Ben Simmons saga moves to key phase

With training camps opening leaguewide next Tuesday, Simmons' future is about to become a everyday source of discussion (and, likely, distraction) in Philadelphia

As a Wimbledon spectator in July alongside his girlfriend Maya Jama, Ben Simmons was all smiles. With the start of the NBA season approaching and no resolution in sight to his stalemate with the 76ers, it’s TBD on when we’ll see him like this in public again. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)

NBA training camps start one week from today.

My first not-so-bold prediction of the new season: You won't even have to wait until the first round of practices for the answer to one of the biggest questions that hangs over the league's 75th anniversary season:

Will Ben Simmons, still untraded, really refuse to report to the Sixers like he's supposed to?

By 76ers Media Day next Monday, confirmation of Simmons' absence will begin to sink in deeply — with all of the latest signals, as summer officially gives way to fall, strongly indicating that Simmons intends to make good on his long-held vow not to rejoin his team.

I reported Monday that the Sixers don't expect Simmons to show and are resigned to try to keep working behind the scenes to try to convince him to reconsider that stance.

After I published that, another source close to the situation told me: “Right now, I don’t see a scenario where Ben is back in Philly."

The source meant it with permanence. As in: Simmons’ career with the Sixers, to the source, is over.

Complicating matters with that caveat of right now, of course, is the reality that the Sixers also do not appear close to a trade they are willing to go through with that gives Simmons his desired fresh start. More than two months after posting one of my Tuesday newsletter extravaganzas on Substack for the first time on July 13 — also a breakdown, on that occasion, of the latest on the Simmons front — Philadelphia looks no closer to a trade to bring an end to this stalemate.

So what now? Another where-we-stand breakdown, for starters, of l’affaire Simmons. Five key points and observations:

Daryl Morey is not the pursuer for once.

So many times in his Houston Rockets tenure, it was Morey chasing the big name.

James Harden. Dwight Howard. Chris Paul. Even Russell Westbrook — interest fueled by fissures in the Harden/Paul relationship are what led to the Rockets pursuing the starriest persona … and landing him at a steep, steep cost given all the draft capital Morey had to add to the CP3-for-Russ trade.

This time is different. Weeks of Philadelphia’s Simmons talks with various teams haven't brought the Sixers to the brink of a deal, largely because Morey is the one faced with trying to get commensurate value for his All-Star and still asking for so much in return in his determination to recoup a trade package that, as one source put it, keeps Philadelphia in title contention. History, however, says that Philadelphia’s president of basketball operations shouldn’t count on getting a glittering package back when a deal finally materializes — his own history.

You'll recall that Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and two future first-round picks were the price tag for Morey's Rockets when they acquired Harden from Oklahoma City in October 2012. Five years later, when Paul forced his way to Houston, Morey merely surrendered Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Patrick Beverley and a future first-round pick.

Don’t expect a repeat of the Allen Iverson trade in December 2006.

When the end came for Iverson in Philadelphia, after he spent the fourth quarter of a lopsided home loss to Chicago in the locker room, The Answer was essentially exiled by the 76ers until they could work out a trade for him. Iverson was kept away from the team for nearly two weeks until a trade with Denver materialized.

The Sixers seemingly have some incentive to follow a similar script and just tell Simmons to stay away given his repeated no-shows in the fourth quarter of the Atlanta series to help seal Philadelphia’s second-round exit. If Tyrese Maxey’s summer-league play was the harbinger of a more consistent contribution in his second season, Joel Embiid and Co. shouldn’t slip too far outside of the East’s top four even without Simmons.

Yet league sources maintain, as noted above, that the Sixers are actively trying to convince Simmons to rejoin the team even though he has made it clear to management that he doesn't want to spend another second as a Sixer.

I was told very clearly that the Sixers do not liken these circumstances to Al Horford's last season in Oklahoma City or John Wall's in Houston. As the start of training camp draws near, Philadelphia has shown zero interest to date in striking the sort of mutual agreement that Wall and the Rockets just hatched to shelve the former All-Star point guard.

The Sixers’ outward silence is about to end.

