For the last week, Ben Simmons has been in the eye of a swirling storm of criticism, both from the wider basketball world and from Sixers fans in specific.
One of his teammates has had enough.
For the second time in five days, Sixers big man Dwight Howard took to Instagram Live to decry everyone ripping Simmons for his performance during the team's second-round loss to the Hawks. Simmons largely disappeared in crunch time and seemed reluctant to shoot the ball, ignoring wide-open dunk opportunities, and shot a miserable 37% from the free throw line during the entire postseason.
Howard watched the same games you watched, but he thinks Sixers fans need to back off Simmons right now if they really want to see changes from the young All-Star:
Here are some choice excerpts from what wound up being a nearly eight-minute rant by Howard on Instagram Live:
"Send that man positivity, man. Stop telling people they can't do something. For real. How are you gonna expect someone to get better when you just send negative energy towards them? It's no way you can expect anything to happen great, for you or anybody else, if you just spit out negativity.
"If you want this man to be great, if you expect greater from him, just [sic] say him love and positivity. That man's got it in him to be great, man, and I believe this is something that's going to wake him up. As mad as y'all want to be, send him some positive vibes, man. That man is 24 years old. I'm gonna say it again, he's a young man. He's still got a chance to be great. It's never too late to be great. You can be mad at him today, you can be mad - okay, it's cool, four years, five years, whatever. Rome wasn't built in a day. Hell, I played for 16 years before I got a championship. You never know.
"Ben didn't cost us the series. It was all of us. Everyone who put on the Sixers jersey, we all won and lost together. It don't say "Ben Simmons", it says "Philadelphia Seventy Sixers". We all took that L."
"That man 24 years old, he got everybody in the world telling him he can't do something that he's been doing his whole life. Everybody telling him he can't do it. Now he's all in his head. Let that man live. C'mon. Tripping, man. That man Ben is great. [...] And he can shoot, man. Stop saying everybody can't do something."
I totally understand where Howard is coming from. You're probably not going to help Simmons at all by screaming into the void about how he's useless, or he needs to get out of the city, or he's a waste of money for the Sixers' organization. None of that is a means to a positive end.
However... sometimes that's just sports, Dwight. Sports don't always make sense, and sports fans in general don't always make sense. Fans have layers and layers of emotions (maybe too many emotions?) tied up in their favorite teams and players, and when it feels like they haven't just been failed but have been failed by a lack of effort, they're going to be hurt and angry, and they're going to lash out. Sometimes they'll go overboard.
Maybe there's a middle ground here. I like that Howard admits Sixers fans can be "mad at him today", because sometimes you just need to get that anger out. Maybe Sixers fans should be angry today, and encouraging tomorrow.
Because Sixers fans don't actually want to trade Ben Simmons; they want him to be a better player right here in Philadelphia. If Simmons could shoot with even a modicum of confidence, he'd be one of the 10 best players in the world. That's obviously someone you want on your team, not somewhere else.
We'll see if Simmons comes back with a different skillset next season. If he does, he could help the Sixers finally get over this second-round bump. If he doesn't, they might be mired in the same spot for another year - and then who knows what comes next.