• Dante Camilli

The Ben Simmons Saga: A Guidepost for the Next CBA


[1]


As the NBA is about to embark on its 75th season, the Ben Simmons situation continues to dominate news cycles and the minds of NBA fans.[2] The battle between Simmons and agent Rich Paul against the Philadelphia 76ers front office has raged on since Simmons passed up a dunk in the Eastern Conference semifinals and was publicly ridiculed for his passive play in the postseason. [3] Following the Sixers’ early exit from the postseason, Simmons did not communicate with his teammates, the coaching staff, or the front office throughout the summer. [4] Prior to training camp, Simmons’ teammates planned to fly to Los Angeles to convince the disgruntled star to join them for the team’s preseason activities. Simmons turned them away. [5] Rich Paul, Simmons’ high-profile agent and CEO of Klutch Sports Group, made it clear to the front office that Ben Simmons had no intention of returning to the Sixers and that the relationship with the team had run its course. [6]


The caveat to Paul’s posturing was that the contractual relationship was far from over. The Sixers still have Simmons under contract for four more seasons and he is due over $140 million. [7] The NBA has recently been heralded as the ultimate “players’ league.” Star players have been able to successfully demand a trade and force their way out of cities or situations that they have grown tired of. [8] Recent examples include multi-time all stars James Harden, Anthony Davis, and Jimmy Butler. However, unlike Ben Simmons, each of the aforementioned stars had fewer than two seasons remaining on their contracts upon being traded. [9]


The stories that came out about the Simmons situation this summer were all about positioning and leverage. On the Sixers side, it was frequently reported that Daryl Morey, President of Basketball Operations, would offer Ben Simmons to teams in exchange for another high-level player and a boatload of first round picks. [10] This was an effort to show Simmons and Paul that they were making an effort to move him. However, no team in the league was willing to agree to a deal. [11]


The team’s inability to trade Simmons before training camp is primarily due to the Sixers’ lofty asking price. Other front offices likely feel as though the situation could continue to escalate and that the Sixers’ asking price would have to drop if more stories of dysfunction continued to surface. Paul continued to be dogged in his stance that Simmons would not return to Philadelphia and that they would sit through the season and pay $360,000 fines for the games that Simmons would miss. [12] However, the Sixers called the Klutch team’s bluff and held Simmons’ $8.25 million payment in escrow. [13]


Typically, NBA contracts are paid bi-monthly throughout the league year, but Rich Paul specialty is known for negotiating for nearly 50% of his clients’ contracts to be paid before the start of the regular season. This allows his clients to invest their salary in various business ventures to continue to grow their wealth. [14] Without trade drama, this is a savvy move in representation. However, in this instance, it became a weapon for the Sixers to force Simmons to show up at training camp to reignite trade talks. [15]

Simmons’ return to the Sixers practice facility has become a spectacle of its own. He reported to the team unannounced a week late in the middle of a preseason game; videos then surfaced of him halfheartedly practicing with his phone in his pocket. The culmination of these events was his refusal to participate in team drills during a practice session, which forced head coach Doc Rivers to kick Simmons out of practice and for the team to suspend him from opening night. [16]

As the situation stands, it is a nightmare for the front office and Sixers fans, and a riveting soap opera for fans of the league. It has been noted throughout the saga that the Sixers’ have maintained their leverage, despite Simmons’ demonstrations, as they hold out hope that he would return to the team and play at the start of the regular season to reinforce his trade value around the league. [17] However, this situation currently looks bleaker than the Jimmy Butler situation in Minnesota, who at least had the decency to stage an ESPN interview to air his grievances with the team nationally. [18] After Butler’s sideshow performance he played irregularly for ten games and the Timberwolves got an average return for the All-Star guard in the form of Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless, and a second-round draft pick. [19]

Given the precedent that was set in Butler’s situation, which is so similar to the saga ofBen Simmons, it is hard to imagine that the Sixers will net a return in line with what Daryl Morey has in mind. [20] The only fact giving the Sixers more bargaining power is that Simmons is under contract for four more years, which would be the most controllable contract ever forced to move. [21]

