The heavy lifting of the 2021 offseason is over for nearly all 30 NBA teams, but the Philadelphia 76ers are still in the thick of it. The Ben Simmons standoff remains unresolved and appears to be getting ugly.
On Monday, Marc Stein tweeted the "expectation" is that the 25-year-old would be a no-show to training camp, though the Sixers "remain intent on trying to convince Simmons to report."
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski followed up on Tuesday with more of a declarative statement that "Simmons will not report for the opening of training camp next week and intends to never play another game for the franchise."
Now this becomes a very public game of leverage. Teams may test the Sixers' appetite for dysfunction. As a championship-contending hopeful, how willing will Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey be to slow-play his hand for the perfect deal? Could this drag on well into the season, all the way to the trade deadline in February?
And what repercussions will Simmons face if he doesn't show up for the start of the 2021-22 season?
While the team can fine Simmons for missing media day and practices throughout training camp, the real financial punishment begins when Simmons starts missing actual games, beginning Oct. 4, when the Sixers visit the Toronto Raptors for their preseason opener.
The NBA's collective bargaining agreement (CBA) stipulates a total of $15,000 in fines for three missed practices, after which the team can consider an official suspension. That's a decision the Sixers will have to make. They could just choose to fine him daily for each missed practice, game and team activity. An initial suspension would cost Simmons $227,613 per game. An indefinite suspension (once he reaches 20 games) will cost him $322,261 per contest.
Simmons is looking at a massive loss of income in this potential holdout.
Another complication is Simmons' payment schedule. The Sixers were responsible for paying out roughly $8.3 million in August and will need to give Simmons another installment in early October, with the rest of the remaining $16.5 million paid out throughout the rest of the calendar year. It's a gray area where the team is obligated to honor Simmons' contract, but can they withhold the second balloon payment if Simmons isn't keeping his end of the deal by simply showing up?
The Sixers could be willing to let the issue get messy (legally speaking). How far they'll go may depend on the offers they receive for Simmons. Of course, if other teams believe they can get Simmons at a lower price by waiting, Morey may find a complicated pathway to resolution.
Simmons is just in the second year of that deal with four years, $146.7 million remaining. Looking at the details of his July 2019 extension, Simmons' designated rookie-scale extension kicked in at 28 percent of the 2020-21 salary cap (after he earned an All-NBA third-team honor) for a five-year total of $177.2 million.
What is Simmons' true value?
The Sixers overpaid Simmons, a decision made before hiring Daryl Morey as president of basketball operations. Now he's tasked with clearing the fallout of a sizable miscalculation.
"Yeah, he's overpaid," a Western Conference executive said. "[Simmons] has value, probably to a team that doesn't really care about salary-cap flexibility. But those teams usually care about the luxury tax. It may make it hard to move him."
To gauge Simmons' value in trade, what should he be earning per year?
"I don't know many point guards that can't shoot off the pick and roll or be a threat from the perimeter," the executive said, agreeing that Simmons may not even be a point guard in the NBA. "$20-25 million probably [per year], as he's still an all-league defender—one of the best in the league. He's just a confusing fit offensively."
That's the challenge if a prospective trade partner has a similar valuation. How much do you give up to acquire a player who can't shoot (at least from three-point range and the free-throw line) and is overpaid, probably by $12-$17 million a season?
What can history tell us?
The situation is all but unprecedented, especially with a designated rookie-scale extension that allows teams to reward first-round picks with a lucrative second contract that can exceed what would otherwise be a maximum salary of 25 percent of the salary cap.
Since the start of the 2017 CBA, 13 players have signed similar rookie-scale extensions. Andrew Wiggins is the only one to be traded, and he didn't qualify for the additional pay bump that Simmons procured.