Team officials have tried not to inflame the situation since last season ended so disastrously. Eyebrow-raising critical comments from coach Doc Rivers and Embiid after the Game 7 loss to the Hawks clearly wounded Simmons and convinced countless league observers that the parties’ relationship could not be restored. Rivers and Morey have since said nothing for weeks amid copious reports of Simmons' discontent.

Monday, however, is indeed Media Day. Rivers will certainly be addressing the media and the likelihood is that Morey will, too. After that, Rivers will be scheduled to speak to reporters almost every day for the foreseeable future, meaning this will suddenly have the potential to become a daily distraction.

How Philadelphia manages all the looming Simmons noise will be fascinating.

The Sixers have not lowered the bar on what they’re seeking in a Simmons trade — yet.

Toronto, Minnesota, Cleveland, San Antonio and Sacramento — all of them, league sources say, have engaged with Philadelphia in Simmons trade talks. They're also all bubble playoff teams at best based in markets not known for attracting free agents and surely love the idea of acquiring Simmons when the 25-year-old is locked into three guaranteed seasons on his contract after this one.

None of those aforementioned teams, though, has a perennial All-Star around whom to assemble a trade package. The Timberwolves could get there with Karl-Anthony Towns, but Philadelphia doesn’t need a center and Minnesota has made Towns and promising second-year swingman Anthony Edwards unavailable in trade talks anyway.

Morey is surely hoping that a slow start for Portland or Sacramento could lead to the sort of early tension that prompts Damian Lillard to finally ask for a trade, or the sort of desperation that nudges the Kings into making De’Aaron Fox available. Morey frankly needs an assist of some sort.

While Simmons possesses virtually no leverage when it comes to dictating his destination, with four years and nearly $150 million left on his contract and without a no-trade clause to wield, Morey isn’t exactly teeming with leverage in his dialogue with rival front offices. Not when the whole world knows he’s trying to trade Simmons after a disastrous playoff run marred by 34% shooting at the free-throw line and Simmons’ infamous refusal to lay up or dunk the ball in the fourth quarter when he had a clear path to the rim.

The entire league is waiting and watching to see if Philadelphia is willing to impose financial penalties to try to force Simmons back to work.

Because of the way his contract is structured, Simmons was scheduled to receive half of his $33 million salary this season in separate 25% installments on Aug. 1 and again next weekend on Oct. 1.

Any fines that the Sixers try to assess in response to Simmons no-shows, according to league rules, could not be docked from checks until November, after regular-season games commence, because that’s the standard starting point for when paychecks begin to be issued leaguewide.

Given that Simmons will have already collected half of his 2021-22 salary before the Sixers can actually inflict a cash penalty, it's thus possible that the advance payments will embolden Simmons even more to hold firm on his holdout to try to pressure Morey into trading him before he wants to.

Yet there is likewise great curiosity about the NBA's potential reaction. Would Commissioner Adam Silver go beyond exerting mere backchannel pressure on Simmons to report and step in to sanction him if he doesn’t? Several league insiders think so, but I’m not so sure. While true that the NBA dreads the idea of training camp holdouts coming back into vogue, like we saw in the early 1990s before the advent of rookie-scale contracts, intervention from the league is not always instant when discipline can come from the team first. The onus will be on the Sixers first to impose fines or a suspension.

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State of the (players) union

Portland's CJ McCollum replaced Phoenix's Chris Paul as president of the National Basketball Players Association on Aug. 7 after Paul's eight-year run.

Next up: McCollum and the executive committee have to select Michele Roberts' successor. Nearing the end of her own eight-year tenure, Roberts told Yahoo! Sports' Vincent Goodwill in July that she expected to remain in the job for only "six or so months."

I reported in July that Malik Rose, who won two championships in San Antonio as a player and worked in Detroit's front office before moving to his current basketball operations post in the league office, had emerged as an NBPA candidate.