With the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) expiring in 2023, it is worth considering how a “Ben Simmons Rule” could find its way into the upcoming negotiations. [22] Player mobility and power has always been encouraged by the NBPA, but the Player’s Association may have to concede that forcing a trade out of a city that you are contractually tied to for more than one or two seasons creates a bad precedent for players looking to earn longer contract extensions. [23] If star players are going to be guaranteed almost $200 million, teams should be able to assert that they’re going to be guaranteed that players services for a majority of the contract. [24]

In current contract negotiations, players can request that they have a trade bonus or “kicker” that gives them a raise up to 15% of the remaining value of the contract. [25] Under the current CBA, trade kickers are paid by the team trading away the player. [26] What if there was a financial penalty on the player for requesting a trade with more than one year remaining on his contract?

[27]

This financial penalty would deter players from forcing their way out, but the players association is highly unlikely to agree to a scenario that would take money away from a player. What if instead the trade kicker was paid by the team acquiring the player? A 15% penalty on a contract with $146,684,160 remaining over four years would result in a $22,002,624 trade bill for any team that sought to acquire a disgruntled star. Such a significant charge would make a team think twice about reaching out to acquire players with this kind of restriction, but does that come as too much of a deterrent to equitable exchanges on the player market? The Ben Simmons situation has continued to drag on because of the inability to find a deal that both sides can agree on, and a $22 million charge on top of that would permanently hamstring any potential negotiations unless a team was absolutely convinced that Ben Simmons was their guy.

The league could potentially institute compensatory draft picks if a player requests a trade, but unlike baseball, which awards a supplementary first round pick for teams that lose players in free agency, the NBA would need to award draft picks due to players’ trade requests. [28] Also, unlike baseball, the NBA allows draft picks to be traded, and the influx of supplemental picks in a league that only has two draft rounds would be difficult to navigate and make fair when draft picks are already exchanged at dizzying rates, as well as any trade for a disgruntled star likely including draft pick compensation in trade negotiations already. [29]

There are already rumblings that owners are going to push for significant changes in the next CBA to level the scales of power between players and owners. [30] However, with the current framework already creating such strong footing for the players association, the owners will have to make exceptional concessions to convince the NBPA to yield some of their power. Currently, players are guaranteed to earn 50% of league revenue. [31] Historically, the highest revenue share percentage that players ever had was 57% in 2005, and the NBPA will certainly argue to get closer to that number in the upcoming negotiations. [32]

It is uncertain how the Ben Simmons situation will play out in the coming weeks, and it remains to be seen whether the Sixers will get the return they think they deserve. The rest of the league and fans are patiently awaiting the end of this saga, but the impact that it will have on the league long term will be felt far beyond the court. Ben Simmons’ behavior will not spell the end of the player empowerment era, but owners and management will attempt to curb that power when the current collective bargaining agreement runs out.




References:

[1] Nick Jungfer, Ben Simmons Responds to Heated Criticism of His Playoff Struggles, Basketball Forever (June 22, 2021), https://basketballforever.com/2021/06/22/ben-simmons-responds-to-heated-criticism-of-his-playoff-struggles


[2] John Gonzalez, It’s Always Funny in Philadelphia, The Ringer (October 19, 2021), https://www.theringer.com/nba/2021/10/19/22735264/ben-simmons-sixers-embiid-doc-rivers-practice


[3] Dan Gartland. Why Did Ben Simmons Pass Up This Wide-Open Dunk?, Sports Illustrated (June 21, 2021), https://www.si.com/extra-mustard/2021/06/21/sixers-hawks-game-7-ben-simmons-dunk-pass-video


[4] Joe Price, Ben Simmons Has Reportedly Cut Off Communication With the 76ers and Is Ignoring Joel Embiid’s Calls, Complex (August 5, 2021), https://www.complex.com/sports/ben-simmons-cuts-off-76ers-communication-ignoring-joel-embiid/


