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NBA players union boss blames the Sixers in the Ben Simmons impasse

Michele Roberts: “I think what’s happening in Philadelphia frankly is ridiculous and I don’t know why we’re playing chicken with each other."

The Sixers haven't found a trade partner for a Ben Simmons deal.
The Sixers haven't found a trade partner for a Ben Simmons deal.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

ORLANDO, Fla. — Asked about Ben Simmons’ situation, players union chief Michele Roberts didn’t hold back in voicing her displeasure with the 76ers’ front office.

Speaking on SiriusXM NBA Radio on Wednesday, the soon-to-retire National Basketball Players Association executive director took the Sixers front office to task.

“Candidly, I think a lot of this stuff could be resolved if everyone behaved like a grown-up,” she told hosts Antonio Daniels and Rick Kamla. “I think what’s happening in Philadelphia frankly is ridiculous and I don’t know why we’re playing chicken with each other.

“It just strikes that this is something that could be worked out. It’s difficult.”

The Sixers declined comment when The Inquirer asked about Roberts’ stance.

Simmons has not played with the Sixers this season. He told the team in August he wanted to be traded and wouldn’t report to training camp. The team countered by fining him for missing preseason games, meetings, and practices.

» READ MORE: Ben Simmons vs. the Sixers: An inside look at a messy NBA divorce

Upon his return, he was kicked out of practice on Oct. 19 because he was not engaging. He was then suspended for the next day’s season opener in New Orleans. On Oct. 21, Simmons complained of back tightness ahead of a scheduled individual workout at the team’s practice facility in Camden.

From that point on, there’s been a big back-and-forth between Simmons and the organization to determine his obligations to the team. Four months into the season, he appears no closer to being traded or donning a Sixers uniform again with the Feb. 10 trade deadline looming.

The Sixers still have lofty trade demands that potential partners appear unwilling to meet. But the team hasn’t ruled out keeping Simmons past this season if it doesn’t get the A-list talent in return. All this is happening while Simmons is in the second year of his five-year, $177 million contract extension.

» READ MORE: While more players are now trade-eligible, the Sixers still don’t have a swift solution to the Ben Simmons saga

“With Ben, he wants to leave,” Roberts said. “Now, I understand that teams don’t want players to announce that they are leaving because they have contractual obligations. But let’s also be real here. There’s something amiss that has to be resolved and it can’t be resolved by everybody just playing chicken.”

In October, Simmons informed the Sixers he was not mentally ready to play. As a result, the team was forced to stop fining him because of a provision in the NBA collective bargaining agreement that protects players’ salaries for not rendering services if it is because of a mental-health reason.

But the Sixers fined Simmons a game check of $360,000 for failure to play in their Nov. 4 game against the Detroit Pistons and refusal to accept the team’s assistance to address his mental readiness to play. The next day, he met with the Sixers’ recommended specialist to discuss his mental state.

That led to his agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, telling The Athletic that the team’s recent actions have worsened Simmons’ mental illness. Paul said the team wants to consider Simmons mentally ready to play regardless of what he tells the team’s therapist.

» READ MORE: Sources: Ben Simmons tells team brass he no longer wants to be a Sixer, and he does not intend to report to training camp

“Look, none of us is privy to every detail,” Roberts said. “... This is not an issue that emerged at the start of the season. There has been an issue with this player and that team for a while. Rumor has it promises were made about being able to move the player and obviously those promises either weren’t kept or couldn’t be kept. Who knows?

“But at some point, there’s got to be. As best as I can tell, they have been at loggerheads since the beginning of the season with very little communication between the player and the team. I just don’t roll like that.”

Roberts said if she has a problem with someone, they’re going to sit down and figure it out. She said she’s not going to partake in a “You call me. No you call me” back-and-forth.

“That’s not the way grown-ups should behave,” she said. “That’s the way grown-ups are behaving.”