Opinion: Ben Simmons has no choice but to leave Sixers after being thrown under team bus

Ben Simmons wants out of Philadelphia. The relationship between Simmons and the Sixers became untenable.

On Tuesday, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Simmons met with owner Josh Harris, president of basketball operations Daryl Morey and coach Doc Rivers and told them he did not plan on reporting to training camp.

It’s not surprising given the circumstances surrounding Simmons’ five-year tenure with the Sixers. Both sides need to move on, as long as Philadelphia can find a trade partner. The Sixers have been asking a lot in return, but with Simmons’ intentions now public, their leverage decreased.

How did it get to this point where the Sixers are forced to trade an All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year candidate? One straight line — but not the only line — can be drawn to the Sixers’ disappointing Eastern Conference semifinals loss to Atlanta.

The dynamic between Ben Simmons (25) and Joel Embiid (21) became untenable, which could be one of the main reasons why Simmons said he will wants a trade from Philadelphia.
The dynamic between Ben Simmons (25) and Joel Embiid (21) became untenable, which could be one of the main reasons why Simmons said he will wants a trade from Philadelphia.

In the series, Simmons was benched during key stretches because of his unreliable free throw shooting, passed up an open dunk/layup in a key moment of Game 7 against the Hawks and was ineffective when he wasn’t in the open court or without the ball.

His confidence shot, it was far from Simmons’ finest series. And it got worse from there.

Asked after Game 7 if Simmons could be a point guard on a championship team, Rivers said, “I don’t know the answer to that right now.”

In his postgame press conference, Sixers star Joel Embiid opined, “I thought the turning points was when we – I don’t know how to say it – is when we had an open shot and made one free throw.”

Thrown under the bus, Simmons had little chance of recovering and returning to the Sixers – unless, of course, the Sixers wanted to trade Embiid and keep Simmons.

They had to pick one or the other, and Embiid was the clear choice for the Sixers.

But the issue was deeper than one play, one game, one series. The Simmons-Embiid rift had been escalating, a person with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports. The person requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the situation.

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Both the Sixers and Simmons are to blame — the Sixers for not helping or forcing Simmons to expand his game, especially his jump shot, and Simmons for not understanding that he needed to eliminate or at least reduce his limitations on the court.

In his four-year career — which has had some fantastic moments (he’s a three-time All-Star, two-time All-Defense selection) — Simmons has taken 34 3-pointers and no more than 11 in a season. He was 3-of-10 on three-pointers and outside of 5-feet, he shot 38.5% last season. Couple that with his free throw shooting (59.7% for his career and 34.2% in the 2021 playoffs), Simmons became an offensive liability despite his skills as a passer, playmaker and finisher at the rim.

Simmons and the Sixers downplayed the issue — at least publicly — until it became a festering problem.

At one point near the end of then-Sixers coach Brett Brown’s tenure with the Sixers, Brown said of Simmons’ inability to take long jump shots: “I think this area is arguably one of the most overrated topics that I've been a part of in coaching.”

Turns out, it wasn’t an overrated topic. Simmons had early success — the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year — and the Sixers coddled him to some degree. And when they did push, it was met with some resistance. In 2019-20, he led the league in steals at 2.1 per game, averaged 16.4 points, eight assists and 7.8 rebounds while shooting 58.3% inside the 3-point line.

The status quo in his game won’t work moving forward. He needs to become a more versatile offensive player.

Simmons declined an opportunity to play for Australia at the Tokyo Olympics saying he wanted to focus on skill development in the offseason.

“The best thing for everybody right now is for him to go on and develop that skill package and improve in a couple of areas for his next season in the NBA, but the Boomers are always here for him. We wanted him to know that in his time of need, the culture and the guys here are behind him and support him,” Australian coach Brian Goorjian said in a news release.

Let’s also not forget Simmons is talented and still just 25 years old. During the summer, Simmons has posted photos of himself on Instagram working out in the gym. He captioned one post, “The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” The way his season ended also perhaps humbled him and made him take an honest look at his game. He wants to become a better player.

Simmons needs and wants a new team, and if he’s making necessary improvements, the next team will get a better version of an already skilled player.

Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ben Simmons wants out of Philly; Where did it go wrong with Sixers?