You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who'll defend Ben Simmons. From the meltdown vs. Atlanta to the way Simmons has handled his trade request, there are a lot of things he could've done much, much better. But, one NBA legend sees things the other way and isn't happy with the fact we've all lost sight of the 76ers part in this entire mess.
Zeke's got Ben's back
Isiah Thomas knows what it's like to be on the other side of popular opinion. From his feud with MJ, Magic asking to take him off the Dream Team, and Pippen calling him a snake - Zeke knows what it feels to be alone. But that's not what made him sympathize with Simmons. When they were fighting against the Bird Celtics and MJ Bulls, the Pistons knew they only had one chance - if everyone sticks together.
As we covered already, Thomas gave a lengthy explanation why he would trade for Simmons despite all the drama surrounding him. He compared Simmons' shooting struggles with Magic's with the Lakers and would use the same blueprint to make Simmons an offensive threat.
But in that same interview, Isiah made sure to remind everyone it takes two to tango and that despite all his sins, Simmons isn't the only one bearing responsibility for the mess in Philly. Did he improve enough on offense since joining the league? No. But Thomas thinks the 76ers had a lot to do with that.
They dogged him. Here's what happened. He had a bad moment. He had some bad moments in the playoffs. What yоur team, yоur coach, and yоur organization are supposed to do in your bad moments - they are supposed to protect you. They ain't supposed to air your dirty laundry out. When Shaq was going like 4-18 at the fоul line, I didn't hear Phil Jacksоn dоgging Shaq.
Isiah Thomas, The Big Podcast with Shaq
Thomas kept it real and said he's sure people on the team talked to Shaq about improving his free throw shooting. But in front of media and fans, the coaches didn't call Shaq out for it, knowing it was a mental/confidence issue. In his mind, Philly made a lot of things worse when Doc and Joel dissed Ben in front of everyone.
Fool me once...
The thing I think Thomas is missing and is crucial here, is that no one gets an infinite number of chances. That and the minor detail that Ben Simmons is nowhere near Shaquille O'Neal. Despite his free throw problems, Shaq was good for 30 and a monster on defense - it's a bit easier to forgive him for going 4-18 from the charity stripe when he's winning you Playoff games.
But more importantly, the Lakers saw Shaq work on his free throws and make a lot of them in practice. He didn't dismiss a coach who improved his shot and hired a family member without telling the team - Simmons did that. Philly traded Butler because Simmons wanted the ball more. He acted like he was Shaq, but didn't deliver, nor did he step out of his comfort zone to improve.
Year after year, we were treated with summer shooting videos and no improvement when the season started. After such a heartbreaking loss in the Playoffs, I understand why Rivers and Embiid reacted the way they did. It wasn't optimal from a strategy point of view. But it was far from "dogging" a team member. I'd never thought I'd use a Bushism in an article, but here we go.
The 76ers made their life more complicated with their public reactions. But I don't think they betrayed Simmons. If anyone disrespected their team and teammates, it's the guy who refused help and took the easy way out. Now, did the 76ers create an environment where a player who hasn't won anything in his career felt he could get away with such behavior? Yes, but we already covered MJ predicting that almost two decades ago.
If the 76ers are to blame for anything, it's for not calling out Simmons when they did. It's the fact they didn't establish a culture of responsibility much sooner. But that's a problem we've been seeing all around the league in recent years.