Ben Simmons is missing in action. Little has been seen or heard from him since the LSU Tigers failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament in March and then decided not to participate in the NIT. He was a no-show at the NBA Draft Combine and failed to appear for the NBA Lottery. Many of his peers, including chief rival Brandon Ingram, have been very visible of late, showcasing themselves and lobbying to improve their fortunes in the draft, but Simmons has remained out of sight.
If Simmons wants to be selected number one, it sure seems that he is going about it the wrong way. Which raises the question, does he want to be the first pick?
Simmons gave signs all year that he fully intends to be a member of the Los Angeles Lakers next season, and that no other option is fathomable. He was often photographed proudly wearing his Magic Johnson Lakers jersey with a big smile on this face. He famously proclaimed at one point, “You can catch me on the Lakers next season.” At the time, it was a bold and amusing statement, though it seemed a highly unlikely scenario. Simmons was going to be the top pick in the draft, and when the season started, the Lakers were expected to be improved over the team that finished with the fourth worst record the year before.
The Lakers did their part, crashing and burning in route to the worst record in franchise history and the second-worst record in the league. Then the Lottery Gods came through, and the Lakers earned the second pick in the draft. Only twice before in the past 20 years was the team with the second-worst record awarded the second selection.
Now, with everything falling neatly into place, there is only one obstacle standing in the way of Simmons joining the Lakers: The Philadelphia 76ers. All Simmons has to do is convince the 76ers to select Ingram. Can he do it?
Last year, Jahlil Okafor was the odds-on favorite to be the number one choice in the draft, but Karl-Anthony Towns made a late surge to overtake him. Simmons and Ingram could be headed for a repeat of that same scenario, especially if Simmons remains in hiding. Thus, it is possible that Philadelphia would choose Ingram anyway. However, unlike last year, when the experts ultimately concluded that Towns was the better all-around player, most pundits still view Simmons as the player with the higher ceiling who can be transcendent in the right system.
Simmons, at 6’10,” 240 pounds, has great athleticism. He is a “point forward” who runs the offense and gets everyone involved, and he is a prolific passer and rebounder. He is strong, as defenders tend to bounce off of him, and he is equally adept at handling the ball and scoring with his right and left hands. The knock against Simmons is his outside shooting, but his game resembles that of a young Magic Johnson and LeBron James, who were also poor shooters when they joined the league.
Most pundits do not believe the 76ers will have the courage to pass on Simmons, who is the best player available in the draft, even if Ingram is also an intriguing prospect and might be a better fit for what they need right now. Thus, Simmons may have to take matters into his own hands, which might explain why he has maintained a low profile of late. After all, why talk to other teams if in his mind it is the Lakers or bust?
One thing Simmons can do to convince Philadelphia to take Ingram is to refuse to work out for or interview with them before the draft. He can also let it be known, through his agent, that he does not want to play for the 76ers and will not be happy if they choose him. If he wants to go all out, Simmons, who is Australian, can tell the 76ers they would be wasting the pick on him because, if chosen, he will opt to play abroad instead.
Simmons’ reputation might take a temporary hit if he pursues this course of action, but time (and winning) heals all. When they left college, quarterbacks John Elway and Eli Manning successfully pulled similar stunts to force their way to different teams, instead of accepting their fate and playing where they first appeared headed. Things turned out just fine for them.
Simmons seems tailor-made for Hollywood. He is used to being in the spotlight, as documentary cameras followed him around through much of his high school and college careers. Presumably, he wants to reunite with his old high school friend and teammate, D’Angelo Russell, with whom he won a national prep title, and he may be willing to go to extreme lengths to make it happen. If they repeat that success as pros, all will be forgiven.
No one wants to rain on Simmons’ parade, but there is something he might want to keep in the back of his mind. Okafor was also reported to be a long-time fan of the purple and gold, and, like Simmons, he was said to be very anxious to play for the Lakers. Losing the top spot in the draft to Towns was a means to an end for Okafor, just as it would be for Simmons. The only problem was, after Towns was selected and it was the Lakers turn, they shocked the basketball world by selecting Russell instead. When it happened, the look on Okafor’s face was heartbreaking.
With Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak at the helm, one never knows what crazy thing they might do. Russell experienced a very rocky rookie season, capped off by the announcement last week that he was ranked as only the ninth best rookie in last year’s class, which was no doubt embarrassing to Russell and the team. The Lakers would not possibly gamble again and pass on Simmons like they passed on Okafor. Or would they?