As soon as Game 7 ended and Ben Simmons had stood around doing nothing for the final time this season in a huge moment, Carson Wentz began trending.
And in some ways it is impossible to ignore the similarities between Simmons and Wentz. A No. 1 pick and a No. 2 pick who began their pro careers a few weeks apart in the fall of 2016 and wore out their welcome in Philly a few years later.
Wentz is now a former Eagle for both his good and the Eagles’ good, and Simmons needs to become a former Sixer for his good and the 76ers’ good.
The comparison doesn’t hold up. It’s not fair to Wentz.
Wentz and Simmons both began their careers with incredible promise. Simmons was just 21 when he became the first NBA rookie since Oscar Robertson 57 years earlier to average 15 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists. Wentz was just 24 when he became the first rookie in NFL history to throw for 3,600 yards and complete 62 percent of his passes.
The future looked limitless for both, and it wasn’t a reach to imagine both leading their teams to championships.
But think about Wentz in the biggest games of his life.
He was having an MVP season when he got hurt in L.A. in December 2017. He was largely responsible for that No. 1 seed. He was largely responsible for the Eagles having the luxury of facing the Falcons and Vikings at the Linc. During the 11 games that took the Eagles from 1-1 to 11-2, he threw 29 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.
The bigger the game, the better he was. When the Rams took a 28-24 lead on that fateful day at L.A. Coliseum, Wentz willed himself to throw a touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery on a knee that had already been torn up.
And when you look at 2019, it wasn’t a great year for the Eagles or for Wentz, but that team was dead at 5-7 with a month to go, and Wentz put an injured, battered team on his back and led them to a 4-0 record and a division title the last month with 7 TDs, 0 INTs. He wasn’t always good, but he never, ever shied away from the moment.
And even last year, when the interceptions and fumbles and losses piled up, he kept firing. He was just a quarterback mired in a miserable slump. You could question the results but not the effort. The dude always gave what he had.
Simmons? That’s just not the case.
This isn’t a superstar in a slump, this is a superstar who either consciously or unconsciously decided to stop shooting, and the bigger the games got, the higher the stakes, the less he shot. And he’s not the only reason the No. 1-seeded 76ers lost to the 5th-seeded Hawks, but he’s the biggest one. When an all-star on a max contract refuses to do the most important thing in the sport — score — it puts his coach and his team in an impossible situation.
For reasons he’s never explained, Wentz needed a change of scenery, and the way he went out was disappointing, but he’s a Colt now and I don’t think any Eagles fan will be surprised if he has success in Indy, leads that team to the playoffs and approaches his level of play from 2017 through 2019, when he had the 6th-highest passer rating in the NFL.
I can’t imagine anybody expects future greatness from Simmons, whether the 76ers trade him or he winds up back in Philly. He’s going into his sixth season, and his regression has been steady and shocking, culminating in an unthinkable performance in the Hawks series.
Wentz has his faults, but he never stopped fighting. I’m not sure Simmons ever started.