Ben Simmons has talent — he oozes it.
So much so that Australian basketball legend Andrew Gaze says he could come to be seen in the same light as the greatest player in the game.
“He could be in that same conversation as someone like LeBron (James) just for a skill standpoint,” Gaze told ABC Sport.
But right now, Ben Simmons is in a funk – presenting as a petulant prima donna who is desperate to leave the club that drafted him when he was the hottest young basketball talent in the world, the Philadelphia 76ers.
When the 76ers played their first game of the NBA season on Wednesday, Simmons was absent from the court — banned for turning up to training with a mobile phone in his pocket and showing a distinct lack of interest.
It’s tempting to see something of the prodigal son in Ben Simmons: He has all the wealth and talent, that’s currently being squandered while he wanders in the basketball wilderness.
He’s already given up several million dollars this season by missing practice matches, training sessions, meetings and Wednesday’s victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.
It’s also tempting to wonder what might have become of Ben Simmons had he been part of the Boomers squad that won the bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics, instead of staying home as he said, “to work on his game”.
After the Olympics, as the Boomers’ coach Brian Goorjian rhapsodised about the extraordinary culture of the Australian team built by Patty Mills and Joe Ingles, he made a particular mention of Simmons missing out.
And to hear younger players like Dante Exum and Simmons’s 76ers teammate Matisse Thybulle talk about their enjoyment, accomplishment, and pride in the Boomers culture, you can only wonder what Simmons would have got out of the experience.
“That’s the power of culture,” said Gaze, who agreed the experience could have been beneficial for Simmons.
“It can really help an individual as much as the individual helps the team.”
That individual could have been Ben Simmons, and who knows what difference it might have made had he walked away from the Tokyo Olympics with a “rose gold” medal and a sense of belonging to something bigger than himself.
It wasn’t to be and now you get the distinct impression that himself is all Simmons is interested in – it certainly isn’t the Philadelphia 76ers.
The question now is, does the prodigal son return to the club that drafted him at number one and the coach who says he wants him, or does he remain on the outer — essentially without a home?
Plenty on the line for Simmons
There is so much at stake.
Simmons still has four years to run on a deal worth on average $46 million per year at the current exchange rate.
The way Gaze tells it, there is only one option if Simmons and the 76ers are going to get something out of the current situation: He has to start playing again and then he has to get traded.
“I would be astounded if they’re (Philadelphia) not resolved to the fact that he needs to be moved on,” Gaze said.
“But they have an asset, and they value that asset so much that they’ve been able to offer him more than $300 million (Australian) over five years.
As it is, the longer the stand-off remains, the greater the damage to Simmons’s reputation and to his value to other clubs who may be willing to trade for him.
“Ben is presented as the villain here,” Gaze said.
“Now, I don’t know whether that’s fair or not, but that’s the reality, that’s your brand, that’s your legacy. So, you got to find a way to change that narrative.
“But if it goes the way it continues to go, I think there’s damage done for both (club and player).
Simmons may be a $300 million player, but other clubs won’t be prepared to pay that sort of money for someone seen as a “damaged asset”.
“It’s raising alarm bells with other potential suitors,” Gaze said.
“Right now, the way it’s been presented, the narrative around this whole situation is that Ben’s a bad teammate.
Which is why Gaze thinks Ben Simmons simply has to start playing again as soon as possible and swallow his pride while he’s at it.
“Get back on the floor, build a relationship, gain some trust of what you’re going to do on the floor for your teammates, show up to practice, work your tail off and work as hard as you possibly can,” Gaze said.
Gaze not worried about Simmons jump shots, free throws
There is another elephant in the room, and that’s Simmons’s inability to hit jump shots and the dramatic decline in his free-throw percentage.
But Gaze isn’t so concerned.
“The rest of his game is good enough that you’re still going to want him,” Gaze said.
“His form is not broken that badly that he can’t become a threat.”
Ben Simmons has the potential to be Australia’s greatest basketballer. He also has the potential to be one of the greatest “what-ifs”.
The good news is that he has the ability to decide his own fate.
Basketball fans in Australia and around the world are watching closely to see what decision he’ll make.