With the dust now settled in Philadelphia following a wild free agency that saw the return of Tobias Harris, the acquisition of Al Horford and the departures of Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick, the 76ers turned their attention towards one of their foundational pieces, offering a five-year, $170M maximum extension to Ben Simmons.
Now that he's a max player, what's next for the Aussie star?
What's the contract look like?
After initial reports that the deal would be for $168M, that number has settled at $170M based on the updated salary cap projection of $117M for the 2020-21 season.
According to ESPN's Bobby Marks, former assistant GM of the Brooklyn Nets, here's the year-by-year breakdown of the salary:
- 2020-21: $29.3M
- 2021-22: $31.6M
- 2022-23: $33.9M
- 2023-24: $36.3M
- 2024-25: $38.6M
Simmons has one year left on his rookie contract before the extension goes into effect. He's on the books for $8.1M this upcoming season.
With Harris, Horford and Joel Embiid all locked into big money deals, Simmons becomes the fourth 76ers player that will make in excess of $25M per year at some point during the life of their current contracts.
Why did the 76ers do this?
The 76ers selected Simmons with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. After missing the entire 2016-17 season with a foot injury, he responded with a great first two seasons in which he won Rookie of the Year in 2017-18 and made his first All-Star team in 2018-19.
He pads the box score like few others can as he's notched 22 triple-doubles over the last two seasons, which ranks tied with Nikola Jokic for third in the NBA behind only Russell Westbrook (59) and LeBron James (26). If you're wondering if it's unusual for a player that young to perform that prolifically, the answer is yes ... yes it is. In fact, the only player in NBA history with more triple-doubles over their first two seasons is Oscar Robertson.
Not bad company.
Of course, he's so much more than merely points, dimes and boards.
Simmons is a runaway freight train in the open floor and easily one of the best transition threats in the entire league. You could make an argument that the only players who can truly match his end-to-end talent are Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook.
At 6'10", he's truly a one-of-a-kind player with an enormously high ceiling.
Will he develop a jump shot?
This is, of course, the elephant in the room.
For all the talk of triple-doubles and fastbreak ferocity, Simmons won't truly unlock his potential until he develops a jump shot.
He doesn't need to turn into Kevin Durant or Stephen Curry, but he does need to get to a point where defenses can't completely ignore him 15 feet and out in the half court. After a rookie season in which he took just 56 shots from 15+ feet, that number somehow was cut in half in his second season. While there's something to be said for playing to strengths and cutting out the inefficiencies in a game, the lack of development in his jump shot is nothing short of startling.
Here is every single shot he took from 15 feet and out last season. That's three makes on 28 attempts.
Not great, Bob!
Simmons is at his best with the ball in his hands and it's ideally what the 76ers see moving forward as they commit such a large amount of money to him to be their primary ball handler and facilitator. When it comes to outside shooting, more important than being able to stretch the floor as a spacer is his ability to shoot off the dribble when defenders begin to sag off. He's got major strides to make in this regard as he was statistically the worst pull-up shooter in the entire league last season - his effective FG percentage of 20.4 ranked dead last among the 239 players to attempt at least 50 pull-up shots.
He's got time to get there and by all internal accounts, he's comfortable shooting in practice. The next step is for him to do it in games.
Can he carry the load late in games?
With Butler's departure to the Miami Heat, the 76ers need Simmons to be a closer.
As great as Embiid is, it's difficult for bigs to play that role late in games. Perhaps Harris emerges as Philly's top option at the end of close games, but ideally this falls on the shoulders of Simmons starting this season.
It's a role he shunned away from last season. After posting a usage rate of 14.8 percent in clutch situations during the regular season, that number dipped all the way down to 4.8 percent in the playoffs, which ranked sixth on the team behind not only Butler, Embiid and Harris, but also Redick and Mike Scott.
In 18 clutch-time minutes in the postseason, Simmons went 0-2 from the floor, failed to score in transition and failed to get to the line a single time. Perhaps just as alarming as the lack of any made baskets is the lack of free throw attempts. Not only does his lack of an outside shot become magnified at the game's most critical moments, so does the fact that he's only a career 58% free throw shooter. Forget turning into Curry or Durant at the line, that's on par with the likes of Shaquille O'Neal, who only converted 57% of his foul shots over his first two seasons.
Eventually, teams deployed the hack-a-Shaq strategy to in part render him helpless down the stretch. If Simmons is going to have the ball in his hands and truly run the show, becoming comfortable at the free throw line becomes an essential item on the check list.
What position should he play?
Simmons is a point guard.
But also a forward.
And at times even a centre.
It's en vogue to talk about how today's NBA is all about positionless basketball. Given that versatility is one of his biggest strengths, this is one area that makes Simmons ideal to build around.
For now it appears that Philadelphia fancies Simmons as a point guard. Their three other high core pieces moving forward are frontcourt players, while the fifth starter, Josh Richardson, is more suited for a swing man role.
Though much has been made here and elsewhere about projecting his future offensively, the other end is equally important. Although Simmons has incredible length and is essentially switch proof across all five positions, it's fair to wonder if he's best suited to chase around small and shifty guards that dominate the league's landscape. Is it in his or Philadelphia's best interests for him to guard the likes of Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker?
It's one thing to do it down the stretch of a tight game in moments where they simply want their five best on the floor. It's another to ask him to do it full-time over an 82-game regular season and extended postseason run.
Can he co-exist long-term with Joel Embiid?
This is the $318M question for the 76ers.
That's how much the 76ers have committed to those two over the life of their current big money extensions.
Both are generational talents that simply have different styles. Whereas Simmons is best suited for a track meet that emphasizes speed and pushing the pace off of misses and turnovers, Embiid's game is more suited for a walk-it-up, dump-it-down battering ram.
Perhaps it's a yin-yang situation that works to Philly's benefit as it morphs into a team that can play multiple styles and win in different ways. Ideally, the 76ers would build a two-star system that works with either or both on the floor.
That was not the case last season.
In the nearly 1,500 minutes they shared the court, the 76ers outscored teams by 7.6 points per 100 possessions. Leave Embiid on and take Simmons off, that net rating stays exactly the same. But put Simmons on without Embiid, and the Sixers' net rating dipped nearly 12 points as they were outscored by 4.3 points per 100 possessions. Even scarier? Remove those minutes that also included Jimmy Butler, and the 76ers were outscored by a whopping 14.4 points per 100 possessions.
The temptation might be to suggest that it's too early to make too much of it. Simmons turns 23 in July and Embiid just turned 25. On one hand, there's plenty of time for internal improvement and for the rough edges to smooth over.
But on the other hand, championship windows are unpredictable and can close shut in a matter of moments. You could argue that the best time to flip a high ceiling player is before that potential is realized and while there's still time to catch potential suitors day-dreaming about what might be.
The 76ers would be wise to see this pair out for the foreseeable future. But make no mistake, constructing a championship team around young talents with disparate styles is a chemistry experiment of the highest order.
For now, the 76ers can pat themselves on the back knowing they just locked up a budding star with MVP potential to a long-term deal. Just know that the clock is already ticking on what exactly the future might hold for Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers.
The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the NBA or its clubs.