DETROIT — Doc Rivers is approaching this season as if Ben Simmons will continue to play for the 76ers.
“Well we have to,” Rivers said. “As a coach, I’m literally in a tough spot, right? But we literally have to.”
So until the Sixers coach is told different, he’s going to continue to coach the team that he has. He gets that the Simmons Saga isn’t a perfect situation. The point guard ended his 14-day holdout on Monday after previously telling the Sixers brass he wanted to be traded and wouldn’t report to training camp.
Simmons cleared the NBA’s COVID-19 protocol Friday morning but did not join the Sixers in Detroit for their preseason finale. He’s expected to be at Sunday’s practice but his relationship with the team is far from settled.
“The first step was getting him through protocol,” Rivers said. “Now, the next step is getting him integrated with the team.”
But is he actually back to being a full-fledged team member? Or did he just end his holdout to stop his financial losses?
The one thing that’s certain is this situation is way beyond messy, and only appears tougher to mend with each report that comes out.
The latest damning report came from ESPN on Friday morning. The article stated Simmons’ appearance in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals series with the Atlanta Hawks was in limbo.
He was held out of that morning’s shootaround due to possible exposure to a team masseuse, who had an inconclusive COVID-19 test.
“Listen Game 7 was no fun that day, obviously,” Rivers said before Friday’s preseason game. “Most of it, we didn’t think we had Ben. ... It was more of the league that told us he couldn’t play. We went through shootaround with the shock of that.”
Rivers learned Simmons was cleared while on his way to the arena.
A source confirmed ESPN’s report that several within the team questioned whether Simmons was around the masseuse or just trying to get out of playing due to his on-court struggles.
Rivers was asked if certain people felt Simmons used the incident as an excuse to not play.
“No, no,” he said. “Listen, I don’t talk for everyone, but I didn’t feel that.”
A league source told The Inquirer recently that Simmons still doesn’t intend to play in a game for the Sixers.
Regardless, Rivers talks as if the three-time All-Star will be a major part of the team.
“Is this a perfect situation? No, and I get that,” he said. “But I’m never going to give up on a player that’s on the roster. I just can’t do that. It doesn’t matter what the player is saying. He’s on the roster, and my job is to get every player that’s on the team to believe that this team, that is together right now, can win it.
“That doesn’t matter if a player wants to be here or not, I have to get that across.”