Can the Sixers woo back Ben Simmons?

Dan GelstonAAP
Aussie star Ben Simmons may be on the way out at the 76ers - but nothing is yet written in stone.
Camera IconAussie star Ben Simmons may be on the way out at the 76ers - but nothing is yet written in stone. Credit: AP

The Philadelphia 76ers seem to be on a collision course for an inevitable separation with their mercurial Australian star guard Ben Simmons - yet the history of the Sixers suggests that divorce is never certain.

Twenty years ago, they looked certain to part ways with another famed guard Allen Iverson, when the relationship between player and franchise appeared ruptured beyond repair and he was on his way to the Detroit Pistons.

Team president Pat Croce remembers how he had tried to mend the relationship between Iverson, the franchise star, and coach Larry Brown but found both sides unwilling to bend on the thornier aspects of their disagreements.

Eventually, Iverson stayed - but Croce remembers the whole episode as "a horrifying experience."

Now two decades on, Simmons is at the centre of a new 'want away' story.

It was reported that the Aussie - with $US147 million ($A201 million) and four years left on his contract - said in a meeting last month in Los Angeles with key franchise figures including team president Daryl Morey and coach Doc Rivers that he wanted to be traded.

Rivers went on ESPN this week and tried to make peace in public with Simmons, stating his case for the three-time All-Star to return to the team that made him the No.1 pick of the 2016 draft.

"I can tell you up front, we would love to get Ben back, and if we can, we're going to try to do that," Rivers said. "We want him back."

The 25-year-old Simmons has long been his own player in Philadelphia, refusing, for example, former coach Brett Brown's plea in 2019 to attempt at least one 3-pointer a game.

Just try to be better, Brown asked. Simmons instead attempted seven 3s that season and is 5 for 34 over his four-year career.

But the final straw just may have been the aftermath of the top-seeded Sixers' shocking second-round exit to the Atlanta Hawks last season in the East semi-finals.

The Sixers lost three games at home, and Simmons took the blame from fans and even inside the locker room, shooting 25 for 73 (34%) from the line in the playoffs and missing 27 alone against Atlanta.

His defining moment as a Sixer came when he passed up a wide-open dunk that would have tied the game late in Game 7. He heard footsteps and passed the ball - and passed on the chance to lead the Sixers into the next round.

Joel Embiid, long a Philly fan favourite, called the play the "turning point" in the season-ending defeat. Rivers was asked post-game if Simmons could still be a point guard for a championship team like the kind the Sixers want to become.

"I don't know the answer to that," he responded.

Rivers had been Simmons' staunchest defender all season, and even stumped for him as a defensive player of the year candidate, saying the guard was "too good" for the criticism lobbed his way.

"He does other things for your team, and I just don't understand why that's not sinking in in our city," Rivers said during the first-round series against the Wizards.

"You know, everybody on the team doesn't have to be a scorer to help the team. Ben scores, but Ben creates scoring for us. That's what he does."

Whatever the reason of his unhappiness - Simmons hasn't talked publicly since the season ended - the Sixers enter training camp next week trying to win in Embiid's prime with Simmons prepared to sit out.

Pat Croce recalled that when Iverson came back all those years ago, "he realised he was in the wrong."

But will Simmons see the issue the same way?

"If he said, 'I'm going to come back, I'm going to work harder, I'm going to work on my free throws, whatever,' Philadelphia would embrace him," Croce said.

"He'd be the Second Coming. It would be unbelievable. Truly. It would be great for the team, it would be great for the franchise. And then if he didn't want to stay, he'd be worth something.

"Right now, his feelings are hurt and he doesn't realise he's the genesis of his own hurt."

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails