The 76ers are operating as if Ben Simmons will be a member of the team — at least for the time being.
The Sixers unveiled a new intro video before Friday’s home opener against the Brooklyn Nets that included Simmons, unlike the preseason video that left him out. Unsurprisingly, there were a few boos when he was shown on the jumbotron.
Then, while addressing the crowd pregame, Joel Embiid said, “I urge you guys to continue to support us and our teammate, Ben, because he’s still our brother.”
This public show of support during the Sixers’ 114-109 loss to the Nets came after Doc Rivers referred to Simmons’ morning meeting with the team as productive and “a start.”
The disgruntled point guard addressed Rivers, Embiid and the rest of his teammates before Friday’s shootaround. During that meeting, Simmons told the Sixers that he’s not mentally ready to play and needs time.
On Thursday, the three-time All-Star complained of back tightness ahead of a scheduled individual workout and left the practice facility without participating in drills. Simmons was also suspended from participating in Wednesday’s season-opener for refusing to engage in Tuesday’s practice.
That’s why Rivers looked at Friday’s morning meeting as a good sign.
“The only way you can get going, you got to start,” Rivers said. “Today was a start.”
Simmons worked with the Sixers’ medical team during Friday’s shootaround but didn’t play in the game against the Nets. The 25-year-old will continue to be evaluated by the Sixers, with the next steps being determined by medical professionals.
When asked if Simmons intends to remain with the team moving forward, a league source said it’s up to the Sixers. Rivers said he wants him around.
“He is part of the team,” the coach said. “I don’t know how many times I can say that. We have certain rules. Obviously, the other day that didn’t happen. But today was a good day.
“And I think ... most people, we look at problems instead of the possibilities. I think if we focus on the possibilities in life in general, you have a pretty good chance of going to a good place.”
But it’s still not certain that Simmons will play another game for the Sixers.
It’s no secret that Simmons asked to be traded. And prior to Friday, Simmons and the Sixers had been heading toward a messy divorce since the conclusion of last season.
The Sixers have not been willing to trade Simmons, contending that he cannot be moved unless they get equal value in return. And during a Thursday visit to The Mike Missanelli Show on 97.5 The Fanatic, Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey said this situation could take four years to resolve if they don’t get their asking price. Simmons has four years and $146.6 million left on his contract.
Sources said Simmons told Sixers brass he was mentally exhausted when asked why he no longer wanted to return to the team.
“So Kevin Love, everybody else can tell you about their mental exhaustion, and you pay attention to it,” the source said. “But in this case, you don’t pay attention to it, because he got four years left on his deal.”
However, a team source refuted that. The source said the first time Simmons communicated his mental exhaustion was this week. On Friday, the Sixers communicated to Simmons and his representation that he’ll have access to whatever resources he may need while managing this situation.
Friday morning’s meeting led to positive results for the Sixers. Tobias Harris expressed support for Simmons on Twitter. And Embiid said all the Sixers love Simmons, which was different from the center’s comments about Simmons on Tuesday. Back then, Embiid said, “At this point, I don’t care about that man, honestly.”
So the tides appear to be turning for the Sixers after their latest effort to reach Simmons.
Embiid, at least, thinks things can move in a good direction.
“Like I always say, that’s the front office,” he said of Simmons’ future with the team. “Hopefully, they will figure out what’s best obviously for the team, because this is a business. We are trying to find ways to win.
“We have a big opportunity and like I always say, we are better with him. So I wouldn’t mind playing with him. I know my teammates also wouldn’t because at the end of the day, we are just trying to win.”
But Harris wants people to know this is bigger than just winning.
He knows it’s easy to look at things on the surface and make assumptions. He also knows that athletes, in some instances, are depicted as superhumans, who aren’t supposed to have feelings or personal struggles.
“We have to understand that he’s a human first,” Harris said.
As a result, he thinks the Sixers players, the organization and fans have to respect that and be there for him. That’s because people, as Harris noted, cheer for Simmons when he’s putting on a show at the Wells Fargo Center.
But in this what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world, Simmons has been vilified in Philly.
“At this time, he needs more support than neglect,” Harris said.
Harris relayed that message to the media following Friday night’s home opener. There have been plenty of less-than-flattering reports about Simmons of late. Harris told the media not to do everything for clickbait.
“Understand we are a team,” he said. “The Philadelphia 76ers, media. We are a team. We win games. It helps your job. It makes your job easier. So we have to look at that as a collective effort as well.”
The media’s job is not to make Simmons look good or bad, but to objectively report the news. No one knows how long he’ll remain a Sixer, but there were no complaints from the team in regards to Friday’s meeting.
“Again, today was a productive day,” Rivers said. “It was a productive day. I’m glad it happened.”
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