The question of "Who Will Blink First in Ugly Ben Simmons-Philadelphia 76ers Staring Contest?" was answered last week when Simmons reported to the team, cleared the necessary protocols and rejoined the squad for practice ahead of the season opener Wednesday.
While Simmons swerved in the game of chicken, he's not precisely contrite and conciliatory. Paraphrasing The Athletic's John Hollinger, Simmons may win this battle by attempting to destroy the Sixers from within.
What triggered Simmons' return? Probably a deeper understanding of the rules within the NBA's collective bargaining agreement (CBA), which meant unrecoverable fines for his no-show. The 76ers withholding the second balloon payment in Simmons' contract (roughly $8.3 million) was...effective.
Several agents called the move outrageous, citing that if Simmons had culled $1 million in fines, the team shouldn't be withholding about $8 million in salary. They also acknowledged that while Simmons will likely get most of his money back after he and the team go to arbitration, the process might take six to nine or even 12 months to resolve.
So Simmons is back with the 76ers—barely. On Tuesday he practiced with his cellphone in his pocket, away from the team and got kicked out by coach Doc Rivers (via Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN), but he is technically there.
It's an ugly distraction dominating the news cycle. It will relent a little once the games get started, but the issue isn't going away, especially if the 76ers get off to a slow start.
From a practical point of view, Simmons will have a better chance to fight for his money by pretending to honor his contract. He can't convincingly argue he isn't in breach if he's a complete no-show.
Meanwhile, the Sixers are building their case in what is a high-profile human resources issue. That is until they trade him and get this mess off their books.
And while several teams have inquired—10, per B/R's Jake Fischer—the focus for the rest of the NBA over the past few days were roster cutdowns, two-way players, G League affiliate players and rookie-scale extensions. Most franchises have a full roster (15 under regular contract and a pair of two-ways) and a perfect record with zero losses, at least headed into Tuesday's opening-night contests.
While some teams will win about 15 of their first 20 games, some will lose 15. Also, most free agents signed over the summer cannot be traded until Dec. 15 (some until Jan. 15).
The trade market just isn't there yet for the Sixers, which is why they're not interested in trading Simmons right now. But they are and would pull the trigger before you finish this sentence if the opportunity presented itself.
Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn
Sixers' approach on a trade has remained steadfast: They won't move Simmons for role players -- only a player who'll help keep them a championship contender. That hasn't changed. For now, no one should expect a speedy resolution on Simmons' future in Philadelphia. https://t.co/YUdkseUZOo
Additionally, teams understand the Sixers are in an awful situation. Why help? The goal is to take advantage of a team when they're down. From the point of view of the 29 other franchises, the longer this goes on, the better.
Philadelphia needs another team to get equally or even more desperate than it is. If the Portland Trail Blazers fall apart early, will Damian Lillard become available? What of Bradley Beal and the Washington Wizards?
Neither team, according to several sources, is interested in moving its star guard for Simmons. Will that be the case in December or January if both teams are flailing? And what if they get off to solid starts and are viable playoff entries?
The Simmons saga will resolve eventually, maybe positively for the Sixers, maybe poorly. But it won't happen until it needs to happen. Simmons can and will make the situation uncomfortable to get what he wants. Philadelphia is willing to push through that because it has to.
There's no right or wrong here—or better yet, there's no right here, just two wrongs. Did Simmons breach his contract by not showing up for training camp and the preseason? Yes. Did the Sixers breach the contract by not paying Simmons his second payment? That happened, too.
Are players supposed to issue public trade demands (through their agents or the media)? Nope. Should teammate Joel Embiid and Rivers have questioned a vulnerable Simmons (after a glaring miscue) to the media following a tough playoff loss? No, sir.
For the Sixers fanbase, Simmons is the guilty party. The NBA and National Basketball Players Association can refine the rules in the next CBA negotiation, but if both sides now are blatantly disregarding the rules, how can revisions (that can equally be ignored) solve the issue?
If it's a complex situation, it's not a unique one. Wilt Chamberlain demanded a trade out of Philadelphia (landing with the Los Angeles Lakers) over 50 years ago. NBA teams often trade players just months after signing them to contracts, and while Simmons isn't the good guy here, he's attempting to take control of his career.
While the Sixers may end up the better for it with a thoughtful trade, forcing one now for the sake of closure is nonsensical. So, for now, Simmons will go through the motions. The team will respond in kind.
Simmons hopes to be defined by what comes next, post-Philadelphia. Unfortunately, this version of ugly may stick with him for a long, long time.
Email Eric Pincus at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter, @EricPincus.