Don’t Blame Ben Simmons, Blame the NBA (well, actually, I guess blame them both)

The NBA has no one to blame but itself for the Ben Simmons holdout saga

Brian Fluharty / USA Today Sports

Probably the biggest story plaguing the NBA preseason is Ben Simmons’ trade demand and refusal to report for duty with Philadelphia 76ers. To recap, after a summer of reports that Simmons wanted a trade from the Sixers, Simmons’ agent Rich Paul (who is currently dating Adele by the way – respect) came out in the weeks leading up to training camp and confirmed everyone’s suspicion: Simmons would not be showing up to camp and wanted out of Philly at all costs. The Sixers organization and Simmons’ coaches and teammates made it publicly known they wanted Simmons on the team, and the squad was ready to jump on a private jet out to Simmons’ home base in LA to try to convince him to come back before he shut the rescue mission down. Simmons was nowhere to be found when camp opened about two weeks ago, and he blew off a $8.25 million payday on October 1. The situation is full on nuclear.

Players demand trades all the time in the NBA, but what makes this situation so insane is that Simmons still has four years – yeah, that’s right – four years left on his deal.

What happened to get us to this point? Well, the short answer is this is another diva NBA superstar who can’t put on his big boy pants and take a little fan hazing and criticism from his team after a historically awful 2021 playoff performance.

The longer version is really no better for Simmons. For some time now, Sixers fan have been blasting Simmons for the fact that he flat out cannot shoot… like, at all. And just won’t. The guy would rather do jury duty than take a fifteen foot jumper. When Simmons hit his first three in a game two years ago you would have thought it was Jordan’s ’98 elbow jumper over Bryon Russell to win the chip the way the crowd reacted. Honestly, it makes no sense that after five years in the league Simmons still shoots like a toddler on Fisher-Price hoop.

On top of the fans’ baseline resentment of a having gun-shy point guard who can’t shoot a beach ball into the ocean, Simmons is mad about how he got sacrificed by the city and his team after the Sixers lost to the Hawks in the playoffs last year. In case you just started watching the NBA, let me tell you, it was bad. Simmons averaged like one point per game (okay, 9.9 but you get the point) and shot a worst-in-NBA-history 34% from the free throw line (and yes, worse than Shaq… and Lebron in the playoffs hehe). Fans burned his jersey, among other things, and after getting eliminated, coach Doc Rivers answered a question from the media about whether Simmons could be the point guard on a championship team with an awkward “I don’t know”. Ouch. Doc has tried to put those words back in his mouth on many occasions since then, but Simmons is still sitting in the corner playing with his dump truck all by himself.

The obvious thing to do here is criticize Simmons for his trade demand and hold out. And I most certainly do. Most people have private performance reviews or worst case, Nancy from Accounting trashes them for their mistake on the expense reports over a Slack channel. But most people also don’t make $33 million a year either. The fact that Ben Simmons can’t take a little heat for being like the worst shooter since James Naismith hung a peach basket ten feet in the air from a pole is ridiculous.

But to just come down on Ben Simmons kind of misses the point here. Anyone who watches the NBA knows that not only have trade demands increased, the length of time left on guys’ deals when they make these demands is getting longer and longer. And the antics they employ to force their way out of town are out of control. Players basically turn into the Joker in The Dark Knight Rises to get out of a situation that doesn’t meet their every desire.

So the real problem here is… the NBA itself. The league has been absolutely spineless in demanding, you know, players actually honor the contract they signed that pays them millions of dollars. A NBA contract is about as meaningful as an IOU from the guy who did the Fyre Festival. No matter what a guy’s obligations are to a team, no matter how many years he has left on his deal, no matter how much money a team has paid him, the league refuses to take any action to hold its players to their bargains.

A number of high profile trade demands, to which the NBA had virtually no response, make this crystal clear.

First, there was Kyrie Irving’s 2017 trade demand with two years left on his contract with the Cavs. Kyrie, who fancies himself some combination of Socrates and Picasso, told the Cavs that if they didn’t trade him he would get knee surgery and sit out the whole next season. Of course the Cavs caved and traded him to the Celtics, where Kyrie promptly went on tell Celtics fans he was going to stay long term and then hit the exit to join Kevin Durant on the Nets. After all, if a contract doesn’t mean anything, why would your word?

Next, there was Kawhi Leonard’s infamous exit from the Spurs. Long story short, Kawhi injured his quad, recovered, was clear by the team, refused to play and told the team his doctors said he still couldn’t play, and, after a rift with his teammates, demanded a trade due to “lack of trust.” Nevermind that his trade request was specifically to the Lakers  (his hometown team) and there were reports that his camp thought San Antonio wasn’t a big enough market to build his brand.

