NEW ORLEANS — This is far from where Doc Rivers and the 76ers want to be.
Rivers took over a loaded Sixers squad when he was hired on Oct. 3, 2020. They went on to finish the 2020-21 season with the Eastern Conference’s best record. This was supposed to be the season the Sixers took the next step in the postseason after a second-round loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
There was a lot of optimism for 2021-22. But Ben Simmons’ seemingly unrepairable relationship with Sixers is now hovering over the season. The team suspended him for Wednesday’s opener at the New Orleans Pelicans after Rivers kicked him out of Tuesday’s practice for refusing to be more engaged.
Now, the Sixers’ lofty expectations appear to be suspended until the Simmons Saga is resolved.
“It’s not what you want to be in that way,” Rivers said. “But I took this team, because a lot of people didn’t think we could do what we did last year, and we obviously wanted to do more.
“We come in this summer thinking we are close, and not allow the residual effect of one loss overshadow what you actually did and unfortunately that has happened.”
One of Rivers’ responsibilities is to get everyone, including Simmons, to see how close they were to contending for an NBA title. The problem is, Simmons appears checked out and ready to move on.
Simmons felt like Rivers and Joel Embiid threw him under the bus after the team’s Game 7 loss to the Hawks.
The Sixers were notified days after the game through his agent that Simmons wanted to be traded. The team made it known he was available in trade, but demanded equal value in return. Simmons had no interaction with members of the Sixers’ brass until he personally informed them in late August that he would miss training camp. He ended his holdout on Oct. 11, and practiced for the team first the first time Sunday.
Then came Simmons’ suspension on Tuesday.
“I want Ben to be playing,” Rivers said after shootaround. “You know, that’s his job. I don’t like any players losing money. So there’s so many things about this I don’t like. But that still doesn’t mean you still don’t have to do your job and that’s the tough part.”
But Simmons, who has four years and $146.6 million left on his max contract, was fined $1.4 million for missing all four of the Sixers’ preseason games. He will be fined $360,000 for missing Wednesday’s game. The team has also imposed fines for missed meetings and practices.