Sixers head coach Doc Rivers appeared on a pair of ESPN shows on Wednesday to address the Ben Simmons situation, expressing on both ‘Keyshawn, JWill, and Max’ and ‘First Take’ that he wants to see the 25-year-old return to Philadelphia for the coming season.
Simmons is reportedly adamantly opposed to the idea of reporting to training camp or playing another game for the 76ers, but Rivers said in his first ESPN appearance on Monday morning that he hopes he and the team can “change that thought.” He later explicitly stated during his First Take appearance that he’d “love” to see Simmons returns to the club, adding that the team hired a shooting coach to help him improve that aspect of his game.
“There’s been so many times this has happened (in sports) that hasn’t been reported…and the guy comes back,” Rivers said, per Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice.com. “So listen, we’re going to go through it. We’re gonna always do what’s best for the team, but I can tell you up front, we would love to get Ben back, and if we can, we’re gonna try to do that. Ben has a long contract, so it’s in our hands and we want him back.”
Rivers confirmed reports that Simmons told team leaders – including Rivers, president of basketball operations Daryl Morey, and club owner Josh Harris – in a meeting last month that he wanted to be traded. According to Rivers, it was a “good conversation” and Simmons provided reasons why he didn’t want to return, but the Sixers “obviously didn’t agree” with his arguments.
One of the most interesting aspect of Rivers’ media appearances today was his insistence that his comments about Simmons following Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals were misrepresented by the media. Asked at that time whether he believed Simmons could be the point guard for a championship team, Rivers replied, “I don’t know that question or the answer to that right now. You know, so I don’t know the answer to that.” Today, he attempted to reframe that response.
“My answer was, ‘I’m not answering any of that stuff right now, guys, I don’t even know how to answer that,'” Rivers told Stephen A. Smith on First Take. “… I was basically just saying, ‘I’m not answering that crap, those questions.’ It was being portrayed that I was out there saying, ‘I don’t think we can win with Ben,’ and I do. I told Ben that the next day. What really disappointed me was the next day I went on and said, ‘Guys, y’all knew exactly what I was talking about,’ and no one heard it. They just kept running their narrative.”
While Rivers insisted today on ESPN that Simmons and agent Rich Paul know what he meant, a report earlier this month suggested that Simmons’ camp wasn’t thrilled with Rivers’ comments, so it’s unclear if everyone is on the same page.
Assuming Rivers’ efforts to get Simmons to camp are unsuccessful, this situation will start to get especially interesting next week, when players are scheduled to report to training camps. As Bobby Marks of ESPN explains in an Instagram video, the 76ers would likely be comfortable assessing Simmons a series of small fines if he misses media day (on Monday) and the team’s first few practices. After that though, the financial decisions become more complicated.
Simmons is owed 25% of his $33MM salary for 2021/22 on October 1, and Marks suggests that withholding that payment would be an option for the Sixers if they don’t expect to mend fences with Simmons and are willing to enter an arbitration battle. Suspending Simmons would be another option — in that scenario, he’d lose 1/145th of his salary (about $228K) per game for the first 20 games he misses, then 1/110th of his salary per game after that.