The Ben Simmons saga has been discussed so much over the past few months that at times it’s felt like going in circles. But now, just ahead of the season there have finally been some new developments. Most importantly, Simmons finally reported to Philadelphia. Whether he actually plays for the 76ers this season remains to be seen, but he is now with the team.
In addition, there’s been some interesting new reporting on the Sixers’ disastrous season-ending Game 7 loss at home to the Atlanta Hawks in the second round of the playoffs. That, of course, was the game in which Simmons passed up a dunk in the final minutes of the fourth quarter and finished with just five points.
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We knew about that infamous play and the quotes from Doc Rivers afterward, but what we didn’t know is Simmons almost didn’t even play that night due to a COVID-19 scare. And what’s more, multiple members of the organization thought he was lying about it in order to avoid playing, according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:
“They’re not letting me play,” he told his brother Sean Tribe and several teammates via text message.
Simmons was being held out of the team’s shootaround, he told them, due to a possible exposure to a team masseuse, who’d returned an inconclusive COVID-19 test.
Several players were questioned about whether they’d seen her that morning, but only Simmons said that he had.
“He answered the question honestly, without thinking of the implications,” says one source close to Simmons.
But according to multiple sources, many within the team questioned whether Simmons had actually seen the masseuse — or was just trying to get out of playing as he battled the basketball version of the yips.
Was Simmons really looking for an excuse not to play? That would be pretty remarkable, but he’s the only one who knows what he was thinking in the moment. The problem for Simmons is that some of his teammates and coaches thought he was. That’s a bigger issue than one game or one bad play because it shows a lack of faith in one of the supposed franchise cornerstones.
This quote from Shelburne’s report sums the problem up well.
“‘I don’t know if he can face the team or the fans after everything that happened last year,’ one source close to the situation puts it.”
So far, everyone has been supportive of Simmons, and said publicly that they want him back. But if they thought he was willing to skip the biggest game of last season, will they be able to fully trust him if he does want to rejoin the team and play at some point? Likewise, will Simmons ever be comfortable again with the franchise?
Those issues are why a break-up feels inevitable at some point, and it’s still not clear if Simmons is going to suit up or if he’s just in town to make sure he gets paid. With or without Simmons, the Sixers are set to open the regular season on Wednesday night against the New Orleans Pelicans.