The beginning of the 2021-22 season has been wild, even by the NBA’s lofty standards. Injuries play an unfortunate role in every season, but we currently have two perennial All-Stars sitting on the sidelines despite being completely healthy. Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving will not be allowed to play a game for the Nets until he receives at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. Ben Simmons, meanwhile, got himself suspended for the 76ers’ season opener after he got kicked out of a team practice earlier in the week.
At this point, it’s hard to see either player patching things up with his current team. Irving has reportedly shown no inclination to get vaccinated, which means he will be ineligible to suit up for the Nets whenever they play at home as a result of New York City’s vaccine requirements. The Nets said last week that Irving wouldn’t play in road games or practice until he gets vaccinated, either.
Simmons asked the 76ers to trade him after last year’s disappointing second-round playoff exit. Philly’s asking price for the three-time All-Star is reportedly sky-high, however, and no deal has come down as of yet. Head coach Doc Rivers kicked Simmons out of practice on Tuesday after the latter refused to participate in a drill. The team suspended Simmons for their opener against New Orleans shortly thereafter, and, at this point, there’s no telling whether the former No. 1 overall pick will ever play for the 76ers again.
We know Simmons doesn’t want to ever play for the 76ers again. The 25-year-old was the scapegoat for Philadelphia’s unfortunate second-round departure from last year’s playoffs, and with good reason. He was a complete non-factor in that series, averaging a paltry 9.9 points per game while shooting just 32.7 percent from the free-throw line.
Simmons decided to report to training camp last week so that he could retain at least some of the $33 million he’s owed by the Sixers this season. Clearly, it was a business decision. Being present for team practices means he’ll get paid, but the team doesn’t actually have to put him into games if they don’t want to.
After Wednesday’s game in New Orleans, Rivers said that he expected Simmons to be back with the team upon their return to Philadelphia. The team will ironically play its home opener on Friday against the Nets, sans Kyrie Irving. Before the incident at Tuesday’s practice, Rivers said didn’t know whether Simmons was physically ready to play in regular-season games. Rivers cited conditioning and the potential learning curve Simmons faced after showing up late to camp.
Tuesday’s mess certainly didn’t endear Simmons to his teammates. Joel Embiid, who has never been shy about speaking his mind, was particularly blunt. When asked about Simmons’ status, Embiid replied,
“At this point, I don’t care about that man, honestly. He does whatever he wants. That’s not my job…I’m only focused on trying to make the team better.”
Embiid went on to say that the 76ers’ chemistry has been “excellent,” which implies that the team is just fine playing without Simmons.
Obviously, the Sixers won’t just trade Simmons to trade him. He’s got four years left on his contract and an incredibly solid track record for a 24-year-old. He can presumably replenish some of his lost trade value by playing well. However, Rivers also isn’t going to risk compromising his locker room to give minutes to a player that clearly isn’t invested in the Sixers’ long-term cause. Frankly, Tuesday’s practice spat may have been the last straw.
I really, really want to like the value on “yes” here given the +275 odds. Simmons is still under contract with the Sixers, after all. It’s just hard to imagine his teammates welcoming him back with open arms at this point. I do think a flier on the “yes” odds has merit, but I just can’t pull the trigger.
Rivers mentioned on Wednesday that the ongoing Simmons drama took away from the fun of opening day. The 76ers wound up having no trouble throttling the Pelicans in New Orleans in their season opener, but the situation is clearly wearing on the team. Embiid sounded fed up in his aforementioned comments, while Rivers clearly wants a resolution sooner than later. Simmons, obviously, wants the same.
As mentioned, though, Daryl Morey and Elton Brand won’t just trade Simmons for a low-ball offer to get him off the roster. For all of his faults, Simmons is a legitimately good trade chip, and it’s going to take a compelling package to pry him out of Philly. While there are plenty of teams out there that would love to get their hands on Simmons, there’s no telling how hot the trade market is right now.
The trade deadline won’t come until February. Teams don’t often make trades this early in the season, anyway. Most teams are still optimistic about what they can accomplish, and front offices generally like to wait before making a dramatic move. James Harden, who was in a similar situation last year in Houston, was dealt in January after the season began in December.
So, it’s easy to see why the odds favor Simmons making his season debut at some point in November. October only has about 10 days left in it, and I seriously doubt any other team will be ready to make the move a week into the campaign. It’s also hard to imagine the Sixers being willing to let this situation hang over the team into December or beyond, especially considering Philly has championship aspirations.
