Not Until Ben Simmons Is Traded
I'll describe the one thing I think my body and soul are waiting for to begin the healing process, since it's also the one thing pretty much the entire fanbase seems to be waiting for at this point: a Ben Simmons trade.
Andrew Unterberger is a famous writer who invented the nickname 'Sauce Castillo' and is now writing for The Rights To Ricky Sanchez, as part of the 'If Not, Pick Will Convey As Two Second-Rounders' section of the site. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AUGetoffmygold and can also read him at Billboard.
Andrew's writing is brought to you by Kinetic Skateboarding! Not only the Ricky's approved skate shop, but the best place to get Chucks, Vans, any apparel. Use code "DAVESILVER" for 9.1% off your order.
I've never gone anywhere near this long after a postseason loss without feeling the wounds had basically closed. It's been a month -- seems like three or four -- and I still can't even think about the Sixers at any meaningful length without feeling my insides wince. It's that feeling when there's something upsetting off in the still-visible distance, hovering in the shallow recesses of your brain, that casts a pall over everything else when you remember it's coming. A work or school project that's due, an unpleasant conversation you need to have with someone, an imminent election that you might not be able to bear the results of. You're having a perfectly nice afternoon and then all of a sudden it hits you: Oh right, the Sixers.
I've described at length before why I think this Sixers postseason defeat has left me this way, I won't go into that again. Instead, I'll describe the one thing I think my body and soul are waiting for to begin the healing process, since it's also the one thing pretty much the entire fanbase seems to be waiting for at this point: a Ben Simmons trade.
I don't hate Ben Simmons -- I don't think I do, anyway. He's one of the best Sixers of my sports-watching lifetime. I doubt he'll ever significantly improve in the areas he most needs to significantly improve in, but I don't think he's a lost cause as a player or a person. If I was a rival GM with nothing much to lose -- I can think of at least a half-dozen around the league who fit the bill -- I'd certainly be looking to buy low on him right now. He'll probably have a number of career games against us once he's elsewhere; I'm fine with that. I've just never needed a Sixers player to not be on our team anymore so badly before.
The finals just ended. Olympics basketball is ongoing. The draft is coming up this week. It's still heady times for basketball fans, but I can't get joy. I couldn't watch more than a quarter and change of any of the finals games. I haven't watched a second of the Olympics outside of Twitter videos. The draft? I'll probably tune in for our part of it, and hopefully somebody will tell me who the Tyrese Maxey of this year is beforehand so I can know to be pumped or pissed when we do or don't get him -- if indeed we get anyone at all, assuming we don't trade the pick before then -- but really they'll just be names on a spreadsheet that I don't recognize. My girlfriend's family invited us on a trip to Las Vegas next month -- as it turns out, the exact dates of the start of Summer League -- and when she said she was leaning against going, I shrugged and agreed it was probably the right decision. I've never liked using the word "broken" to describe my emotional well being as relates to the Sixers, but like Zainab, I don't know how else to describe this state I'm in. My fandom feels broken.
Ben's presence basically poisons everything for me right now. He's far from the only guy to blame for the Sixers' catastrophic second-round series loss -- again, we've covered -- but he's the guy whose entire being has become subsumed by memory of it. I might not hate Ben Simmons, but I definitely hate the person Ben Simmons has turned me into. He's made me the sort of sports fan I usually can’t stand dealing with, the guy who only cares about what a player did in the fourth quarter, the guy who only bases his opinion on a player's performance on his numbers in the box score, the guy who only remembers the one really bad play and forgets everything that came before it. That's exactly what this Hawks series has made me with Ben. I don't care about his All-NBA finishes or All-Star appearances anymore, his defensive player of the year silver medal, his incredible performances against LeBron, his dominance against the Wizards in the playoffs, even his 42 points against Utah. All Ben Simmons is to me at the moment is the guy who gave up a wide open dunk to pass to Matisse Thybulle. There's no past with that guy, and there's certainly no future. And I can’t do anything basketball-related with him still sitting in a Sixers jersey in the back of my skull.
That's not fair, of course, but I also don't think it's fixable. This is why I want to vomit whenever anyone suggests that there's anything less than total urgency to trade Ben Simmons as soon as possible, to maybe even imply that the Sixers could start the season with him on the roster before figuring out a longer-term solution with him. That'd be me just about any other offseason -- it was me last summer with Al Horford -- but now the thought is unpalatable. It doesn't matter that I hear the opening chords to Limp Bizkit's "Break Stuff" whenever I think about him now; it might not even matter that millions of other Process Trusters out there probably feel about the same. But if we feel this way, just imagine how Joel Embiid -- a guy whose feelings definitely do matter, especially with his super max extension talks just a season away -- feels, having had to play with and make excuses for his running mate for four years now and essentially being abandoned by him when needed the most in this season-ruining, legacy-tainting series. If we're broken just watching from home, Jo is probably spending the entire offseason in Nobody Call or Text Me mode. We gotta get this guy relief and we gotta do it now.
But the good news (I think, I hope, I pray) is that a Simmons trade could actually be the cure for what ails us here. It's sort of an echo of last season, when the matter of greatest urgency -- whether we realized it at the time or not -- wasn't really finding a new home for Horf, but finding the guy who we actually trusted to make that deal, and every other important decision with the Sixers. I wasn't down this bad at any point last offseason, but I was hardly up either after getting swept by the Celtics in the first round, with Brett Brown getting the boot, Embiid looking miserable, and no real reason to hope for significantly better days on the horizon. Then Doc Rivers was hired, and then Daryl Morey was swiped up, and all of a sudden there was reason to have an entirely different outlook on these Sixers. Not automatically better, not clearly title contention-bound, but no longer resigned to the same specific fate. Different.
And that's what a Simmons trade could get us now. Maybe it's a home run deal for Damian Lillard or a, uh, stand-up triple for Bradley Beal, but maybe it's just a lateral move that doesn't change our talent level or raise our ceiling significantly. And for me, right now, that's totally fine. I don't need the Sixers to climb a couple rungs higher with a Simmons trade, I only need them to change ladders. Without him, the team will very likely be worse, particularly in the regular season, but it'll be a new kind of worse, one where the end isn't predictable and inevitable and borderline-traumatizing. Without him, the team will certainly be less weird, at the very least, and after the past decade we've had we could certainly stand to have the veneer of normalcy for once. Again, at least it's something different.
Maybe we're getting closer. Reports don't have either Lillard or Beal asking for a trade, but both appear to at least be considering doing so, and both seem to recognize that now is kinda the time if they do. Draft night was the time for 90% of Daryl's most consequential maneuvering last offseason, perhaps it shall be so again this year. Let's hope so, because if not, this Thursday is going to be an entirely joyless night of sleepwatching through second-round picks and offering half-hearted analysis of whatever side deals we have going while the gigantic boulder with Ben's name on it rolls back onto our stomachs once more. Please release us, Daryl: I miss the Sixers, and I miss not being this person.