The Ben Simmons saga took the next step on a path leading who knows where on Friday morning, as the All-Star and All-Defensive point guard informed the Philadelphia 76ers he’s still “not mentally ready to play.”
Here is how The Athletic’s Shams Charania framed the discussion between Simmons, coach Doc Rivers, All-NBA center Joel Embiid and the rest of the Sixers’ players before Friday’s shootaround in Philadelphia:
Embiid confronted Simmons with the question about why he wants a trade, according to Charania, and Simmons told his teammates he is “not feeling like himself right now” and needs more time away from the game. Nobody responded, Charania reported. The organization reportedly offered support to Simmons.
Sixers players confirmed to reporters on Friday that Simmons addressed the team. While they would not share details of the discussion publicly, teammates suggested they are willing to embrace Simmons’ return.
The Sixers are scheduled to play their home opener on Friday night against the Brooklyn Nets. Obviously, Simmons will not be in the lineup, as he has yet to engage fully in practice with his team since last season.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Simmons also met with Rivers and Philadelphia’s medical staff to discuss his status, similarly informing them “he’s not mentally ready to play to his expectations now.” Simmons “has to be evaluated” by medical professionals to determine next steps, Wojnarowski reported.
Following Philadelphia’s summer-long failure to find equal value for Simmons and his holdout from training camp over the unrequited trade request, he showed up to the team’s third preseason game without notice. Simmons’ representatives informed the Sixers long before his arrival of the mental hurdles their client faced.
Simmons was cleared to practice on Sunday, when he appeared disengaged from the process. By Tuesday, Rivers threw him out of practice for conduct detrimental to the team, suspending him for the season opener on Wednesday. Simmons skipped an individual workout on Thursday, complaining of back tightness. There has been no other mention of Simmons’ back issue in the detailed reporting surrounding his playing status.
Simmons only reported to the 76ers once they withheld $8.25 million of his $33 million salary in an escrow account to secure the fines he accrued in his absence. Philadelphia has reportedly recouped roughly $2 million from Simmons, but the discussion around his physical and mental health complicates any possible financial ramifications moving forward. The stress of rejoining teammates who have said, in Embiid’s words, “I don’t care about that man,” cannot be easy, and the Wells Fargo Center crowd will not be kind, either.
Considering Simmons — a career 60% free-throw shooter — shot 34% from the line in last year’s playoffs, did not attempt a single fourth-quarter shot in Games 4-7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals and passed up a game-tying layup in the waning moments of the Sixers’ season-ending loss to the Atlanta Hawks, it is impossible to ignore the mental angle of this saga, even if Simmons’ actions helped make this foul bed.
Simmons “[accepting] everyone needs to take responsibility, including himself,” as Charania worded it, would be a meaningful step toward a resolution, so long as Embiid, Rivers and 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey can convince Simmons they are accepting some of the responsibility.
However the blame pie should be sliced, everyone needs to find common ground in order for the Sixers to move forward with Simmons. Neither side seems thrilled about the partnership, but all sides may need to accept some dysfunctionality, considering Morey made it clear he is unwilling to cede negotiating ground.
“Buckle up,” Morey told Philadelphia’s 97.5 FM The Fanatic on Thursday, saying he is willing to let this soap opera unfold over the four years and $147 million left on Simmons’ contract if the Sixers cannot acquire “a difference maker” for the former No. 1 overall pick. Morey is no closer to securing that return than he was in June, when this entire melodrama began, and we will see how the market moves from here.
We will also see how long it could take Simmons to mentally prepare for a team he has previously made clear he never wants to play for again. At some point, it will be better for the 76ers to extract some value in a trade if they are getting none from Simmons. Friday’s news provides hope that point has not yet arrived.
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