After the 76ers’ 103-96 Game 7 elimination loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday, Ben Simmons is certainly not in the position to run for mayor of Philadelphia.
Pundits, NBA Hall of Famers, and scores of fans would like to run Simmons out of town for his reluctance to shoot and his struggles at the foul line. Simmons made just 15-of-45 free throws (.333) in the Atlanta series.
The play on which he gave up what looked like a sure dunk to pass to Matisse Thybulle will provide talk-show fodder for the entire offseason.
Yet, while everybody has Simmons traded, what happens if he isn’t?
Sixers coach Doc Rivers said after Sunday’s loss that he couldn’t answer the question as to whether Simmons can be a point guard on an NBA championship team. But the coach returned very much to Simmons’ corner on Monday.
Rivers said he had an exit interview with Simmons on Monday and would have another in about a week.
On Sunday night, Rivers talked about the importance of getting in the gym with Simmons in the offseason.
A day later, Rivers said that the Sixers have a specific offseason program they want Simmons to follow.
“I know exactly what we want to do,” Rivers said during a Zoom conference call with reporters. “I’m positive in Ben. I’m very bullish in Ben still, but there is work, and Ben will be willing to do it.”
It’s obvious that Simmons realizes he needs help, especially shooting free throws, which is at the root of the problem.
“Sometimes you have to go through stuff to see it and be honest with it,” Rivers said. “What Ben just went through, I can’t imagine that because he has so much greatness around him in all the things that he does, and there are areas that he can fix quickly in my opinion or get better, and that will take him to another level.”
Figuring how he got to this point and attempting to fix it is the challenge that awaits.
“Sometimes you don’t know why you’re in different places. You know what I mean?” Rivers said. “But this may be one of them, and I look at this as a great challenge but definitely doable.”
Does this mean that Simmons won’t be shopped around?
Probably not, but Rivers sincerely believes in the ability of the three-time All-Star who turns 25 next month.
Each summer it seems that Simmons unveils video on social media of him working on his shooting. Rivers was asked why he thinks Simmons will address deficiencies in his game that he has not improved over the years.
“Without going in detail what we’re doing, I believe we know what the right work is and the right type of work and the right way to do it,” Rivers said. “You can do the work all the time, but if it’s not done in the right way and the right type of work, you may not improve.”
So Rivers has confidence in his program.
“After being here for a year, I really do believe we’ve identified what and how,” Rivers said. “And now we have to do the ‘do’ part. We have to work to do it. It’s not going to be an easy job, but it is definitely a job that Ben can do. I believe that.”
Rivers understands there are some real issues that must be fixed.
“We’re not hiding that Ben has to become a better free-throw shooter, a more confident free-throw shooter,” Rivers said. “And if that happens, I really believe a lot of other parts of his game follow.”
Rivers has a goal with Simmons that seems ambitious.
“You remember when, before the season started, I said we got to get him to the line 10 times a night and to want to get him to the line 10 times a night,” Rivers said. “And so we have to put the work to get him there. But if we can get him there, man, his game goes to different level.”