Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons are both trying to get something for themselves, and it is ironically coming at a great personal cost to both players. The Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers, two of the East’s best teams and on the short list of NBA title contenders, meet Friday with disgruntled superstars holding them back from reaching their ultimate goal.
Irving’s goal, seemingly, is to be able to avoid all consequences for his choices while also enjoying the platform he has to accomplish his goals. The guard’s refusal to comply with New York City’s vaccine mandate has kept him off the team to start the season. The Nets refused to let Irving be a part-time player, so he’s not going to play until he gets vaccinated or the mandate changes. So far, neither looks likely. Irving’s deep passion for social causes like racial equality, which many commend, has also proven problematic when discussing conspiracy theories surrounding the shape of the Earth or vaccinations. He doesn’t plan to retire, and he doesn’t have a contract extension with the Nets. The same stubbornness that made him a great teammate and leader is now causing him to miss out on what could be a championship season in Brooklyn.
Simmons’ goal, clearly, is to get out of Philadelphia. His path to doing so has become increasingly confounding, to the point where it seems like the player himself doesn’t know what he’s up to. Simmons got himself thrown out of practice for refusing to practice, resulting in a suspension from Philadelphia’s win over the Pelicans in the season opener. His standoff with the team over the last few months led nowhere, and his return to Philly wasn’t exactly an olive branch. Tyrese Maxey played well in the 76ers’ win, meaning Simmons’ value is continuing to drop. There’s no trade market shaping up yet for Simmons, and it won’t develop to the point where the Sixers will deal him unless he actually takes the floor. By engaging in a standoff in an effort to get out, Simmons is actually walling himself in.
This is all playing out as the Nets and 76ers pursue a championship this season. Brooklyn is the odds-on favorite at +205 according to DraftKings Sportsbook, while Philadelphia sits at +2000. Both teams can theoretically win a title without their missing stars, but they’d be far more formidable if Irving and Simmons were back in the mix. So what is the path forward?
The Nets are in a massive web of ugliness. If they trade Irving, they’ll draw the ire of the anti-vaccination crowd who will feel the point guard got targeted for following his beliefs. They’ll also upset Irving’s close friend Kevin Durant, who came with the guard to Brooklyn to build a champion. Durant, who is vaccinated, is apparently not a close enough friend to convince Irving to get the jab. Irving would still be unavailable to play in Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco regardless of where he gets traded. That’s an inconvenience few teams want to stomach. And with Irving potentially able to hit free agency this summer, giving up major assets for him is risky.
The 76ers have a different dilemma. They want a superstar-level haul for Simmons, who is locked into a five-year, $177 million contract for three more seasons after this one. The final year of that deal carries a $40 million price tag. Simmons hasn’t shown he’s worth that kind of money in big-time playoff moments. And his actions off the court are sure to turn potential suitors off. There’s only one solution here for Simmons; he has to raise his value by playing to a point where other teams will overlook his offseason outburst and subsequent misstep in practice.
Neither Brooklyn nor Philadelphia want to be in this situation. Irving and Simmons can’t be particularly happy about how things are developing either. Friday’s topic of conversation should’ve been about two title contenders in the East meeting for a primetime contest. Instead it’ll be about two players, one who won’t even be in the building, who have decided they are above the team, league and world.