Over the past two months, league sources have identified other potential candidates contacted as part of a long-running search that began in March 2020 and was paused last summer while the league and the union were focused on restarting the 2019-20 season after a four-month shutdown imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. In alphabetical order:

  • Noah Croom (former Minnesota Timberwolves executive who has also worked in the league office and as a player agent);

  • Arne Duncan (former U.S. Secretary of Education in the Barack Obama administration who played pro basketball in Australia after his college career at Harvard);

  • Nichole Francis Reynolds (attorney and former vice president of U.S. public policy at Mastercard; currently vice president and head of global government relations at business technology company ServiceNow);

  • Pat Garrity (10-year NBA veteran and former NBPA officer as a player whose post-playing career includes a stint in Detroit’s front office as assistant GM — and whose interview for the post was first reported in May 2020 by Yahoo! Sports’ Chris Haynes);

  • Mark Termini (longtime attorney and NBA player agent who most recently headed negotiations for Klutch Sports for nearly a decade).

Chicago-based Heidrick & Struggles is the search firm enlisted by the union to assist in the quest to pinpoint Roberts' replacement. The firm did not respond to a request for comment on the search.

There is nonetheless a growing sense among well-placed observers that Roberts’ ultimate successor could well be an off-the-board selection whose identity has yet to be made public.

What’s clear is that the next executive director, alongside McCollum, will inherit a rather lengthy (and urgent) to-do list. The league and the union, barring further amendments, unilaterally have just over a year (until Dec. 15, 2022) to decide if they wish to terminate the NBA’s current Collective Bargaining Agreement, which is scheduled to run through the 2023-24 season.

Whether the current deal is brought to an early conclusion in July 2023, or if it runs its course, there are numerous issues to work through in talks on the next agreement beyond the standard negotiations regarding revenue splits and the potential abolition of the one-and-done rule before entering the NBA Draft. Other points of emphasis are sure to include how to handle revenue generated by league’s next television deal, anticipated rises in gambling revenue, potential revisions to league rules governing franchise players and supermax contracts as well as the league’s drug policy, expansion and regulations regarding player rest.

Numbers Game

🏀 47.4

The number that should immediately convey why John Wall's departure from the Houston Rockets, as desired by both sides, is unlikely to materialize quickly: Wall holds a $47.4 million player option for the 2022-23 season. With that much money owed to Wall on top of the $44.3 million he is scheduled to earn this season, buyout discussions really aren't feasible. If there's any contract left on Planet NBA that can be described as untradeable, this is likely it. 

🏀 31

The heartfelt Hall of Fame speech Chris Bosh delivered earlier this month in Springfield, Mass., was a reminder that Bosh was just 31 when he played his last NBA game in February 2016. Unable to gain medical clearance after persistent blood clots derailed his playing career in his prime, Bosh (now 37) officially announced his retirement three years later in February 2019. 

🏀 96

No NBA player received a rating higher than 96 in the latest edition of the NBA 2K22 video game. The four 96s: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and LeBron James. No active player has held a 99 rating since LeBron in NBA 2K14.

🏀 1

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made only one 3-pointer in his career en route to becoming the NBA's all-time leading scorer (38.387). The 3 ball, mind you, was realistically never going to be a big part of Kareem's game. He attempted only 18 3s over the last 10 of his 20 NBA seasons after the line was introduced in the NBA in 1979-80. 

🏀 3,020

Abdul-Jabbar's lead over LeBron James in the all-time scoring race is down to 3.020 points. Only once in LeBron's 18 career seasons has he failed to score at least 1,500 points … and that was last season when injuries limited the 36-year-old to 45 of the Los Angeles Lakers' 72 games. For more from Kareem on LeBron’s pursuit in the scoring race and several other topics:

Twitter avatar for @TheSteinLineMarc Stein @TheSteinLine
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on LeBron, player empowerment, why the skyhook is better than dunking and, yes, his new Substack and a lifetime of writing on top of all the skyhooks ... ALL here in this interview with @kaj33 freshly dispatched to inboxes worldwide:…

Marc Stein @TheSteinLine

If @KingJames breaks Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's NBA scoring record, Kareem tells me he "will be right there to cheer him on." My full interview with @kaj33 about and many NBA topics drops soon. Sign up via email to get it all direct: