Of course, the NBA rumor mill won’t stop just because the trade deadline has passed, but at least there will be a concrete answer to the question, “Where will Ben Simmons play (or not play) this season?”
All signs point to anywhere but with the 76ers. It’s hard to fathom Philly general manager Daryl Morey relenting and allowing Simmons to step on the floor.
The old “stranger things have happened” adage may not apply here because, honestly, that could be the strangest thing that’s ever happened if it does.
But the more pressing question right now is if Big Ben takes up a roster spot but never hits the court, can the 76ers win a championship?
The Philadelphia 76ers have been good, not great, without Simmons
A 117-107 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Jan. 25 moved Philly to 28-19 on the year. That puts the Sixers sixth in the East, but admittedly only two games behind the now-first-place Miami Heat.
Joel Embiid has been on a tear as of late, to say the least, as he vaults himself into the MVP conversation. JoJo has scored at least 30 points in 15 of the team’s last 16 games.
He’s also put up 40 in four of the Sixers’ last five and, according to StatMuse, has now posted larger numbers in the scoring column than in the minutes played column in five straight.
Embiid is figuratively carrying the 76ers, and at this point, it wouldn’t be much of a shock if he did it literally. Just put the other four Philly players on his back and let him go about his business.
The 27-year-old leads the Sixers in points, shot attempts, free-throw attempts, and rebounds, and as a 7-foot center, is second in assists. His average of 29.0 points is 10.4 points higher than Tobias Harris’ 18.6, which is second on the team.
So the question becomes: Can a center, in today’s NBA, with a string of foot injuries, lead a team to an NBA championship with a cast of nothing but role players?
The Sixers cannot win a championship without Ben Simmons
Embiid seems to be loving life without his former point guard.
“This year, there’s more freedom to be able to, whether it’s bringing the ball up and pushing up in transition,” Embiid explained, per Yahoo Sports. “I got more freedom to do that this year. In the previous year, we had someone that was so good in transition that you had to get the ball to him so he can make plays attack or making plays and he was so good at it.
“His absence obviously puts a hole in that category. That’s why I decided to kind of take my game to another level when it comes to that.”
Embiid is talking about Simmons, and sure, he’s had plenty more freedom without Big Ben in the lineup.
But is that better for the team?
Let’s compare the stats between 2020-21, when Simmons was in the lineup as Philly earned the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, and 2021-22, during which the team is currently sixth in the East standings without him:
- Points per game: sixth in 2020-21; 21st in 2021-22
- Rebounds per game: 11th in 2020-21; 30th in 2021-22
- Assists per game: fifth in 2020-21; 23rd in 2021-22
- Defensive rating: second in 2020-21; 10th in 2021-22
JoJo has been better across the board — likely by both necessity and opportunity. But in every team metric, Philadelphia has dropped without Simmons.
The last straw for Ben and the franchise was when the 6-10 point guard passed up a wide-open dunk in Game 7 of the 76ers’ Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
Was it a poor decision? 100% yes. Did that one play cost his team the game? No. Did that one play cost his team the entire seven-game series? Absolutely not.
Simmons has his drawbacks as a player. He made a terrible decision at the worst possible time.
Embiid may be a better player without the three-time All-Star, but his team is not.
Philly is stuck in NBA purgatory until it makes a decision
Morey needs to make a call. Because right now, his stubbornness, hubris, ego — whatever it is — is going to cost his franchise a chance at a title.
Embiid isn’t winning a Larry O’Brien Trophy with 14 Ringos on his team.
Morey is waiting out a trade for what he feels is another superstar. That’s all well and good. Until you consider the fact that the only franchise player you have left:
- Missed the first two years of his career with a foot injury
- Has a career high of 64 games played in a season
- Is currently averaging the second-most minutes of his career
- Has the highest usage rate of his career.
Suppose you don’t consider De’Aaron Fox a superstar. Fine. You’re probably not alone. Ditto for CJ McCollum or Caris LeVert.
But if the goal is to win a championship (which it is), and the plan is to give Embiid the ball and cross your fingers that he doesn’t get hurt and can post 40 and 15 a night for the next six-plus months, it’s a complete waste of a year.
All statistics courtesy of NBA.com.