Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers has defended Ben Simmons throughout the season, even when the All-Star point guard has struggled offensively.
Rivers struck a bit of a different tone Sunday night after Philly's season ended with a Game 7 loss at home to the Atlanta Hawks.
Simmons scored zero points and attempted zero shots in the fourth quarter. He finished with five points on four shot attempts overall. Simmons didn't even attempt a single shot in the fourth quarter in each of the last four games versus the Hawks.
After such a dreadful performance, Rivers was asked if Simmons can be a point guard on a championship contender. Rivers didn't rule it out, but the Sixers coach didn't come to Simmons' defense, either.
Simmons' future with the 76ers will be one of the most fascinating storylines over the offseason. Will the Sixers trade him? And if they do, will the roster get worse?
All of these factors don't just impact the Sixers, they also will have an effect on the other top contenders in the Eastern Conference.
If the 76ers make a Simmons trade that doesn't improve their roster and/or messes with their team chemistry, it could open the door for the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks or Miami Heat to leapfrog Philadelphia in the hierarchy of the Eastern Conference.
Trading Simmons might not be the easiest task, either. He has enormous talent and potential, but his five-year contract worth about $177 million has four seasons remaining. Paying $30-plus million per season for a player with startling weaknesses on offense is a risky move for any team.
What's clear is the Sixers need to move on from Simmons. He's not an ideal fit next to superstar center Joel Embiid.
If the 76ers are going to maximize their current window to compete for a title, they must swap out Simmons for a perimeter player that shoots free throws and 3-pointers well enough to be playable late in important games.