Around 11:15 a.m. Saturday, Ben Simmons, decked out in a 76ers white cut-off hoodie and grey sweatshorts, retrieved a ball from a rack behind the nearest court in the team’s practice facility.
After briefly dribbling into and around the workout area, Simmons re-entered the gym and hopped on an exercise bike. Multi-tasking, he took a couple of occassional dribbles, but mostly held the ball while riding the bike conversing with assistant director of team security Anthony Jackson and teammate Tobias Harris among others.
After his bike session, Simmons worked out while most of his teammates were on their way home to rest up for Saturday night’s game against the Atlanta Hawks.The Sixers went on to win, 122-94.
The tilt against the Hawks could have served as a redeem game for the three-time All-Star point guard.
It would have been opportunity to erase memories of passing up that infamous open dunk underneath the basket with 3 minutes, 29 seconds remaining in the 103-96 Game 7 Eastern Conference semifinal loss to the Hawks. It also would have been an opportunity to show that he’s worked on his free-throw shooting.
Instead, Simmons missed the game just like he missed the Sixers’ first five regular-season games and four preseason contests. If and when the disgruntled point guard ever dons a Sixers uniform again remains anyone’s guess.
“I think it’s going to be a team decision,” coach Doc Rivers said of determining when Simmons returns to play. “But, again, I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.”
Rivers said he’s communicating with Simmons’ agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, but those conversations are more on a personal level.
Simmons hasn’t done any five-on-five scrimmages. The fifth-year veteran is doing a lot of medical stuff, Rivers said.
And his fate appears to be in a holding pattern.
Simmons wants to be moved. Yet, the Sixers are adamant about not trading Simmons just to make a trade. They’re trying to win a championship and believe they’re in a better position to win one with him on the roster. So they’re not going to trade him for “role players.” The Sixers want to get a difference-maker in return. The problem is there’s not a lot of difference-makers available, especially ones capable of getting the Sixers to the NBA Finals.
But the longer it takes for Simmons to play or get traded, the more it seems the team’s championship aspirations are a far-fetched fantasy. They improved to 4-2 after beating the Hawks (3-3). Their first victory over a quality opponent, this was a good win for the Sixers.
Things are expected to get tougher, though.
Even with Simmons, Joel Embiid has to play at an elite level and be healthy for the Sixers to make a deep postseason run. But the four-time All-Star center is already hampered by right knee soreness after bumping it in the season opener. Meanwhile, the Sixers don’t have a suitable replacement for Simmons on the roster at this time.
They’re missing their best defender and ball handler and they lack size without the 6-foot-10 multi-faceted player.
There’s a sense around the league that the Sixers could try to play Simmons at some point during their six-game, road trip from Nov. 13 to Nov. 25, even though the team says there’s no timeable for his return.
That trip has stops at the Indiana Pacers (Nov. 13), the Utah Jazz (Nov. 16), the Denver Nuggets (Nov. 18), the Portland Trail Blazers (Nov. 20), the Sacramento Kings (Nov. 22), and Golden State Warriors (Nov. 24).
How would stellar performances by Simmons in those games impact the Sixers’ fans disdain for him? Would they change their stance about him once the team returns home against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Nov. 27?
It’s hard to imagine Simmons playing in Philly. The fans will be bloodthirsty when it comes to him. They’re not going to forget his postseason performance against the Hawks and his holdout. Some fans may overlook it, but a large portion won’t forget.
Several fans wore black T-shirts with white lettering that read “MISSING HAVE YOU SEEN HIS JUMPER?” among other things on the front at the home opener. The back of the shirt had Simmons’ face attached to a Mister Softee graphic.
There were security enchancements made to early-season Sixers games at the Wells Fargo Center. Some of them included increasing the police presence in the home-bench area. They also added security staff at the bottom of the sections also behind the home bench. An NBA league officials attended the first two home games.
A Sixers spokesperson said the enhancements were not made specifically for Simmons. The league added security enhancements near the bench areas of all NBA arenas due to last season’s fan misconduct. Teams have the option to independently add more enhancements.
Assigning security detail to Simmons family members in attendance are among other things in place.
A Sixers official said that similar to recent seasons, the organizations “continues to employ part- and full-time security personnel to ensure the safety of its players, staff and fans at games, appearances and other off-court events.”
But Simmons has yet to play since finishing with five points, 13 assists, and eight rebounds against the Hawks back on June 20.
The question is when will he play, again?