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Opinion: Ben Simmons has not earned right to dictate terms of his exit from Philadelphia 76ers

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If Ben Simmons had attained any kind of actual stature in the NBA, the apparent escalation of his demand to be traded from the Philadelphia 76ers into a standoff with real consequences might have been received with understanding and even a little bit of sympathy.

Over the last decade, the tolerance for star players bullying their way out of unpleasant situations has grown so high that it would be understandable if Simmons and his representatives at Klutch Sports viewed a threat to no-show for training camp as simply the next step to getting him out of Philadelphia, not a line that was inappropriate to cross.

But what Simmons has misjudged, to the degree he’s interested at all in shifting the narrative away from his chronic indifference, is the willingness of others to accept invitations to the pity party he’s thrown for himself since melting down in the NBA playoffs.

Sorry, but Simmons has not accomplished enough in this league to draw that line in the sand. And the 76ers shouldn’t indulge it until the time — and the price — of their choosing.

Ben Simmons was essentially a non-factor offensively in the postseason, especially during Philadelphia's second-round playoff series against Atlanta.
Ben Simmons was essentially a non-factor offensively in the postseason, especially during Philadelphia's second-round playoff series against Atlanta.

More and more, we’ve given professional athletes the benefit of the doubt to engineer where they want to play and who they want their teammates to be. Even with as extreme an example as James Harden, who checked out on the Houston Rockets last season to the point of being unprofessional, there was a general understanding that he’d fulfilled his end of the bargain and it was time to go somewhere else.

But the way Simmons and Klutch have attempted to strong-arm the 76ers into making a bad deal so that he doesn’t have to spend even one uncomfortable moment facing up to his failures last season deserves little more than a middle finger thrown back in their faces.

The notion that Klutch has become such a powerful force in the NBA that agent Rich Paul can relocate star players as he pleases isn’t without some merit. We’ve seen him make things happen before by putting franchises in awkward spots — see Anthony Davis magically working his way to the Lakers — and the manifestation of those moves has made teams afraid of holding the line when one of his clients wants out.

But even in an NBA that has mostly given up on the logic of leverage, Tuesday’s ESPN report that Simmons won’t report for training camp while waiting for a trade is so ridiculously out of proportion that the 76ers have little choice but to call the bluff.

If there were a sensible trade to be made for Simmons, it would have been made by now. But how can the 76ers really accept pennies on the dollar after Simmons’ pitiful performance in the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Atlanta Hawks?

Even if you believe the 76ers as we knew they aren’t worth salvaging or that Simmons doesn’t have the desire or the capacity to be the leader of a great team, it would be malpractice for president of basketball operations Daryl Morey to accept draft picks and assets that don’t help Philadelphia win now.

With Joel Embiid turning 28 before the end of next season, time is ticking. The 76ers have to plan around the next four, maybe five years to contend for a title before his inevitable physical decline. Taking back an assortment of mid-tier players, rookies and future-facing draft assets dooms Philadelphia to wasting the entirety of Embiid’s prime.

It’s impossible to wind the clock back and erase the images from the Atlanta series of Simmons missing free throws, hiding on the block so that he didn’t have to shoot the ball and passing up a wide open dunk that changed the trajectory of Game 7.

But what Simmons could do is remind everybody that he’s a 25-year old, three-time All-Star with the size and intelligence to defend anyone in the league. He could show that he’s not afraid to shoot a 3-pointer every now and then or that he’s put in enough work on his free throws not to be a basket case every time he gets fouled. He could show he’s worth the investment it would take for another team to build around him.

Frankly, Simmons could have started that process at the Olympics with an Australian team that was good enough to win a bronze medal without him and might have been a real challenger for the gold with him. He could have committed to show up on time in Philadelphia, understanding that the best way to punch his ticket out of town was to show what he’s capable of at his best.

Simmons has done none of those things. Instead, he and Klutch have bet that Philadelphia’s desperation to turn the page will be just as strong as Simmons’ desire to run away.

That may not be a smart bet.

At some point, one of these teams is going to push back on Klutch’s scorched earth tactics and live with whatever comes next. That can’t be as bad as the consequences of getting nothing for a star player who is under contract for four more years.

Whatever offensive shortcomings may have been revealed in high-pressure playoff games last season, there was nothing controversial at the time about the 76ers giving him a five-year max contract. While Simmons is not the first NBA player to want out well in advance of that contract’s expiration date, this isn’t happening because he’s stuck on a losing team or because management has suddenly decided to rebuild.

This is happening primarily for one reason: Because Simmons did not perform well against the Hawks and got his feelings hurt when the finger was pointed in his direction.

If Simmons isn’t willing to accept his role in that failure or do his part to fix it, the 76ers will be left with no option but to hold the line. If that means withholding his paychecks, fining him the maximum allowed under the collective bargaining agreement and ultimately forcing him to miss a season, so be it.

As bad as it might hurt the 76ers this season not to have Simmons on the floor, accepting a bad deal would be worse — not only for what’s left of their future but as a precedent for the rest of the league. While there’s no tangible way to measure how much credibility a player must earn in the NBA to dictate the terms of his exit, we know that Simmons does not have it.

If he really plans to sit out until the 76ers trade him, this will stick to him more than passing up a dunk or missing a free throw. At least in those moments, Simmons seemed to have deference for his own limitations. But if he thinks the best solution to this impasse is not to play basketball, he’s lost all touch with reality.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Sixers: Ben Simmons hasn't earned the right to dictate terms of exit