It Won't Be Cinematic: Entering the Final Stages of Drudgery with Ben Simmons
The idea of Simmons channeling his fury, in either direction, while still playing in Philly... nah.
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As the great Rochelle Onwulata once said, Ben Simmons and Klutch Sports fucked around and found out. They overestimated the open-market demand for Simmons while underestimating the Sixers' tolerance for discord, drama and humiliation -- built up through great practice over many years, like the Man in Black with iocaine powder -- and now Ben has to choose between hemorrhaging $1 million every week or so and essentially showing up for one of those no-work Esplanade jobs. Even to a petty motherfucker like Ben Simmons, that choice appears to have been a simple one, and now these two sides -- whose all-out warring Brian Windhorst was hiding under his desk to protect himself from just a week ago -- appear to be reaching a detente. As always, you have to laugh.
And we laugh now, because the situation that's upcoming for the Sixers is almost certainly gonna be a lot funnier in theory than in practice. A month or two ago I was excited for the idea of Ben Simmons inviting all the negative energy of the Wells Fargo Center unto himself by continuing to play with this team as if nothing was wrong -- but I don't see that happening at this point. I don't see much of anything happening at this point. In all likelihood, Ben's return to the team is just going to result in a bunch of awkward press conferences, secondhand locker-room cringe and unwatchable camera cutaways -- a soul-crushing drudgery, right up until the moment he's traded.
Even funnier at the moment than the Simmons situation is the outsider reaction to it. Shout out in particular to my co-worker Josh, who (to his credit, if also to his poor mental health) is very much a Nets fan the way we are Sixers fans; his reaction to the Simmons news today was to quake with anger at the redemption narrative he saw unfolding inexorably from here -- in which Simmons rediscovers his verve as a Liberty Baller, excels like never before on the court, and recaptures the hearts of Sixers fans who swear they had never stopped believing in the man. I couldn't even launch a response, I was so incredulous at the idea of Ben Simmons (nice, unassuming kid from Australia, never complains) and the Sixers co-starring together in this rom-com he had preemptively penned for the rest of the season.
He's not alone. Twitter has recently been full of such spec scripts dreaming up potentially satisfying conclusions to the Ben Returns to Philly story. "Wouldn't it be funny if he came back and just started launching threes?" "Wouldn't it be funny if he commandeered a practice to spite management, like Jimmy Butler?" "Wouldn't it be funny if he came back and just ran the Andrew Bynum 2012-'13 playbook all season?" Yes yes, very funny, ha ha, it is to laugh. Sounds like a great ten-episode trip, but it's just not going to happen. Any of it.
Even after five seasons, we might not really know that much about Ben Simmons, but the one thing we can count on him to do is to not be in any way extra. Simmons is not an "OH YEAH??!?" sort of personality; if he takes shit personally, he may smirk or sulk about it, but he is definitely not going to Show Anyone. Public displays of defiance and point-proving are just not his thing -- when Ben takes umbrage with his coach publicly challenging him to shoot more, his response is not to fire back at him to the press, on social media or or even in the locker room, but instead to quietly just stop shooting altogether. The only times we've ever seen Ben hum at a noticeably higher frequency than his usual levels are in matchups with the Jazz (hates Mitchell and Gobert) and the Lakers (wants LeBron to think he's good?). Otherwise, Ben is Ben, and has no interest in playing it otherwise.
You also probably don't need me to remind you that adversity has not generally brought the best out of Simmons. We remember how he responded when Butler was ultimately given primary ball-handling responsibilities over him, we remember how he played while the Harden rumors were most widely circulating, we remember all sorts of flashbulb memories of the Hawks series that we'd love to forget. The idea of Simmons channeling his fury, in either direction, while still playing in Philly... nah. It'll come, sure -- but just not until after he's traded, when he flummoxes his new team by saving all of his 40-17-19 games for his two matchups a year against the 76ers.
And of course, none of the on-court theories or precedents about Simmons will likely even really matter, since the overwhelming probability is still that he never plays a meaningful minute for the Philadelphia 76ers, even once he's technically back in the fold. The Sixers may want Ben back on the court to help their trade positioning with him, but the challenges to that becoming a reality -- Ben not wanting to play, Ben's management not wanting him to play, Ben and his teammates having long had it with one another, Ben and his coaching staff having long had it when one another, Ben having no motivation to play well (and having already proven how lackluster he can be when less motivated), 19,500 strong at the Wells Fargo Center champing at the bit to boo Ben any time he even thinks too loudly -- are gonna be a real tough mountain to climb.
No, we know what's actually gonna happen. He'll sit on the bench and have minimal interactions with teammates and coaches. The NBA camera crews (particularly on national broadcasts) will cut to him 20 times a game, and his blank, unimpressed expression will tell us nothing we don't already know. Doc and Joel will have to field questions about him after basically every game, and they'll get increasingly disgruntled and testy having to stay diplomatic throughout. A low hum of boos will persist throughout every home game, occasionally punctuated by a "FUCK-BEN-SIM-MONS" or "SIM-MONS SUCKS!" chant. Every couple of weeks an Athletic report will cite anonymous sources describing the situation as "untenable," and yet, the situation will continue to ten. Everyone will spend every moment of every game wishing Ben gone -- most of all the man himself.
Then one day he will be. Daryl Morey is still asking for the moon and stars and a couple orbiting satellites for Simmons, and that's fine -- he probably won't get it, but teams get antsy when the season starts, and they'll give him something closer to that than they likely should. Ben will be elsewhere, and afterwards he'll be our problem only 2-4 times a year. But in the meantime, this isn't some amour fou that the Sixers have with their disgruntled not-quite-point-guard, destined to end passionately and violently and with no shortage of bitter irony. It's gonna be dull, it's gonna be depressing, and it's gonna feel absolutely endless -- especially considering that the tragic ending to Ben Simmons' Philadelphia story really came months ago, when he got spooked under the net by the lurking threat of Trae Young's shot-blocking. Everything else at this point is just epilogue.