Earlier this week Ben Simmons clarified what many had already suspected and officially declared that he has no desire to play for the Sixers anymore. He will even be willing to hold out of training camp and preseason if necessary. Fans and national media alike have been quick to choose sides here, with some saying that the Sixers have been unfair and insensitive to Simmons and others saying that Simmons doesn’t understand the real problem and has never made any effort to grow his offensive game. The argument will never be won by either side, but now this is suddenly a game of high-stakes poker between Sixers President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey and Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul.
Critics of Morey have claimed that his asking price for Simmons has been insanely high and unfair to Ben, but Morey has a long track record of starting his megastar deals in this fashion. He starts much too high, negotiates with interested parties, and usually settles on a deal that is more reasonable but still gets him the deal that he wants. This is common practice for Morey, but because no one knows how to set the value for such a polarizing player, he is being eaten alive in the media.
Rich Paul has a reputation for being tough and forcing his agenda to always get his players where he wants them to go. When Anthony Davis wanted to be moved from New Orleans to the Lakers, Paul made it clear to Pelicans management that he would only go to the Bucks, Clippers, Knicks, or Lakers. Then he and Davis publicly said the same things to the national media so the other teams would know that they shouldn’t bother trying to trade for him. This situation should give several clues about how this might play out here in Philadelphia.
Paul and Davis went public with their demand in January 2019, hoping to be moved by the trade deadline that February. Handling their business in the media was not the norm because it put a lot of pressure on the Pelicans brass to move him, but also because Davis was under contract through 2021. As they got closer to the deadline with no move in sight, Davis began saying that he would actually go to any team, not just those four, but the damage was done. With no great offers on the horizon the Pelicans refused to accept low-ball offers for their star and instead chose to sit Davis on and off for much of the rest of the season. No sense risking injury to a player that you are publicly trying to move. By June the drama finally came to it’s conclusion and the Pelicans were rewarded for their patience with one of the largest trade hauls in NBA history.
The entire debacle only helped grow the already sweeping notion that NBA teams shouldn’t mess with Rich Paul. Davis had no leverage and a year and a half left on his contract, but by airing his dirty laundry in the public and on social media and telling teams that Davis would be uncooperative he forced their hand and got his player exactly where he wanted to go. Forgotten in that story is that the Pelicans chose to stay patient rather than give up Davis for pennies on the dollar.
Rich Paul has played hardball in the past. The Sixers shouldn’t give in with Ben Simmons.
So, here we are again, only now it’s our beloved Sixers in a staring contest with Paul. Nationally, much of the media seems to believe that Paul has Morey over a barrel and the Sixers will have no choice but to settle for whatever they can get. As a reminder, Simmons has four years left on a contract that he signed just one year ago! As is the case with most things Simmons-related, this move is almost unheard of.
Simmons camp is quick to say that Ben has never been handled properly by the organization, but Simmons himself has publicly said the opposite several times over the years. They say that Simmons was thrown under the bus by Doc Rivers, Joel Embiid, and the fanbase for not supporting him after his playoff struggles, and yet Rivers and Embiid spent the entire year saying Ben was better than anyone else thought and the fans have cheered and supported Ben non-stop throughout his entire career until the infamous game 7 this year.
None of this would matter except that we are about to see a chess match in which it is in both sides’ interest to take the opposite approach. Paul and Simmons will probably begin a public smear campaign, openly saying that Ben has been treated poorly and deserves sympathy, has the right to be traded, and that Morey is being unfair in dealings by asking for too much. Morey, on the other hand, should play his game behind the scenes, quietly, even if it means putting up with constant media bashing.
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The most important aspect of this, is that Morey absolutely, positively, must not give in to Rich Paul. Several years ago, there was a problem in the NBA with how much control teams had over the players, and agents like Paul pushed back for player empowerment. Which was terrific, but now the pendulum is starting to swing too far in the other direction. Players and their agents should not be able to hold teams hostage. They certainly should not be celebrated when they do.
Anyone, in any walk of life, who reads any contract, agrees to the terms of that contract, and then signs that contract is obligated by law to fulfill their commitment. When Jimmy Butler behaved poorly, made a scene, and forced his way out of Minnesota, people thought that was an anomaly because he was always a wild card. Then last year, to a lesser degree, Harden pulled the same thing in Houston. And now we have Simmons, with four years left on his deal. This is terrible for the league, and make no mistake, at some point if it does not stop they will be forced to address it.
If Paul and Simmons will give Morey a little time to work, a trade of some kind will happen. Morey wants Ben gone even more than Ben wants to be gone. But this childish, bullying act of threatening to “misbehave” if they don’t get what they want and the ugly tactic of handling everything through the media not only makes them sound like spoiled rich kids who have never been told “no” to the average fan, but makes it harder for Morey to actually get a fair deal. And this is why Morey must not back down from Paul.
Paul does not care what the Sixers get for Ben, so he will just keep pushing. This whole drama is terrible for the NBA and professional sports as a whole. Teams need to take care of their players and treat them with respect and players need to understand what is expected of them as professional athletes and fulfill their contractual obligations. It is time for someone to stand up to Rich Paul, and this is the perfect time for it to happen. Morey is known to be a fearless negotiator with thick skin so he not be intimated by the tactics of Klutch Sports, and at no time will he forget that he holds all the cards, not Paul.
The notion that any professional team would be so afraid of an agent telling his clients not to come here is absurd. It is the definition of putting the cart before the horse. Love us or hate us, Philadelphia is still a large media market. There are many worse places to play and frankly, everyone wants to play in Miami or Los Angeles but they only have so many jobs. How much control can an agent really have in these situations? And if they really do have that much control it only proves the point that this is a broken system that needs to change.
For now, Morey will continue to look for deals but under no circumstance will he accept less than fair market value for Ben Simmons. Of course he knows that what he was asking for on draft night was way too high, but don’t waste our time with trades where Jaden McDaniels is the centerpiece either. The right deal is out there and hopefully it will be one that makes the most sense for Joel Embiid and this current Sixers team.
As far as handling Paul? Let the Simmons team know that under no circumstances will you be changing anything that you had already planned to do. Everything should move forward just the same as always and Simmons can come to camp or not, so be it. If Simmons comes to camp and tries to act like a punk, Jimmy Butler-style, crush it in the bud. Let it get ugly. Fine him for poor behavior, kick him out of practices, suspend him if necessary but the rest of the team will move on. This is a team with veteran leaders and a veteran coach. This is not a young team that is going to be intimidated by the likes of Ben Simmons.
As long as Joel Embiid is healthy, this is still a playoff team, even without Simmons. They probably fall from third in the East to around sixth or seventh, but the Sixers can start the season and go for quite some time without him. If it were to somehow extend beyond the trade deadline that could get ugly because they are going nowhere in the playoffs without whatever trade value you would get for Simmons. But this has to be about getting as much value as possible for Simmons and the team needs to let Paul know that either Ben could be sitting for a very, very long time or maybe Klutch can try to work with them to try to get something positive done instead of being an obstacle.
Rich Paul has proven that he can handle a hammer but a smart agent should also know how to handle a scalpel. For the good of this franchise, both in the short and long term, Daryl Morey cannot allow himself to be pressured into accepting a bad deal. So who will blink first? It would be in the best interest of not only the 76ers but the entire NBA if it was Rich Paul.