And even if we give Kawhi the benefit of the doubt and believe his story about losing faith in the Spurs in the wake of his injury, his tactics surrounding Paul George’s 2019 trade demand from the Thunder make it pretty clear that neither he nor George are care much about a contract. George signed a 4-year deal with the Thunder in the summer of 2018; just like Kyrie, made a public proclamation that he was “here to stay;” and then, a year later, asked for a trade to the Clippers to team up with Kawhi. Kawhi had basically held the Clippers hostage by telling them that he’d only join their team in free agency if they could get George (again, a guy one year into a four year deal) away from the Thunder. Great guy.

The Thunder folded. The league did nothing. And now Kawhi and George are getting all the early playoff eliminations they could have ever dreamed of together in LA. Good times.

And honestly, this story would not be complete without some mention of Anthony Davis and James Harden – perhaps the most over-the-top trade demand stories on record. With a year and half left on this deal with the Pelicans, AD didn’t just demand a trade, he did it publicly – in the middle of the 2019 season. Most guys have their agent call the GM or talk to the front office behind the scenes. AD looked at those guys and said “Hold my beer." I’ll never forget a painfully awkward practice interview where Davis was actually talking about his demand to the media. At some point he gave a short list of favored destinations, then said every other team was on his list. He was in and out of the lineup for the rest of the season. He was caught on tape flipping off a fan. And just to show us all he wouldn’t go quietly, the guy actually showed up to a game in a tee shirt with the Looney Tune’s closer “That’s all folks” across the front. In fairness to AD, though, he said he just put on what his stylist had laid out for him… you know, as one does. Apparently, despite all that money, AD can’t afford lights in his house. After securing a trade to the Lakers, Davis was asked in an interview whether he would do anything differently to get a trade if he could do it again. “Not a thing” was basically his response. Honestly, I don’t know if we should demonize the guy or make him president to negotiate Kim Jong Un’s surrender. Real American treasure we got in AD.

Because Davis’ trade demand was public, the NBA fined him $50,000. For perspective, that’s like a $140 speeding ticket to an average American family. The league really threw the book at him.

But the cherry on top has got to be Harden. Last season, with two years left on his deal with the Rockets, Harden demanded a trade and refused to report to camp until he got it. As the team was prepping to open the year, pictures surfaced of Harden at rapper Lil Baby’s birthday party in Atlanta and  partying in Vegas. The guy did not care. Ultimately, he decided to show up in Houston, but the guy that got off the plane looked like he had eaten James Harden. Exhibit A below:

The memes, as you could imagine, came fast and furious:

Not only did Harden look like the Kool-Aid man, he decided to play like him too. He was totally disengaged. Finally, he came out in an interview and just said the team wasn’t good enough. The locker room imploded and not too long after that, he was a Brooklyn Net.

The common theme in all of these trade demands (and the infinite number of other less exciting ones) is the league response: basically radio silence. Not a warning, not a sanction, not a fine – at least not of any significance. Kyrie, Kawhi, Paul George, AD, Harden – they all threw a temper tantrum at the mall, but instead of their mom taking them home and unplugging their Playstation, they got an ice cream cone with extra chocolate fudge. Literally, all of them got exactly what they wanted. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is completely unwilling to actually hold his players accountable for their antics and spends most of his time trying to figure out how he can best affirm them. Apparently, the bags of cash they’re sitting on aren’t sufficient affirmation. If the commissioner doesn’t step in to shut this madness down, team execs are cut off at the knees. They can’t have a guy on their roster causing drama so their best bet is to deal him – and generally the star’s dream destination is waiting there with open arms.

The truth is Adam Silver needs to step up and lay some hurt on guys when they go rogue. Long term suspensions from the league. Multi-million dollar fines above and beyond team fines and loss of salary. I don’t know. Do something. But it’s got to sting enough where players realize it makes most sense to just do the right thing. Fans absolutely hate this trade demand nonsense. Players have no allegiance to teams or cities, and the basketball faithful feel it. In today’s NBA, it’s pretty easy to love your star’s talent but kind of hate the diva in him at the same time. The constant string of trade demands has to end, and it’s going to take some guts from the NBA to make that happen.

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It’s no surprise that Ben Simmons is demanding a trade and holding out with nearly half a decade left on his deal. If a parent lets their kid eat the two pounds of mini Kit-Kats and Baby Ruth’s they get on Halloween in one sitting, they only have themselves to blame when he flushes his little brother’s live goldfish down the toilet later that night in a sugar-fueled hysteria. You get what you pay for. As much as Simmons is to blame here, this one is on the NBA even more… and things will keep getting worse until the league does something about it. Because right now in the NBA, the players run the league plain and simple. Silver is just along for the ride.