November looks like the smartest bet here, regardless of whether Simmons makes his debut for the 76ers or any of the league’s other 29 teams.
Like I said, I think the most likely outcome here is a trade coming down at some point next month. I do not think Simmons will play another regular-season minute for Philadelphia, nor do I think the team’s front office has much interest in letting this saga continue for months. You can get plus-money (+125) value on Simmons to be dealt in November. That’s the way to go.
Yes, Ben Simmons is a horrendous free-throw shooter. He has converted just 59.7 percent of his freebies in his four years in the NBA, and he hasn’t enjoyed much improvement. Simmons shot just 56 percent from the charity stripe as a rookie, and he’s never shot better than 62.1 percent in any of his other three pro seasons. Things came to a head in the playoffs, when the Hawks decided to foul Simmons on purpose just to send him to the line. He made less than a third of his attempts in that seven-game series, which is likely how we ended up in this mess, to begin with.
If the Sixers deal Simmons at some point in November, he could miss around 20 regular-season games. The NBA is back to an 82-game schedule this year. If a trade comes down at the end of November, for example, Simmons is likely looking at around 60 games for his new team before the playoffs begin. That, of course, doesn’t account for any future games missed due to potential injury.
He presumably committed plenty of his offseason to developing some sort of reliable jumper, but I’ll believe it when I see it. His shooting mechanics have always been a disaster, and it’s not like he’ll suddenly become a sharpshooter after one summer’s worth of work. Expecting improvement is realistic, but it’s still highly unlikely that Simmons is anything better than a 70-percent shooter, at best.
Still, I think Simmons would be incredibly lucky to log even 60 games played this season at this point. It’s close, but the best bet is to bank on his free-throw percentage here.
Irving’s situation is a bit different. Simmons’ dispute is with his team. Irving’s dispute is with New York City. While the Nets ultimately made the decision to bar Irving from being a part-time player, the ball is entirely in Kyrie’s court. All he has to do is get one dose of any Covid vaccine in order to be eligible to play. He doesn’t even have to take the extra step of getting a second dose if he opts for one of the two-dose shots.
The NBA says that over 95 percent of players are now fully vaccinated. Irving is the only player on the Nets’ roster to remain unvaxxed. Golden State’s Andrew Wiggins faced a similar set of circumstances due to San Francisco’s similar rules, but Wiggins ultimately relented and got the jab.
The Nets are championship contenders, especially with Irving in the fold. Brooklyn still has enough talent to win it all without Kyrie, but his absence makes them mortal. To this point, Irving has given no public indication that he plans to take one for the team and just get the shot.
Irving is in the final guaranteed season of his deal, though he does hold a $36.6 million player option for 2022-23. If Kyrie tells the team with certainty that he will not get a vaccine, the team may well try to trade him this season. As of now, the only other cities with vaccine mandates comparable to New York’s are Los Angeles and San Francisco. So, Kyrie won’t be a Laker, Clipper, or Warrior any time soon.
Irving is still a perennial All-Star and just 29 years old. If he can be had at a reasonable price, there are plenty of teams out there that would be happy to trade for him. Still, the Irving situation presumably isn’t quite as distracting to the Nets as the Simmons situation is to the Sixers. For now, Kyrie is out of sight and out of mind.
As a result, Irving is far more likely to be traded at some point in 2022, if he’s traded at all.
This situation is a lot more difficult to predict. Will Irving get a vaccine shot and return to the Nets soon? Will he eventually get tired of sitting around and return to the team at some point next year? Will he just sit out until the Nets trade him to a team for whom he’d be eligible to play?
The over/under of 24.5 games for Kyrie this season is pretty low. Taking the under essentially implies that he’s going to be willing to miss the entire season for his “cause.” Taking the over means he’ll eventually give in, or that the Nets decide to trade him pretty early on. Brooklyn being a team in the title race could convince GM Sean Marks to make a deal sooner than later, but it’s still an uncertain situation for all involved.
He joined Kevin Durant with the Nets in pursuit of a championship, after all. I think the over on 24.5 games played for Irving is the logical bet here, even if the Nets decide to trade him.
Simmons submitted a formal trade request months ago. To our knowledge, Irving has not yet done the same. The Simmons situation seems to heat up more with each passing day. The Irving showdown, meanwhile, appears primed to drag on for quite a while.
We don’t need to do much digging with this one. The Sixers are likely more motivated to resolve this saga more quickly than the Nets are. Simmons is the easy call.
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