Ben Simmons informed the 76ers at shootaround ahead of Friday’s home opener against the Brooklyn Nets that he is not mentally ready to play right now and needs time, sources confirmed to The Inquirer. Simmons worked with the Sixers’ medical team while his teammates went through their on-court shootaround work with coaches.
Reserve power forward Georges Niang, the only Sixers player made available to media following shootaround, confirmed that Simmons addressed the team but declined to go into detail about what was discussed.
“The locker room is a sacred place, and I don’t really feel comfortable sharing other people’s or the team business,” said Niang, who joined the Sixers for the 2021-22 season. “… I think we left the meeting understanding what he had to say, and we came out and got ready for Brooklyn.”
When asked if he was optimistic the Simmons situation could be resolved, Niang added, “I’m always optimistic. I’m a positive person, so I’m thinking the best out of every situation.”
However, multiple Sixers players expressed support for Simmons on social media.
Forward Tobias Harris responded to a reporter on Twitter with the following: “And we’ll respect his privacy and space during this time. When he’s ready, we will embrace our brother with love and handle our business on the court. That’s it, that’s all.” Starting point guard Tyrese Maxey who, like Simmons, is represented by Klutch Sports and trains with Simmons during the summer, responded to Harris’ statement with the “100″ emoji, while reserve wing Matisse Thybulle retweeted Harris’ comment.
It was the latest turn in what has been a tumultuous week in the Simmons saga. Sources confirmed to The Inquirer that he complained of back tightness when he arrived at the Sixers’ facility Thursday, and did not partake in an individual workout. He was officially listed as doubtful (return to competition reconditioning) to play against the Nets on the team’s injury report released Thursday evening.
This came after Simmons was thrown out of Tuesday’s practice by Rivers for not being engaged, and was suspended for Wednesday’s season opener at New Orleans for conduct detrimental to the team. The Sixers won that game, 117-97.
Also Thursday, Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey went on The Mike Missanelli Show on 97.5 The Fanatic and said resolution on Simmons’ trade demand could take “a very long time.”
“You are going to think I’m kidding. I’m not,” Morey said on The Fanatic. “This could take four years. The conditions I pointed out to you don’t change unless Ben Simmons is traded for a difference-maker. We are in the prime of Joel’s career. ... So this could be four years.
“This is not a day-to-day thing. This is like every day we are going to expect Ben Simmons to be back here or we are trading him for a difference-maker. There’s no other outcome that doesn’t materially hurt our chance to win the championship in Joel Embiid’s prime.”
After demanding a trade during the offseason and vowing to never play for the Sixers again, Simmons ended a two-week holdout by arriving in Philadelphia on Oct. 11 to take a mandatory COVID-19 test and enter league protocols. He practiced with the team Sunday, Monday and part of Tuesday before his suspension. The Sixers did not practice as a team on Thursday after returning from New Orleans.
After Friday’s game against the Nets, the Sixers hit the road to play the Oklahoma City Thunder Sunday and the New York Knicks Tuesday before returning for a four-game home stand.
Embiid plays after knocking knees in opener
MVP contender Joel Embiid started Friday after knocking knees early in Wednesday’s win at New Orleans. His status was determined after he went through his pregame routine.
Veteran center Andre Drummond was next in line to start if Embiid was unable to play.
Embiid totaled 22 points, six rebounds and five assists in 26 minutes in Wednesday’s 117-97 season-opening win in New Orleans, resting the entire fourth quarter while the Sixers’ second unit blew the game open. He was listed as questionable on Thursday’s injury report and throughout Friday.
Rivers said the Sixers’ staff “didn’t want him doing much during shootaround” on Friday morning, but that he increased his workload toward the end of the session. He was wearing a wrap on his right knee while shooting free throws after the Sixers concluded the group portion of the workout.
Various injuries have played a factor in Embiid’s NBA career, including when he missed 10 games with a knee bone bruise during an MVP-caliber 2020-21 season. Rivers said the training and medical staff have an overall plan to manage Embiid’s health throughout the season, but that an incident like this one is an example that “your plans sometimes just don’t work.”
“You can plan all you want,” Rivers said. “But if you step on someone’s foot or you go knee-to-knee, your plans are over and then you have to adjust. We’re ready for all that, for sure.”
Rivers pleased Wilkins on NBA’s 75th anniversary team
Rivers acknowledged he has not delved much into the NBA’s 75th anniversary team released over recent days to celebrate the milestone season’s opening week. But he is most happy for former teammate and Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins, who was a snub on the league’s 50th anniversary team.
“I talked to ‘Nique yesterday,” Rivers said. “I was really happy for that. I thought he should have been on the original 50 and I told him, ‘Just like wine. The older you get, the better you get.’ ”
Sixers assistant and former All-Star point guard Sam Cassell was most dialed into the unveiling, Rivers said, and “came in grumbling about certain guys that should have been on [it].” Rivers, meanwhile, delighted in the joy some retirees such as Dwyane Wade and Reggie Miller publicly expressed about being included.
“Reggie Miller was shocked that he made it,” Rivers said. “I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ ”
As for Rivers, a one-time All-Star who averaged 10.9 points, 5.7 assists and 1.8 steals during his 13-year playing career, being left off the list?
“I was pissed that I didn’t make it, you know?” Rivers joked. “I couldn’t believe it. If they have a top 575, maybe I have a chance.”