The Sixers played a preseason game Monday.
Ben Simmons did not.
Philadelphia players earned paychecks Monday.
Ben Simmons … did not.
The cold war between Simmons and the Sixers has moved to another level in recent days. Last week, Philadelphia took the $8.25 million Simmons was owed on Oct. 1 and dropped it into an escrow account, creating a piggy bank of sorts the team could crack open at any time. When Simmons no-showed the Sixers' preseason opener against the Raptors, a sizeable chunk—$360,000, per ESPN—was pulled out of it. That’s money that, according to the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, Simmons can never recoup.
What a mess. The Sixers struck a conciliatory tone toward Simmons on media day. Doc Rivers tried to convince reporters that when he said he didn’t know whether Simmons could be a championship-level point guard at the end of last season he meant something else (he didn’t), Daryl Morey expressed optimism that Simmons could still report (there isn’t) and Joel Embiid made a public plea for Simmons to return.
That positivity, however, seems to have evaporated. The Athletic reported that Simmons believes his partnership with Joel Embiid had “run its course.” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Simmons was “mentally exhausted.” The recent reporting triggered Embiid, who hinted that Simmons's desire to be a primary ballhandler was why Jimmy Butler was gone, calling the situation “weird, disappointing, borderline kind of disrespectful to all the guys that are out here fighting for their lives.”
It’s war now between the Sixers and Simmons, and both sides appear dug in. Simmons is clearly willing to sacrifice some money—skipping the four preseason games alone will cost Simmons a cool $1.4 million, per ESPN—while Philadelphia is unwilling to be bullied into making a deal just to rid itself of the distraction. Rival executives, even those interested in prying Simmons away from the Sixers, agree. “F--- that,” says an Eastern Conference team exec. “You let a guy force his way out with four years left on a max contract and you set a terrible precedent. They can’t cave.”
Simmons is in a foxhole, alone. His teammates are frustrated. The front office is frustrated. Sixers fans are frustrated. Last week, a video of a Philadelphia native capturing an alligator in a trash can in Florida went viral. When asked by a local television affiliate what he was thinking when he squared off with the alligator, the man, Eugene Bozzi, said, “I’m not going to be Ben Simmons. … I’m going to get me this basket.”
Across the NBA, there’s confusion about why Simmons has taken his feud with Philly this far. “I don’t know why he is upset,” Shaquille O’Neal, the Hall of Fame center, said on The Crossover podcast. “Everything everyone has been saying has been facts. You’re a superstar. In the playoffs, you have to step up. The whole world has seen the man [Simmons] terrified to play … me, personally, I don’t know why he is mad.”
However this ends, it won’t be quickly. The Sixers, playing without Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris on Monday, were beat up by Toronto. Tyrese Maxey, the second-year guard who slides into Simmons's starting point guard slot, struggled. Shake Milton, who is expected to get significant minutes behind Maxey, did too. Philadelphia shot 23.5% from three-point range. Furkan Korkmaz, a floor-spacing big man, was 1 for 8. After the game, Rivers said the Raptors were “in better shape than us.” He praised Toronto’s length and cited guard play as an area that needs to improve.
And maybe it will. The first few weeks of the season will undoubtedly influence Simmons’s future. Even without Simmons, the Sixers are pretty good. Embiid is an MVP front-runner. Harris is coming off an All Star–caliber season. Seth Curry and Danny Green are proven shooters. Maxey showed promise last season. If Philadelphia gets off to a good start—hell, if the Sixers get off to a decent start—the front office could test Simmons’s resolve.
And that’s the other unknown. Just how far is Simmons willing to take this? Simmons knew what he was getting into. His agent, Rich Paul, is among the savvier in the business. And Simmons has $57 million in on-court earnings to fall back on. But he’s bleeding money. And he’s going to bleed more. Just missing the first month of the season will cost Simmons north of $7 million. Banking on the Sixers to falter, for Morey to get desperate, is a sizeable risk.
The feud between Simmons and the Sixers escalated Monday.
It won’t get better.
It will probably get worse.
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