Every front office in the NBA swears that they are about culture and chemistry - well, every one except the one Daryl Morey is running. Philadelphia's GM was always a talent over chemistry guy, so you gotta love the irony that his team seems to be the best example that chemistry and culture are at least equally important as talent is. Shaq's recent comments on Ben Simmons paint a perfect picture of why.
With the trade deadline approaching, all eyes are set on Daryl Morey. Will he insist on a superstar, are the Harden plans really an option, or will he have to cave and take 80 cents on the dollar? A lot of people have been pointing out that Joel Embiid is playing at a level where those 80 cents may be enough to get them to the Finals - some help is better than no help.
While everyone's been talking about Simmons' trade value in terms of great defense vs. no shooting, Shaq has brought our attention to what players care most about. “I'd rather play with Tobias Harris in the first place. He plays hard, he ain't gonna quit in the fourth quarter. The other guy ain't there, forget him.” The following night on Inside the NBA, Shaq made it perfectly clear.
Difference between him and his soft partner (Ben Simmons), is he can take criticism without being a crybaby, and he still wants to play. Cause me and Charles, we've been on him. We stay on him. We tell him to his face what he needs to do. He didn't cry, he didn't say "I want to be traded," he didn't complain about mistreatment. That's the difference. The other guy I don't respect... You're missing a whole season because they asked your coach a question "Can we win without you" and your coach gave a funny answer. That should tell you, you need to get in the summertime and work on your game... Great players get criticized. Great players also step up to the criticism... I would get rid of him.
Shaquille O'Neal, Inside the NBA
Harris has been under a lot of pressure, mostly due to the size of his contract. He's not a bad player, but his performance and, in particular, consistency are far from a max player. As Shaq reminded us, players don't think in those terms. Harris used his leverage to secure a large deal, and he shows up every day and puts in the work. From a teammates' perspective, you can't ask for more.
More importantly, there's no way you can succeed as a professional athlete if you can't deal with criticism. Conflict is an integral part of being a basketball player, and people who shy away from it don't win anything of significance.
Open to criticism
While field goal percentage, rebounding, and similar categories are measurable, that doesn't mean character is less important. Analytics-heavy front offices often undervalue the significance of what Shaq is talking about. Being open to criticism, taking one on the chin, and moving on is as important of a skill as all those that can be quantified.
Ben Simmons is a great example of that. As much as Simmons has a lot of skill, you're not getting any value (in analytical terms) because his feelings got hurt. And that's what makes it such a difficult proposition to trade for him - it's the ultimate catalyst.
Can he become a better shooter? Yes, IF he's willing to be coached. Can he improve at the free-throw line? Yes, IF he's willing to be coached. Can he fit into our system? Yes, IF he's willing to step outside his comfort zone. I can go on and on.
All the great young players that outperformed their projections and draft positions - guys like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Donovan Mitchell, and Devin Booker - didn't just accept criticism. They searched it and embraced it.
On the other hand, guys like Trae Young and Ben Simmons have more and more teammates looking for the exit. They refuse to change and expect everything to change around them.
All talented players, but I know which group I'd pick out of to win a title with.