There was a Ben Simmons sighting Thursday at the Wells Fargo Center.
The disgruntled point guard was on hand for the 76ers’ film study before his teammates faced the Toronto Raptors.
“I honestly didn’t know, but he was,” coach Doc Rivers said before the game. “He was in the back, but I didn’t see him.”
Simmons, who requested a trade, has yet to play this season due to being mentally unable to play. His agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, told The Athletic on Thursday the team’s recent actions have worsened his mental illness.
Paul said the team wants to consider Simmons mentally ready to play regardless of what he tells the team’s mental health therapist.
“I truly believe the fines, the targeting, the negative publicity shines on the issue,” Paul said. “That’s very unnecessary and has furthered the mental health issue to Ben. Either you help Ben, or come out and say he’s lying. Which one is it?”
A team official denied that the Sixers were forcing Simmons to return or accusing him of lying. The team wants him to partake in all team activities until they receive information from Simmons or its mental health therapist that would make it impossible for him to play.
However, the team sent Simmons a schedule for Thursday, which included its game against the Raptors, according to the report. The player believed it was an effort to withhold his $360,000 game check.
Sources said he left the building hours before the game started. The Sixers have said they’ve been supportive of Simmons and worked to provide any possible resource.
Rivers added that Simmons wasn’t on the floor during shootaround, but he’s been around the team more. But it was obvious that Rivers didn’t want to talk about the sidelined player.
“I honestly - once the season starts, I’m focusing on [basketball],” Rivers said. “I let Daryl [Morey] and Elton [Brand] and those guys handle all of the other stuff.”
But there was belief around the league that Simmons would join the team on their upcoming six-game road, which begins Saturday against the Indiana Pacers and concludes on Nov. 24 at the Golden State Warriors.
So Rivers was asked if the three-time All-Star, who has yet to play this season, would accompany the team on the trip.
“Again, we play the Toronto Raptors tonight,” Rivers said. “I’m not trying to hide. That’s the least thing on my mind. I don’t give it two thoughts.”
But considering Simmons’ status and how his impending return could affect the Sixers falls under Rivers’ job description.So how does he plan tomake sure the team keeps the chemistry intact if Simmons returns?
“I’m not worried about that,” Rivers said. “He’s not here. I’m focused on Toronto. When and if that happens, we will deal with it and it’ll be OK. I believe that. ... Of all the 40 things I did today, that was not on the list.”
Simmons met with the Sixers’ recommended specialist to discuss his mental state on Nov. 5. That came after he had previously been unwilling to meet with the their doctors to discuss his mental readiness.
He had, instead, been working with mental-health professionals through the National Basketball Players Association since this summer. The Sixers fined Simmons a game check for his failure to play in the Nov. 4 game against the Detroit Pistons and refusal to accept the team’s assistance to address his mental readiness to play.
Simmons has yet to participate in full-team activities at the Sixers’ practice facilities. In addition to receiving treatment, he’s participated in individual shooting drills.
Niang is a good fit for Sixers
George Niang has quickly become a fan favorite and an impact player for the Sixers.
The power forward signed a multi-year deal with the Sixers back on Aug. 6 to serve as a floor-spacing reserve. He’s done that and more.
The sixth-year veteran is averaging career highs of 12.6 points, 1.6 assists and 23.1 minutes through 12 games. Niang also shot 41.3% on three-pointers and played with intensity as Sixers fans shared their adoration.
“The energy in this area is unreal,” he said. “I remember the first time I got here, I think it was the Brooklyn game [on Oct. 22]. I was like dang. ... This place is packed and they’re screaming and they’re passionate. I definitely want to use that to my advantage especially when we are on a run.”
Niang had a season-high tying 21 points while making a season-high five three-pointers in Wednesday’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. That marked his sixth straight game scoring double digits.
Niang didn’t score in double figures until the 11th game of the season last year with the Utah Jazz. He finished the season with 22 games in double figures.
“I have high expectations for myself,” Niang said when asked if things are going better than expected. “I don’t want to come off as arrogant. But I don’t even look at it like that. I look at it as like I have an opportunity every day.
“Either I’m going to continue to grow or I’m going to be the same. If I’m staying the same, someone is passing me.”
He added it has been easy for him to come in and maximize the opportunity with Rivers putting him in positions to excel.