Ben Simmons came into the National Basketball Association as one of the brightest stars who bore comparisons to the NBA legends Magic Johnson and LeBron James. Having been drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in the midst of their rebuilding process, Simmons was expected to be the light that took the team out of the depths of the NBA, along with teammate Joel Embiid. 

Five years after his rookie season, the outlook on Simmons has significantly changed. While he has exemplified some of his promising talent — achieving three All-Star selections, two All-Defensive; First Team selections, one All-NBA selection and four consecutive playoff appearances — a significant rift has developed between Simmons, his team and supporters of the team.

This rift stems from a fundamental flaw in his nearly-perfect game: Simmons’ speed and agility combined with his size and playmaking skills is what led many to draw comparisons between him and LeBron James. Despite these strengths, Simmons’ inability to shoot a jump shot makes it extremely easy for opponents to seal his strengths which cost the Sixers dearly in the 2021 NBA Playoffs, losing 4—3 in an upset to the Atlanta Hawks in the second round.

The disappointing performance of the team during the playoffs was mostly placed on Simmons’ shoulders, leading to significant drama between Simmons and his agent, the team and fans. Fans believe that Simmons has not shown any significant improvement in his weaknesses over his five years in the league. On the other hand, Simmons believes that the blame has been unfairly placed on him leading to a public trade request. In an effort to fulfill his trade request, the team has scoured the league during the offseason to try and find a suitable trade partner. However, because of his poor performance compounded by his public remarks toward the team, his stock has fallen considerably from his original status as a player who was almost traded for former MVP James Harden. 

Despite the team's best efforts, no trade has been made and as the team gets ready for the upcoming season with training camp, media day, and preseason games, Simmons has made it public that he will not be attending any of the events and is willing to face the fines associated with his absence. In addition to sitting out preseason commitments, Simmons is also expected to be absent for regular season games, should he not be traded by then. The relationship between Simmons, the team and the fans seems to be an unfixable situation that leaves the team in an awkward and difficult situation to begin the season. 

While this specific situation is unique in terms of the sheer amount of time between the trade request and the actual trade, the Ben Simmons saga is the most recent in a trend of player empowerment. Player empowerment is a term coined to describe NBA players gaining greater autonomy and control over their NBA careers. The general consensus is that the “era of player empowerment” began when LeBron James chose to play in the Miami Heat with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in 2010. Supposedly, the trio planned their contracts to match each other at the 2008 Olympic Games which enabled them to all play in Miami at the same time. The trio saw great success as members of the Heat, winning two championships in 2012 and 2013.

LeBron James’ move to Miami changed the way players approached contracts and free agency. In 2018, then five-time All-Star Paul George signed a four year contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder, only to request a trade in the summer of 2019 with three years left on his existing contract with the team. This trade request was granted and Paul George joined Kawhi Leonard in the Los Angeles Clippers in the summer of 2019. Similarly, Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans signed a five year contract in 2015 but requested a trade during the 2018-2019 season with just over a year left on his contract. Like Paul George, this trade request was granted by the Pelicans in the summer of 2019. 

Thus, the current situation between Simmons and his team is less of a unique situation but rather a symptom of how contracts are treated in the NBA. The purpose of a contract is that it is a legally binding agreement between the player and the team to play for the team. While players have the right to sit out due to exceptional circumstances such as injury, and teams have the right to trade players when they see fit, clearly there is a skewed interpretation of how binding a contract is.