[5] Kurt Helin, Report: Sixers teammates wanted to meet with Ben Simmons, he turned them away, NBC Sports (September 25, 2021), https://nba.nbcsports.com/2021/09/25/report-sixers-teammates-wanted-to-meet-with-ben-simmons-he-turned-them-away/


[6] Sam Amick, Sixers, Ben Simmons split looks inevitable: ‘It has run its course’, The Athletic (September 28, 2021), https://theathletic.com/news/sixers-ben-simmons-split-looks-inevitable-it-has-run-its-course/DSCmswpfHj7e/


[7] Spotrac, Ben Simmons Contract, (n.d.), https://www.spotrac.com/nba/philadelphia-76ers/ben-simmons-20206/


[8] Lee Tran, 10 NBA Superstars Who Forced a Trade: Anthony Davis to Lakers, Kawhi Leonard to Raptors, Fadeaway World (February 19, 2021)


[9] Id.


[10] Jenna Lemoncelli, Daryl Morey is tossing out some insane trade offers for Ben Simmons, New York Post (July 30, 2021), https://nypost.com/2021/07/30/daryl-morey-asking-price-for-ben-simmons-is-massive/


[11] Id.


[12] Matt Logue, NBA: Ben Simmons willing to pay $1.3m fine for not attending training camp as looming Philadelphia exit gets messy, Fox Sports (September 7, 2021), https://www.foxsports.com.au/basketball/nba/nba-ben-simmons-willing-to-pay-13m-fine-for-not-attending-training-camp-as-looming-philadelphia-exit-gets-messy/news-story/88d7d606d4d02f22caadce39a56d9310


[13] Keith Pompey, Sixers withhold $8.25 million payment from Ben Simmons and place portion of his salary in an escrow account, The Philadelphia Inquirer (October 1, 2021), https://www.inquirer.com/sixers/sixers-ben-simmons-trade-rumors-fines-20211001.html


[14] Erik Garcia Gunderson, LeBron James, Klutch Sports among few NBAers who get most of contract by April, LeBron Wire (March 31, 2020), https://lebronwire.usatoday.com/2020/03/31/lebron-james-klutch-sports-among-few-nbaers-who-get-most-of-contract-by-april/


[15] Keith Pompey, supra.


[16] John Gonzalez, supra.


[17] Bob Brooks, Do 76ers have leverage? Sports contract expert weighs in on Ben Simmons saga, 6ABC (October 20, 2021), https://6abc.com/ben-simmons-suspension-trade-philadelphia-76ers/11145412/


[18] Kristian Winfield, The 7 most savage moments from Jimmy Butler’s interview with Rachel Nichols, SB Nation (October 11, 2018), https://www.sbnation.com/nba/2018/10/11/17963746/jimmy-butler-interview-espn-rachel-nichols-timberwolves


[19] NBA, Sixers officially acquire Jimmy Butler in trade with Timberwolves, (November 12, 2018), https://www.nba.com/news/philadelphia-76ers-jimmy-butler-trade-official-release


[20] Id.


[21] Bob Brooks, supra.


[22] Greg Papke, Report: Ben Simmons trade demand could lead to CBA changes, Larry Brown Sports (October 14, 2021), https://larrybrownsports.com/basketball/ben-simmons-trade-demand-cba-changes/585446


[23] Id.


[24] Id.


[25] Larry Coon, NBA Salary Cap FAQ: Can players be given a bonus when they are traded?, NBA Salary Cap FAQ (November 15, 2020), http://www.cbafaq.com/salarycap.htm#Q99


[26] Id.


[27] Trade kicker imposed on player with Ben Simmons contract as example


[28] Greg Papke, supra.


[29] Id.


[30] Id.


[31] Larry Coon, NBA Salary Cap FAQ: What percentage of revenues do the players receive?, NBA Salary Cap FAQ (November 15, 2020), http://www.cbafaq.com/salarycap.htm#Q15


[32] Robert Bradley, Labor Pains Nothing New to the NBA, The Association for Professional Basketball (n.d.), https://www.apbr.org/labor.html