If you had the chance to learn from Earvin Johnson, would you do it?
Of course you would. Magic is a five-time NBA Champion and Hall of Famer. That’s why the question is rhetorical.
Problem is, he’s also the Lakers’ President of Basketball Operations, so when he revealed Sunday that Sixers point guard Ben Simmons had expressed interest in working with him this summer, it set off conflict of interest-related alarm bells in Philly minds.
Here’s the pregame clip that got everybody talking on Sunday:
Magic Johnson takes one last question and says Ben Simmons contacted the Lakers about getting together to learn from a fellow big guard. Magic said he’s game – as long as the league signs off.
Seems like a good time to mention Simmons is represented by Rich Paul and Klutch. pic.twitter.com/djgq9TOWNk
— Bill Oram (@billoram) February 10, 2019
“He reached out to me, not to me directly – to the Lakers – to find out if we could get together this summer. I said, ‘hey you have to clear it with the league.’ Everybody, the Sixers sign off, we sign off, the league signs off, that there’s not nothing going on, but he wants to know how to play the position as a big guard, it’s fine. I will do that. But if everybody doesn’t sign off, then we can’t get together. But I love his game. I love his vision. I love that he’s very-high basketball IQ. Look at him now, the East better watch out. This is a stacked team.”
Reaction after the jump.
On the surface, I think the knee-jerk Philly fan and media response might go something like this:
“Hmm.. Ben Simmons wants to get better. He wants to learn from a Hall of Famer who played the game the same way he does.”
Who is arguing against that? Nobody, on the surface.
But you’ve got Magic as the Lakers’ prez, LeBron James is represented by the same agency (Klutch), and people seem to think this “Simmons is leaving for Los Angeles” thing is a given. That’s the three-fold complication, because beyond being a tricky conflict of interest, it could very well be outright collusion in an attempt to convince Ben to move to Los Angeles after his rookie deal expires in Philadelphia.
Jack McCaffery asked Ben about Magic’s comments after the game and Ben said this:
“Trying to learn from somebody like that would be huge. Getting to speak to him, he’s been in multiple situations where he had to play the five and won a championship. (He’s in) the Hall of Fame, just one of those guys, in terms of what position I’m in, a 6’10” point guard.”
Jack asked Ben if he intends to receive permission from the Sixers to do so:
“I’m not focused on that right now. I’m focused on my team and what’s going on, so maybe. Who knows.”
That’s about as much of an answer as you’d expect.
I know it’s pretty easy for the Sixers to say, “no, you aren’t doing this,” but you would obviously like to keep Ben happy by honoring his wishes. Shutting the door right off the bat doesn’t accomplish anything, does it? It’s not so clear-cut for the Sixers’ front office.
If you sit down with Ben, you explain why you have reservations about training with a guy who is a president of another team, and reiterate that you’d like Ben to commit long-term to Philadelphia. If he can give you some sort of reassurance, then maybe you sign off on it. Or, maybe you already know that he has no interest in being here long-term, so you just let him train with Magic, see what he learns, and use it to your benefit until he inevitably takes off. That’s theoretical.
For context, here’s Ben’s contract status, via Spotrac:
In a perfect world, you would ask Ben to sign a contract extension before going out to LA to work with Magic and LeBron, but you can’t really do that. Ben is eligible to sign his rookie extension this July, but if he doesn’t, he becomes a restricted free agent in July of 2020. It’s a smart play by Johnson, because he’s putting the burden on the Sixers to make the decision as to whether or not this summer training should be allowable. The ball is in Philly’s court.
The NBA can right the ship and prevent the Sixers from looking like the bad guy here by simply stepping in and saying, “we are not allowing this because it is fairly overt collusion and/or tampering.” After all, LA has been fined twice in recent years for tampering (Giannis and Paul George). And if the league steps in, Simmons can’t be upset with Elton Brand and Brett Brown, because it wasn’t their decision.
Adam Silver, you’re up.