Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt. It’s now official 76ers policy.
Media day was on Monday, and it mostly was about Ben Simmons’ absence and his trade demand, and much of it was a steeping lake of pig manure.
Like feckless politicians, the team’s principals, coach Doc Rivers and center Joel Embiid, tried to rewrite history we all witnessed. They attempted to make us unsee what we all saw. They tried to walk back what they clearly and boldly said before: That Simmons played point guard incompletely; that he cowered in the fourth quarters; and that his shortcomings were a major reason why the Sixers lost the Eastern Conference semifinals to the Atlanta Hawks.
That was what they said, and that was true. Now, they’re trying to spin it, to soften it, to tell us all we didn’t hear what we heard.
It’s ridiculous. They should stand behind the honest, obvious assessments they made in June. Instead, they’re backtracking and butt-covering. They’re gaslighting anyone who’ll listen.
It is sad, and it is rather pathetic.
It’s likely they’re going to do it again.
There were some honest, obvious assessments made Monday. Simmons fears the fans, he needs to shoot from the perimeter, and he should ignore the inevitable trade discussions that eventually touch every player.
At this rate, they’ll soon deny those words, too.
The surreal acting by the Sixers in this moment makes one doubt reality. The criticisms back in June are the main reason why Simmons didn’t show up for training camp this week, and why he swears he’ll never play another game for the Sixers. He didn’t have the guts to dunk late against the Hawks, and he doesn’t have the guts to face the music in this city for the next four years, even for the $144 million he’s owed.
Four years? After that Hawks series, given his makeup, Simmons wouldn’t last four hours in Philly.
Nevertheless, Rivers spent last week conducting a “That’s not what I meant” media tour. It fell on Ben’s deaf ears. Last week, Simmons’ teammates organized a charter flight to visit him and convince him that he could reinvent himself with them. He told them to kick rocks.
Rivers then, on Monday, hid behind the unambiguous ambiguity of his “I don’t know” response when asked, after Game 7 of the Hawks series, if Simmons could be the point guard on a championship team. Rivers said that because it was the truth. Simmons, in his current iteration, lacks the usual tools to win a title from the point-guard position. After all, fearing the prospect of free throws, Simmons shot just three times in the seven fourth quarters of the series against the Hawks, and he didn’t shoot at all in five games, including the last four in a row.
Simmons is less a point guard than a gifted power forward, and Rivers knows it. Still, on Monday, Rivers tried to recant his testimony.
“I wasn’t [going to answer] the question,” Rivers insisted. “There’s sometimes something called ‘intent’ when you talk. Clearly, what I said: ‘Guys, I’m not answering that.’”
Clearly, that’s balderdash. There was no reason to avoid the question if Rivers believed Simmons could be a championship point guard. He simply would have said, “Yes.”
He did not say, “Yes.”
Meanwhile, the Sixers carried his water farther than ever.
Embiid on Monday denied he said that Simmons’ refusal to dunk in Game 7 was about Simmons’ refusal to dunk in Game 7. He said it was about Matisse Thybulle’s subsequently missed free throw. Seriously.
“If there’s anybody that should be mad at me, it’s [Matisse for calling him out] for missing those freaking free throws,” Embiid said.
“When you listen to the whole quote, it has nothing to do with calling anybody out,” Embiid said.
Yes, it does.
Simmons committed one of the greatest acts of cowardice ever seen in NBA basketball when he refused to dunk on an undefended rim.
Afterward, Embiid said Simmons’ refusal was the turning point in the game. There was no ambiguity.
Nor was there any ambiguity Monday.
Grow up, ignore the fans
Asked what Simmons should work on if he ever returns to the Sixers, Embiid went straight to the shooting issue. Simmons has taken just 36 three-pointers in 309 games, including playoffs, and the vast majority of those were last-second heaves. He simply refuses to shoot, not only from the perimeter, but really anywhere outside of 15 feet.
Still, he posts videos on social media that tease his ability to shoot. Embiid hates to be teased.
“I’m sure we’ve all seen videos,” Embiid said. “That would help, because he has that potential.”
Power forward Tobias Harris said that caustic Philadelphia fans “100%” played a major role in Simmons’ retreat.
Embiid, who has complained about the fans plenty, said Monday that players should ignore the fans and just play better.
Rivers touched on the fan base, too, and perhaps the press corps as well: “It’s tough to play here. Ben didn’t say that. I can’t say he said that. That’s just an assumption.”
So, on Monday, the Sixers told Ben to grow up, ignore the fans who hurt his feelings, and shoot more.
All of these statements are honest and true.
And all of them undeniable, but give the Sixers time.