Daryl Morey tried. Tried to speak generally. Tried to stay positive. Tried to avoid any soundbyte that might give any indication that he was open to trading Ben Simmons, Philadelphia’s embattled All-Star point guard just days removed from a disastrous postseason performance. Finally, towards the end of a 37-minute Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday, the question was put to him directly.
Can you tell us if Ben Simmons will be a 76er next season?
“We have a very strong group we believe in,” said Morey, the 76ers president of basketball operations. “None of us can predict the future of what is going to happen … we love what Ben brings. We love what Joel [Embiid] brings. We love what Tobias [Harris] brings. In terms of what’s next, we’ll do what is best for the 76ers to give us the best chance to win a championship with every single player on the roster.”
So … Morey is open to dealing Simmons?
“Not addressing Ben Simmons,” Morey said. “Any move that will help our team win a championship or improve our odds, we will look at and do if it makes sense.”
Morey was never going to tip his hand on Simmons. Not to a (virtual) room full of reporters, anyway. He’s too smart for that. Besides—there’s no upside. Signal he’s ready to move on from Simmons now and it kills any leverage he might have with the teams he’s dealing with later.
But make no mistake—the Ben Simmons Era in Philadelphia is probably over.
It has to be, doesn’t it? Four years of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid as teammates, and what does Philadelphia have to show for it? A few playoff appearances? Winning records? The Simmons/Embiid Sixers have yet to advance past the second round. This season’s finish was especially dismal. Facing the fifth seeded Hawks—an upstart team effectively playing with house money—Philly dropped two of the last three games on its home floor.
Embiid was dominant, averaging 30 points and 13 rebounds for the series.
Simmons—particularly in the fourth quarters—didn’t show up.
On Tuesday, Morey, sporting a dark beard and a black mock turtleneck, pushed the positives. He sounded bullish about the Sixers roster. “Really 25 or 26 teams would love to be in our situation with an MVP caliber top player, an All-Star, a near All-Star, great young players signed for the long term, good veterans,” Morey said. He repeatedly praised head coach Doc Rivers. He declared improvements were more likely to come internally than any deal he could make. “We gave ourselves a very good chance to win this year,” Morey said. “Obviously it’s a grave disappointment that we are here.”
But this team needs a shakeup. Badly. The Simmons/Sixers marriage just isn’t working. Years past, you could find reasons to stay the course. In 2019, when Philadelphia may have been a Kawhi Leonard bouncing ball away from beating Toronto—and potentially winning a championship. In 2020, the pandemic shortened season that saw Simmons injured and Philadelphia’s roster unbalanced.
You could reasonably argue those teams just needed to be tweaked.
You can’t make the same argument with this one.
Simmons is an enormously talented player. He’s the NBA’s best perimeter defender with elite level playmaking skills in the open floor. But he’s not a shooter. And he’s shown no desire to become a shooter. In his first season, Simmons attempted 11 three-pointers. This season, he tossed up ten. For years, Sixers officials have pleaded with Simmons, sometimes publicly, to shoot more threes. He hasn’t. Meanwhile his free throw percentage has hovered around 60% in each of the last three seasons. In the most recent playoffs, that numbered cratered at 34.2%.
Morey has to look to trade Simmons. But where? Simmons is under contract through 2025, with annual salaries that will top $30 million beginning next season. Would Portland consider a Simmons-C.J. McCollum swap? Simmons defense would help a Blazers team desperate for it. If Bradley Beal forces a trade from Washington this summer, Simmons could be the centerpiece of a deal the Wizards could get interested in.
Those deals, however, would have been easier to make last offseason. Now, rival execs see the same flaws Twitter users do. “You won’t get another ‘star’ for him,” says an Eastern Conference team executive. “They might have to attach a young player just to move him.” Added another exec, “People can say he is good in all these other areas but with today’s game shooting is the most important skill. Are teams going to take a chance to build around a guy that is scared to shoot?”
Wherever Simmons plays next season, he has to commit to an overhaul of his shot. For a player, changing your jump shot is akin to getting a divorce. It’s deeply personal. But it can also be effective. Consider: In 2011, Kawhi Leonard arrived in San Antonio a non-threat from three-point range. In two seasons at San Diego State, Leonard never shot better than 30%. With the Spurs, Leonard worked with Chip Engelland, the noted shot doctor. Engelland lowered Leonard’s release and adjusted his follow through. The result: Leonard is one of the NBA’s more reliable three-point shooters, connecting on nearly 40% of his threes this season.
There’s no reason to believe Simmons, 24, with the right adjustments and a complete commitment, can’t achieve a comparable result. It just likely won’t be in Philadelphia. Morey said the Sixers were “committed to this group” but that was after Embiid called Simmons refusal to attempt a layup late in Game 7 of the Sixers loss to the Hawks as the turning point in the game and after Rivers said he couldn’t answer the question of whether Simmons could be a championship point guard.
The Sixers and Simmons tried. It hasn’t worked. Morey wouldn’t say it on Tuesday, but he’s seen enough to know: It’s probably best for both sides to move on.