmons, in the best interest of both parties. Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo! seems to agree.
The Philadelphia 76ers have a Ben Simmons problem, and it smacked them dead in the face as yet another opportunity was wasted in the playoffs.
Championship windows don’t stay open long in today’s NBA, and it seems like three years have been squandered with the Simmons experiment, people talking themselves out of what they see and into what they’re hoping for.
The 76ers have fashioned themselves as the present and future of the East, but the present keeps disappointing and if the future depends on Joel Embiid’s health and Simmons’ improvement, it’s pretty murky.
For things to improve, the answer is simple: The 76ers must trade Simmons if they’re as serious as they claim. [sports.yahoo.com]
It's not just media members and fans who think Simmons should get shipped out of town this offseason. Over at HoopsHype, Michael Scotto talked to a trio of NBA executives about what they believe the Sixers should do with Simmons, and the majority opinion is that the Sixers should at least be exploring trade options.
“I’d give him one more year and work hard on his free throw shooting and offensive game over the summer,” one NBA executive told HopsHype. “A pull-up mid-range jumper. His three-point shooting is a few years away if he ever gets it. You can’t rush things with him, he’s a mental midget right now with his shooting confidence. Not politically correct, but I couldn’t come up with anything else.”
As the executive brutally alluded to, Simmons passed up a dunk attempt after beating Danilo Gallinari on a spin move in the post and passed to Matisse Thybulle with 3:29 remaining. [...]
“He’s not the perfect fit with Embiid,” the second NBA executive told HoopsHype. “Other players could complement Embiid better. Simmons is difficult to build a team around and is not good enough to be the central figure. I think the lack of free-throw shooting does hurt his value. I’d explore a trade. Guys like Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal are two levels better than Simmons.”
“Ben’s lack of ability in the playoffs is a concern,” the third NBA executive told HoopsHype. “He’s good enough to get you to the playoffs and have a solid regular season, but the playoffs can be challenging for him as the game slows down and people’s weaknesses are exposed, which hurts the team. I’d explore a trade to see if I could get a couple of win-now players that fit the way they need to play with Embiid. A point guard or a wing that both can create shots for others and themselves.” [hoopshype.com]
Of course, the problem for the Sixers is in Simmons' value, which couldn't possibly be any lower than it is right now after the entire basketball world saw him again shrink and disappear in the game's biggest moments.
The Sixers were in discussion for both Kyle Lowry and James Harden at various point over the last year with Simmons being the main piece that would be going back to either Toronto or Houston, but neither materialized. Perhaps that's because Daryl Morey was saving all his trade ammo for this offseason?
The oddsmakers think Simmons will more likely than not be on the move this summer, with sportsbetting.ag putting the guard's odds of being in Philly next season at +200, while him playing elsewhere is at -300. That implies a 75% probability that he'll playing elsewhere.
O'Connor isn't all the way down on Simmons, believing that he can contribute more on other teams — and those odds would suggest he might be on to something. The problem, after seeing his play this series, will be convincing rival GMs to give up enough to make it worth it. But KOC believes Simmons still brings enough to the table that other teams would want to deal for him.
Opinions differ on Philadelphia’s decision not to pursue Lowry harder, but there is a consensus around the league that Morey resisted because he’s angling for an even greater star. He’s thinking about stars like Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal becoming available. CJ McCollum or Zach LaVine could also appeal to Philadelphia if they are put on the table.
Morey is a star hunter; has the value of Simmons dropped to the point that Philadelphia could easily get outbid for the type of marquee player he covets? The Sixers have already tried to deal Simmons, then he had a stinker postseason, and the best player on the team has once again publicly expressed frustration with him. Simmons’s value could be low. (Trading Embiid, on the other hand, is a nonstarter.)
But the Sixers need to be careful. It’s not all Simmons’s fault. Sure, his fourth-quarter offense is about as impactful as Jahlil Okafor’s, but he’s never had a great basketball situation with Philadelphia. Until this season, Embiid didn’t shoot above average from 3, and the Sixers didn’t have a lot of shooters. Simmons also hasn’t been paired with a point guard whom he can screen for to run a high volume of pick-and-roll. In a different basketball situation, Simmons can provide plenty of value on offense.
Consider Portland. McCollum for Simmons as the main piece in a Blazers-Sixers deal is what executives around the league, just like fans, think is a reasonable trade that makes sense for both sides. Simmons could be like a supercharged Draymond Green to Damian Lillard’s Steph Curry. For years, the Warriors have shredded teams because Curry would often draw a trap, and pass the ball to Draymond, who could get to the rim or make a clutch pass to a teammate. Simmons would thrive in a role like that since Lillard feels the same type of pressure in the pick-and-roll.
