Joel Embiid wants Ben Simmons back — and the 76ers center isn’t alone.
To a man, Sixers players, coach Doc Rivers and president of basketball operations Daryl Morey all said they want the disgruntled point guard to return and be a key member of this season’s team.
“Of course, we want him back,” Embiid said during Monday’s media day. “He’s a big piece of what we’ve been doing the past few years.”
However, as expected, Simmons was a no-show at media day. The three-time All-Star refuses to attend training camp, which begins Tuesday, and has said he doesn’t intend to play for the organization again.
This comes after the Sixers unsuccessfully tried to trade Simmons for the second time since December. At the beginning of last season, they tried to send him to the Houston Rockets in exchange for James Harden. The Rockets ultimately traded Harden to the Brooklyn Nets.
This time, the Sixers were unable to find a team to meet their lofty trade demands.
Morey confirmed Monday that Simmons’ representation initially requested a trade during a June meeting with Sixers representatives in Chicago. Previously, sources informed The Inquirer that Simmons met with managing partner Josh Harris, Morey, Rivers, and general manager Elton Brand in Los Angeles last month and told them he wanted out and wasn’t attending training camp.
“It’s tough to play here,” Rivers said Monday when asked why Simmons wants out of Philly. “Ben didn’t say that. I can’t say he said that. That’s just an assumption.”
Simmons has been vilified by Sixers fans after struggling in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series loss against the Atlanta Hawks.
Simmons finished with five points, 13 assists, and eight rebounds in the game. He attempted just four shots and made two. He did not attempt a shot in the fourth quarter.
The moment that captured the most attention came with 3:29 remaining and the Sixers trailing, 88-86. Simmons drove to the basket past DaniloGallinari, but he passed up an open dunk underneath the basket, dishing the ball to Matisse Thybulle, who was fouled by John Collins. Thybulle made one of two free throws.
But it’s bigger than the fans’ reaction.
Sources have said it would be tough for Simmons to have a working relationship with the team moving forward. That stems from feeling thrown under the bus by the team after the Game 7 loss.
Rivers was asked if he thought the former No. 1 pick was capable of being a point guard on a championship-caliber team. The coach responded, “I don’t know the answer to that right now.”
Meanwhile, Embiid was asked about the turning point in the game.
“I’ll be honest,” he said during postgame interviews, “I thought the turning point was when we had an open shot, and we made one free throw and we missed the other, and they came down and scored.
“From there … it’s on me,” he added. “I turned the ball over and tried to make something happen from the perimeter. But I thought that was the turning point.”
On Monday, Embiid was asked if he regrets anything he said that could had been misconstrued.
“What did I actually say?” he said. “I don’t think I actually said anything. I was asked the question what was the turning point of the game. I really believe it was the turning point of the game.
“If there’s anybody that should be mad at me, it’s [Matisse for calling him out] for missing those freaking free throws. But we all talked about it. We all joke about it. We know we got to be better. So no, I don’t have any regrets, because I didn’t call out anybody. I just stated the facts.”
Embiid added that he talked about key plays down the stretch and turnovers. The MVP runner-up said he was a big part of the demise.
Embiid talked about not being perfect, acknowledging that he makes mistakes. He said all he can is try to play as hard as he can.
“But honestly we all just got to grow up,” Embiid said. “You know I look at it in a way that, for example, I understand being in trade rumors and all that stuff. But that’s just part of the business. I don’t if Golden State came and offered Steph [Curry] and Klay [Thompson] for me, you think the Sixers would say no to that? They got to say yes to that. I would say yes to that, because I mean how do you say no to that?”
Simmons’ teammates have tried to smooth things over since that fateful Game 7.
They confirmed they planned to take a jet to Los Angeles to meet with Simmons and attempt to persuade him to commit to playing for the Sixers this season. However, they were instructed not to come after word was sent stating that Simmons did not want to meet with them.
“I think that a couple of things have been miscommunicated,” Tobias Harris said. “I would say first that if I knew the situation was going to be where it is right now, the day after we lost to Atlanta I would have had the whole team pull up at Ben’s house and let’s just have a conversation, because when you have a group of men and individuals, we all have egos, we all have people in our ears.
“I don’t think, to a man, anybody went home that night [without] taking some type of ownership on themselves that we lost the game.”
That’s what Harris relayed to Simmons when he reached out to his teammate this summer.
“I really hope he changes his mind,” Embiid said of Simmons. “I do love playing with him because he adds so much to our team. We’ve been building this team around us. I don’t see it as, ‘This is my team.’ I don’t care about any of that.”
The Sixers are now publicly saying they want Simmons to remain a part of their future even though there’s a strong sense he could be traded any day.
“Ben is a great player and we expect him back,” Morey said. “We expect him to be a 76er.”
Embiid was asked what he would like to see specifically from Simmons on the court if his teammate returns. ”I’m sure we’ve all seen the videos,” Embiid said of Instagram posts highlighting Simmons shooting three-pointers. “So, I mean, that would help, because he has the potential.
“He has the potential to be that good. We know what he brings defensively. Even without that, offensively, he just creates a lot of shots for me, and we have three-point shooters.”