As the Feb. 10 NBA trade deadline approaches, hopes of the Ben Simmons-76ers standoff getting resolved are dwindling by the day. The market, at least to this point, has spoken: Simmons is not worth what Daryl Morey wants in return for the All-Star, and Morey, so far, has shown little willingness to budge on his price.
So here we are, more than three months into the 2021-22 season, with the Sixers battling to stay afloat on the strength of an MVP-caliber season from Joel Embiid and Simmons down $19 million to date.
Yes, you read that right. Simmons’ absence to this point, according to a wide-ranging ESPN report from Ramona Shelburne, has cost him $19 million in fines. If he sits out the rest of the season that number will grow to $32 million.
Simmons has lost over $19 million in fines since the season began (each missed game costs him $360,000). He hasn’t cleared a paycheck since the $8.25 million (25% of his $33 million salary) that was due to him Oct. 1. Every two weeks the team sends a notice with an explanation of all the fines he has accumulated for failing to render services, instead of a $1.375 million paycheck. By the end of the season, if he does not play for the Sixers or any other team, Simmons could lose another $12 million.
It is a staggering amount of money. Everyone involved assumes this issue will eventually be settled in arbitration. But those close to Simmons, who has earned upward of $60 million over his career, insist his decision to demand a trade and then not to play until he is traded has never been financially motivated. He wants a fresh start, away from a franchise he doesn’t feel comfortable playing for anymore.
“We don’t give a f— about the money,” one source close to Simmons says. “That’s not what this is. It’s hard for people to understand. But if you believe in what you’re doing and that this is not the right situation for you, and you’re trying to get to a better place, the money doesn’t matter. Obviously it’s a financial hit. But you adjust.”
Even for an obviously wealthy man, $32 million just down the drain? That’s some 50 percent of Simmons’ career earnings to this point. The scope of this holdout is unprecedented in NBA history. Simmons is in the second season of a five-year, $170 million contract. An All-Star, at this age, at this stage of his contract, forfeiting this kind of money?
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It underscores a notable shift in star players opting to sign big extensions with their incumbent teams, securing a higher payday, before requesting a trade shortly thereafter. The circumstances of the Simmons saga are also unique. Simmons has said he isn’t mentally ready to play, and everyone wants to be, and should be, respectful of mental health struggles.
But Shelburne reports that Simmons is “working out with his personal team of trainers, trying to stay ready in case he is traded to a new team.” So is he not ready to play, or is he not ready to play for the Sixers? According to Shelburne, Simmons remains skeptical of a Philly front office that tried to trade him for James Harden, and upset about how he was made the scapegoat for Philadelphia’s second-round playoff loss to the Hawks last season. Also, he reportedly thinks coach Doc Rivers should’ve flown to Los Angeles to make things right.
According to sources close to Simmons, he’s upset that Embiid seemed to blame him for last season’s playoff loss, when Simmons did not blame Embiid for Embiid’s poor showing in the playoffs against the Toronto Raptors in 2019. He’s frustrated that Rivers didn’t come to see him while he was training in Los Angeles last summer.
Simmons doesn’t dispute that he didn’t reply when Rivers texted and called him several times over the summer asking to see him. But in hindsight, Simmons feels Rivers and the Sixers could’ve done more, like show up at a well-known gym in the San Fernando Valley where he was training.
He’s also skeptical, sources close to him say, of Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey’s willingness to trade him because of his previous pursuit of Harden — who can become a free agent this summer. Simmons would be the best player the Sixers would send in any theoretical trade. And he’s upset that the organization is fining him so heavily after he raised mental health as an issue upon his return.
So yeah, this situation doesn’t appear close to a resolution. We’ll see what happens before the trade deadline, but until then, what we do know is Simmons is forking over a lot of cash.