McCollum, in turn, would help the Sixers. Any player who can create their own shot at a high level would. But it’s not a no-brainer deal. McCollum is 29, and he has underperformed in past postseasons. A backcourt of McCollum and Seth Curry would also make for a weak defensive duo. Blazers fans have just about had it with McCollum, just as Sixers fans have with Simmons. But they could each drag their problems to a new team too. [theringer.com]
Perhaps not surprisingly then, sportsbetting.ag has the Blazers as the favorites to land Simmons at +200, just ahead of Beal's Wizards. Here's a look at their full odds for Simmons:
• Blazers: +200
• Wizards: +300
• Spurs: +400
• Jazz: +500
• Thunder: +550
• Warriors: +600
• Lakers: +650
• Cavaliers: +700
• Rockets: +1000
Back to KOC for a second, I'll just push back on that Draymond Green comparison for a moment. Or rather, I'll allow Kyle Neubeck to argue on my behalf...
Simmons resembles Green only in the sense that they both have to work around questionable perimeter games. And that's not a diss of Green, who is everywhere when it counts, organizing and screaming and playing as if he wants to take someone's head off, a stark contrast to Simmons stationary in the dunker's spot as if modeling for an undergraduate art class. [MORE]
KOC also went on to discuss, and provide some solid evidence to back it up, the fact that Simmons shoots with the wrong hand. It's a drum O'Connor has been banging for a while — and a discussion that pops up from time to time — and while it's clear that Simmons' issues are as much mental as they are physical, it may have some merits. In fact, I've been under the belief that Ben is actually right-handed (did you even know he was actually left-handed?) ever since I saw him make a full-court shot at practice with... his right hand. He's technically some form of ambidextrous, or rather the opposite when it comes to shooting. You know, whatever you call when someone can't use either hand.
The decision to trade Ben Simmons might've been made easier by his performance in this postseason. But, as we mentioned earlier, the actual process of trading was made more difficult as all his faults were exposed. Even his coach was publicly questioning whether or not Simmons can be the point guard on a championship team.
Here's David Murphy of The Inquirer with more on Simmons' disappearing act in Game 7 (and for most of the second halves in this series).
There were 40 seconds left in the game, 40 seconds left in the season, 40 seconds left for Ben Simmons to do something, anything to silence the critics and legitimate his place in the Sixers’ championship blueprint. He didn’t. He couldn’t. Simmons was on the bench. [...]
All game, the Sixers put the ball in the hands of a player who clearly did not want it. Forget guarding him, Simmons didn’t even give them a choice. By the end of the game, the Hawks were barely paying attention as he dribbled alone among ghosts 18 feet from the rim. He wasn’t hesitant. He was nonexistent.
A team cannot win with a player who does not force a team to assign him a defender. Playoff basketball is difficult enough at even-strength. It’s nearly impossible when you allow your opponent to play four-on-five. That’s what Simmons did. His passivity was so total that it somehow became the opposite. He actively gave the Hawks the game. The fact that he only attempted four shots is pitiful. The fact that he did it in a game where the Sixers desperately needed buckets? Inexcusable. This was as close to malpractice as a point guard can get.
Everyone on the court knew it. Game 7s are when legends are made. This one made Simmons into the opposite of that. He was the anti-Jordan, the anti-Durant, a player so uncomfortable in the moment that he couldn’t even bring himself to try. For four quarters, Simmons exuded a fear that infected everyone in its radius. He attempted just four shots from the field, didn’t even look to attack. It sucked the life out of the crowd. It sucked the life out of his teammates. It sucked the benefit of the doubt right out of his coach. [inquirer.com]
Over at The Athletic, Derek Bodner took at look how the Sixers failed their MVP runner-up and best player, Joel Embiid, a guy who likely has a limited window in which to win due to health concerns. And a big part of that failure lays at the feet of the guy who was supposed to help the big man shoulder the load in Philly.
The Sixers – the players, the coach, the organization as a whole – failed Joel Embiid.
You saw Ben Simmons, their max contract point guard, moving so little from his designated spot along the baseline that he might as well have been standing in cement. Simmons was scared to even touch the ball, much less create a scoring opportunity, once he crossed half court, and he finished the series attempting three total shots in 56 minutes of play in the fourth quarter in seven games against Atlanta.
In his place, the Sixers alternated handing the ball to Shake Milton, a former 54th overall pick in the draft; George Hill, a 35-year-old journeyman acquired a couple of months ago who has averaged fewer than five points per game in the playoffs; and Tyrese Maxey, a 20-year-old rookie who was out of the rotation a week ago.
These are not players who would typically be asked to lead a team’s half-court offense in the guts of a pivotal Game 7. It is only Embiid’s individual brilliance that makes it seem even remotely plausible. [theathletic.com]
Based on all this evidence, it feels like it could be another offseason of change in Philly. It's hard to imagine a scenario in which they believe running it back with this same core is the best option. On top of that, Morey is an active executive, so you can expect him to be working the phones over the summer to try to improve his team in his second year at the helm.
Things could get real interesting...
Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin
Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports