7 Players the Philadelphia 76ers held onto for way too long

Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Sixers podcast (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Sixers podcast (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /
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Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images
Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images /

7. Ben Simmons

Buckle up because this is about to be the ultimate zag to the rest of the world’s zig.

Saying that the 76ers held onto Ben Simmons for too long is both obviously right and obviously wrong at the same time. On one hand, it became abundantly clear he would never suit up for the 76ers again over the summer of 2021, yet he wasn’t traded until February of 2022. One could argue that he was dead weight for eight entire months, and so he was definitely kept for too long, right?

Not if you ask most people who talk about the NBA for a living, because heaps of credit has since been afforded to Darryl Morey for standing pat on Simmons until he could get a real asset back in James Harden. I distinctly remember the Simmons hold-out saga as characterized by periodic reports that the 76ers had called up a team and offered up Simmons in exchange for their best player, which was hilarious to read.

Headlines like, “76ers want Damian Lillard for Ben Simmons” or “Morey would trade Simmons and assets for Tatum” were all over my timeline, and my reactions were mostly in line with the prevailing opinion in NBA media at the time: Simmons had completely ruined the 76ers plans, and the difficult in picking up the pieces was hardly the team’s fault.

And when Morey flipped Simmons—who quite obviously was never going to play for the team again—into a former MVP in Harden, it was super impressive. But today, I sit here and wonder if the delay caused shockwaves that still haunt the team today, and I’m not just talking about Harden’s current trade request.

One of the secrets of the NBA is that winning is hardly just about basketball. Having a roster that is bought in and up for the smoke associated with contending is at least half the battle, and the 76ers’ process-era culture was the antithesis of that. Winning was discouraged, and not playing in games was perfectly fine if it preserved long-term health.

I think Simmons’ saga is the manifestation of this culture in all the wrong ways, and letting him lame-duck around for over half a year sent all the wrong messages about what this team needed to be mentally.

Morey’s insistence on getting the best return possible for Simmons makes sense from a basketball perspective, but at the end of the day, this team didn’t need Harden. They needed an exorcism.

Trading Simmons as soon as he quit on the team would have proved to the rest of the players that it was no longer playtime and that insolence and lack of commitment would no longer be tolerated. Instead, the team was left flat-footed and dazed for a huge chunk of the season, only to receive the ultimate lack-of-commitment player back in Harden.

Today, the whole situation feels like an endless cycle of promise, dysfunction, and reset. There is no continuity, no certainty, and clearly, a hard reset of culture was needed around that time. But a cold calculus was used once again, and while Simmons may have become a useful asset, the team kept its issues at home.