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Ben Simmons and the Sixers Have Passed the Point of No Return

Philadelphia suspended its point guard for the season-opener after kicking him out of a team practice. Now what?

Poor Ben Simmons, he of the $57 million in career on-court earnings and another $147 million coming his way. Doc Rivers hinted he couldn’t be a championship point guard. Joel Embiid poked him for passing up a big shot. For those high crimes Simmons staged an ill-advised holdout and pouted through three days of practice. Now, hours before the 76ers’ season opener, the NBA’s spiraling superstar has been told to stay away.

The Sixers suspended Simmons on Tuesday, banishing him before boarding a flight to New Orleans. Simmons—last seen going through the motions with a cell phone in his pocket on Monday—appeared disengaged on Tuesday, a source familiar with the situation told Sports Illustrated. Early in practice, Rivers asked Simmons to participate in a defensive drill. Rivers asked again. Simmons, again, declined. Rivers told Simmons to go home. Simmons did.

“He was a distraction today,” Rivers said. “I didn’t think he wanted to do what everybody else was doing. It was early, it wasn’t a big deal. I just told him, he should leave then, and we went on with practice.”

Rivers has tried everything to connect with Simmons. He has spun his end-of-season comments as misinterpreted. At Media Day, he all but publicly pleaded for Simmons to return. He cracked jokes when Simmons unexpectedly showed up at the Sixers facility last week and shrugged off suggestions that there could be internal backlash toward Simmons for holding out.

He wanted to salvage Simmons’ relationship with the 76ers.

Simmons appears determined to burn it down.

It’s war now between Simmons and the Sixers, and make no mistake: We have passed the point of no return. Even if you believed Philadelphia would welcome Simmons back into the locker room, there’s no going back now. It’s one thing to stay away from the team in the hopes of securing a trade. It’s another to try to sabotage it.

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“At this point I don’t care about that man,” said Embiid. “Honestly. He does whatever he wants. That’s not my job. That’s [the front office’s] jobs. I’m only focused on trying to make the team better, win some games, play hard every night, try to lead the guys that we have here. I’m sure they feel the same way.”

Simmons is finished in Philly, so the question is—what do the 76ers do? It’s clear Simmons only returned to start collecting paychecks. The Sixers outflanked him on October 1, withholding an $8.25 million lump payment and reclaiming chunks of it every day Simmons was away. He lost $1.4 million for the four preseason games he missed, and Philadelphia has undoubtedly been fining him for the missed practices along the way.

For months, Philadelphia has been hellbent on getting equal value in return for Simmons, and there’s no indication that, even with Simmons’ trade value tanking, this latest tantrum will shift them from that position. Sixers GM Daryl Morey is believed to be determined to see what the NBA landscape looks like a few months into the season, when Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal could become available, when Simmons, with four years remaining on his contract, could prove valuable. Simmons has backed Morey into a corner, but few of his peers expect him to cave.

Still—what do the Sixers do? Exiling Simmons is an option, though that would give him exactly what he wants, a first-class ticket back to California with paychecks from his $33 million salary once again clearing his account. They could continue to suspend him—Simmons’ suspension, for now, is just for one game—though that will invite a fight with the players union. They could (gulp) bring Simmons back to practice, but how long before tensions between players trying to win something and one who doesn’t want to be there boil over?

“At the end of the day, our job is not to babysit somebody,” said Embiid. “We get paid to produce on the court. Go out, play hard, win some games. That’s what we get paid for. We don’t get paid to come out here and try to babysit somebody. That’s not our job. I’m sure my teammates feel that way.”

Simmons will ultimately get his wish, will be freed from Philadelphia, but the stench from this situation will cling to him forever. He has yet to offer a reasonable reason for why he wants out of Philly, for why he is so determined to force his way off a title contender. It’s Simmons, five years into his NBA career, who has yet to develop a reliable jump shot. It’s Simmons who didn’t attempt any shots in the fourth quarter of five of the Sixers’ seven games against the Hawks last spring. It’s Simmons who would rather toil in obscurity in Orlando or Sacramento than continue a partnership with a generational talent like Embiid.

“"When s--- goes south, this is how he reacts?” asked an NBA team executive. “Who wants a guy like that?”

The Sixers didn’t wrong Simmons. Simmons wronged them, and now the relationship, already tattered, is beyond repair. Rivers sounded one final conciliatory tone on Tuesday, declaring that “every day, every single moment, I’m going to give Ben a chance to join the team and be part of the team.” It was a direct appeal to Simmons. It will, undoubtedly, fall on deaf ears. 

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