Ben Simmons made good on his promise not to join the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday, and the organization did itself no favors in its response to an onslaught of questions about the star's absence.
The Sixers held their media day in preparation for Tuesday's official start of training camp, and Simmons stayed true to his word, staying home in an attempt to force Philadelphia's hand following his trade request.
"We are disappointed he's not here," 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey said on Monday.
Morey confirmed that Simmons requested a trade during a meeting in Chicago "shortly after the season." The Sixers have not spoken to Simmons since, although they remain in contact with his representatives.
Multiple reports have indicated that Simmons' desire to be traded stems in part from comments made by coach Doc Rivers and co-star Joel Embiid immediately following their loss to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Rivers said in response to a question about whether Simmons could be the point guard on a championship team, "I don't know the answer to that." During Monday's session, Rivers vehemently denied questioning Simmons' ability or contributing to his star player's dissatisfaction.
"It had nothing to do with me," said Rivers. "Who do you think defended Ben more?"
At season's end in June, Embiid pointed to Simmons' failure to shoot a wide-open potential game-tying layup in the waning minutes of their Game 7 loss as the moment the Sixers' title quest turned for the worse.
"I don't have any regrets," Embiid said on Monday. "I didn't call out anybody. I just stated the facts."
The relationship between Simmons and Philadelphia may have frayed beyond repair, even as Morey, Rivers and Embiid insist they want Simmons back. Teammates confirmed on Monday that they were discouraged from visiting Simmons in Los Angeles over the weekend in an attempt to sway him to return to the team.
Asked what he might have said to Simmons in that meeting, Embiid said on Monday, "I'm disappointed," before attempting to clarify his position. "It's time to take the next step, and I hope that he really changes his mind, because if I didn't like playing with him, I'm honest — I would say it. But I love playing with him."
"I'm just disappointed that he's not here, because he knows it, too," added Embiid. "He knows we can win together. A few of us have complained about the fans. We just need to just not care and just play better."
And how can Simmons play better? "I'm sure we've all seen videos," Embiid said, referencing social media footage of Simmons shooting 3-pointers, "so that will help, because he has that potential to be that good."
Simmons is 5 for 34 from 3-point range in his four-year career and attempted 86% of his shots from inside of 8 feet last season. His aversion to shooting has been a constant source of frustration in Philadelphia, and drawing more attention to his lone fault as a player is unlikely to reverse his desire never to be a 76er again.
Holdouts in the NBA are far more rare than in the NFL, where All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell took it to the extreme in 2018, leaving a $14.5 million franchise tag on the table to sit out the entire season. The Pittsburgh Steelers ultimately granted him free agency in 2019. Simmons, who has four years and $147 million left on the maximum contract extension he signed in July 2019, is in an entirely different situation.
The Sixers can fine Simmons for his media day absence and each missed practice going forward. If he fails to "render services" for the preseason opener on Oct. 4, they can issue a suspension. Each missed regular-season game could cost Simmons $227,613. Morey suggested the team will take action against Simmons.
"We're not going to talk about specifics of fines or things like that," Morey said during Monday's media session, "but it's pretty clearly spelled out in the CBA and his contract what happens."
The trade request is the latest ploy by Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul to steer a star client to a preferred destination. He previously coordinated Anthony Davis' move to the Lakers. Paul informed the New Orleans Pelicans of Davis' desire to be traded in January 2019. Two weeks later, the Pelicans benched Davis for the remainder of the season. He did not face financial penalties and was rewarded with a trade to L.A. in July.
That situation was far different, too, since Davis had one year remaining on his contract and could threaten not to re-sign with potential suitors of no interest to him, tanking his trade value. The Pelicans also missed the playoffs and had no realistic chance of winning a championship. The Sixers entered the previous three seasons with title aspirations and hope to again this year, pending a resolution to Simmons' trade request.
Another reported source of frustration for Simmons was Philadelphia's willingness to trade him during last season's James Harden sweepstakes. It has been widely reported that Simmons was on the table for Harden. Morey insisted on Monday that the Sixers were not looking to trade Simmons prior to his request.
Morey has since reportedly turned down underwhelming trade offers from the Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento Kings, Cleveland Cavaliers and Indiana Pacers, among other teams. The Timberwolves fired their team president, Gersson Rosas, on Thursday, potentially opening the door for renewed negotiations.
Rosas previously worked under Morey on the Houston Rockets.
Morey has also had trade proposals turned down by multiple teams, including the Golden State Warriors. Morey wanted Andrew Wiggins, James Wiseman, the Nos. 7 and 14 picks in this year's draft (Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, respectively) and two additional first-round picks from Golden State, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer's Keith Pompey. Warriors owner Joe Lacob earned a $50,000 fine on Wednesday for publicly explaining his team's aversion to a Simmons deal in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Golden State was reportedly one of three California teams on Simmons' list of preferred destinations. The other two are presumably the Lakers and L.A. Clippers, neither of whom have significant tradable assets.
Monday is the latest in what expects to be an ugly breakup. His public quarrel with the franchise is at best a distraction, as Rivers conceded. At worst, it prevents the Sixers from contending for years to come. Either way, Monday's media day moved Simmons one step closer to missing six-figure paychecks in November.
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