The Whiteboard: What happens now that Ben Simmons reported to the 76ers?

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Ben Simmons blinked first.

After a summer of evolving trade demands and completely stonewalling direct contact from his teammates and the Philadelphia 76ers organization, after holding out of training camp and the team’s first three preseason games, and after giving up nearly a million dollars in fines and forfeited game checks, Ben Simmons finally showed up.

ESPN reported that Simmons showed up at the 76ers’ arena on Monday night for a COVID test, the first step in rejoining the team. Philadelphia had reportedly been optimistic that they could coax him back but apparently, they weren’t expecting his return quite so soon.

So what happens with Ben Simmons now?

A few months ago, I wrote that it’s hard to imagine this scenario resolving itself without everyone losing something and this latest twist probably doesn’t change anything. Who knows what carrots the 76ers offered Simmons and his agents in private. But a million dollars in lost income and the public scolding he took from Embiid and others makes for a pretty big stick. The 76ers say their ideal scenario is that he has a change of heart and recommits to the team. That seems like pretty transparent obfuscation of the real desired outcome — he returns with a chip on his shoulder and plays enough to rehab his trade value, give the 76ers some additional leverage in trade negotiations.

The 76ers may indeed find that Simmons’ return improves their trading position and that once the season starts the circumstances change for some other teams that haven’t been willing to come up and meet Philadelphia’s asking price. But it still seems like there’s no way they’re getting the kind of deal leaks have implied they want. No amount of image rehabbing is going to make the Trail Blazers bite on a Lillard-for-Simmons or McCollum-and-3-first-rounders-for-Simmons swap.

In the short term, the 76ers may be damaging their hopes of competing for a championship this season. Even if Simmons gets back on the court for them, which isn’t necessarily assured even with him finally showing up, there’s no guarantee they get even the level of engagement and aggressiveness they got from him last season (which was problematic in and of itself). In the interim, they have to navigate a fractured locker room and team dynamic. Trying to inflate Simmons’ trade value with a hot month may turn out to be more trouble than it’s worth.

For Simmons, there appears to be some hope that showing up would allow him to negotiate for the return of some of the money he lost. But he’s not going to get it all back and the Lakers, Clippers and Warriors are still off the table as trade destinations. The best-case scenario for a trade is still probably Sacramento, Minnesota, Indiana or Cleveland — small markets, not on the California coast and each outside the tier of championship contention, especially when you factor in any other young pieces they send out to make a trade work.

If the goal is just to get out of Philadelphia, he’s still probably going to get what he wants. But he’s going to land in a smaller market with a smaller chance of playing meaningful postseason basketball and he’s going to have paid a hefty financial price to do it.

And Simmons returning to Philadelphia is also less than ideal for the teams still sniffing around a possible deal. If he’s on the court, there’s a risk of injury and a (small) risk of him forcing them to pay more to acquire him. In addition, the timeline has been rolled over so that what could have been an offseason trade with time to get him acclimated now becomes a mid-season trade adding chaos and essentially burning a season off his four-year contract.

We’re now nearly four months into this saga and somehow everyone’s negotiating position and possible outcomes seem worse than when they started.

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