Hold-outs used to be more prevalent in the NBA, but it hasn't been much of an issue in recent years. In 1989, Danny Ferry refused to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers after his No. 2 overall selection in the draft, initially choosing to play in Italy. Steve Francis didn't want to play in Vancouver with the Grizzlies in June of 1999, but that was resolved in a trade to the Houston Rockets in August. Gary Payton didn't report to join the Boston Celtics after a trade 2004 from the Los Angeles Lakers, which led to a revised deal less beneficial to the Lakers. Payton eventually joined the Celtics.
Now, it's more common for a team and a player to part ways, with the player sitting game without financial penalty.
Would John Wall be the perfect swap?
John Wall and the Rockets will "work together on finding a new home for the five-time All-Star guard," per Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium. No bad blood, just an amicable divorce in the making.
Most teams aren't interested in reworking their rosters right before the season. Houston, with Wall, could be the exception, but how willing should Morey be to take on his $91.7 million contract over the next two seasons?
Wall's $47.4 million player option for 2022-23 looks like a formality, since he's unlikely to get close to $47.4 million next year anywhere else. Before his many injuries, he was an All-Star. But the Rockets will probably need to compensate any team for taking on his salary.
For Philadelphia, the most the team can bring back in a trade for Simmons is $41.4 million in returning salary. Wall at $44.3 million for 2021-22 would require an additional player. Recently signed free agents like Danny Green, Georges Niang and Andre Drummond cannot be dealt until Dec. 15. Furkan Korkmaz is trade restricted until Jan. 15.
While the Sixers could get to Wall's salary by including Tyrese Maxey, who, like Simmons and Wall, is represented by Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, what's the appeal to the 76ers? Resolution is a goal but not without proper compensation.
The Rockets have several young players that might interest the Sixers, starting with recently drafted first-rounders like Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, Usman Garuba and Josh Christopher. Houston may not give up Green, but some of the other pieces might appeal to Philadelphia, along with future draft considerations. But the Sixers would need to send out additional salary beyond Simmons and Maxey to bring back anyone under contract from the Rockets.
Morey is a creative basketball executive and could try to get free agent Mike Scott to take a sign-and-trade to Houston (with only his first year guaranteed) to facilitate a more significant move. Perhaps a third team could get involved for some of the Rockets' prospects to bring more ready-to-win veterans or picks to the Sixers.
It's a lot to ask of Philadelphia, a team currently at $142 million in total salary with a projected luxury tax bill over $8 million. If trading for Wall added another $8 million in salary, the tax bill would balloon to almost $25 million.
Sources say Minnesota has significant interest in Simmons
According to multiple NBA sources, the Minnesota Timberwolves are another team believed to have a significant interest in Simmons. Still, they too are hesitant to help the Sixers out of this situation unscathed.
That likely means top players like Karl-Anthony Towns, D'Angelo Russell (who has a long relationship with Simmons) and Anthony Edwards aren't available. From Philadelphia's perspective, a package built around Malik Beasley, Jaden McDaniels and draft considerations may not be rich enough to change course.
How this could get ugly
The preferred path for Morey may be to let the Simmons situation get ugly, withhold his next check, issue fines and/or suspensions and wait for other franchises to fall apart. How many teams feel great about their offseason moves at the start of training camp but awful 20-30 games into the season? Morey may need to wait for another franchise to feel a sense of desperation.
Will a star like Damian Lillard look to force his way out of Portland and the Trail Blazers? Is Bradley Beal committed to staying with the Washington Wizards long-term? The Sacramento Kings have several pieces that could make sense for Philadelphia, but De'Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton probably aren't available. Perhaps the Kings could get some traction if Morey highly values Buddy Hield, but what about what Simmons wants?
He's willing to play the villain in Philadelphia. If the 76ers attempt to move him to a rebuilding team, or a city he doesn't desire, will Simmons scare off unwanted suitors?
Simmons isn't worried about his reputation around the league. He's a talented player, but his weaknesses are pretty glaring, and his salary is too high for risk-averse teams.
There is no clear end to this story just yet. Expect this messy situation to get worse before it gets resolved.
Email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter, @EricPincus.