“I’m disappointed,” he said, making it clear that his frustration isn’t with Simmons but rather a situation that pushed the three-time all-star to inform the 76ers last month that he wants to be traded and plans to never play another game for the organization.
“We want him back. He’s a big piece of what we’ve been building the last few years,” Embiid added. “If I didn’t want to play with him, I would be honest. I would say. But I love playing with him because he adds so much to our team.”
The 76ers should be using this time to focus on how they improved after last season’s embarrassing second-round loss to the Atlanta Hawks and what they’ve done to stack up with the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks and the Brooklyn Nets among the elite teams in the Eastern Conference. Instead, they’re trying to clean up a mess and mitigate the fallout of having one of the NBA’s best players stage a public tantrum until he gets his way.
Simmons, 25, hasn’t stated publicly the exact reasons he wants out, and what he told the 76ers in private wasn’t clear, Rivers said. A 6-foot-11 walking triple-double with the speed and athleticism to guard every position on the floor, Simmons is also a flawed offensive player whose refusal to shoot and fears of getting fouled because of his poor free throw shooting led to him taking the brunt of the blame for the 76ers losing in the second round of the playoffs for the third time in four years.
Rivers spent an entire season telling everyone what they saw wasn’t real as it related to Simmons’s flaws, and he has spent the past week claiming his comment after losing to the Hawks about whether Simmons could be the point guard of a championship team — “I don’t know the answer to that right now,” he said — was taken out of context. He also denied that it was one of the reasons Simmons is hellbent on playing elsewhere.
“Who do you think defended Ben more?” Rivers said Monday. “I think the world of him as a player.”
Simmons was already scarred after being mentioned last season in trade rumors for former MVP James Harden. That speculation stung for Simmons, because he is one of the few players to be drafted No. 1 overall but to never have the opportunity to call a franchise his own. He also has failed to fully connect with Philadelphia fans.
“It’s tough to play here,” Rivers said. “Ben didn’t say that. But you’ve got to assume that’s probably part of it. I can’t say he said that. That’s just an assumption.”
Embiid mentioned Simmons’s refusal to attempt a dunk in the final minutes of Game 7 as one of the turning points of that loss. When asked if he regretted those postgame comments, given the situation now facing the 76ers, Embiid said Monday he did not.
“I didn’t call out anybody. I just stated the facts. I’m honest. And I can’t lie. I don’t feel like I put anybody in a situation where they had to feel bad,” Embiid said while taking responsibility for not delivering when the team needed him to play better. “We got to have self-awareness. . . . We all got to grow up.”
The 76ers doubled down on their commitment to Embiid by giving him a four-year extension worth $196 million in August. Simmons knows where he stands in the hierarchy, so the slightest doubt from the organization pushed him over the edge. He firmly wants out, and an organization that struggled to be honest with him continues to struggle with reality. The 76ers have a player who really doesn’t want to be there.
“I watched, last night, a player lead their team to victory where a thousand pounds of digital ink were spilled on how much he would never play for that team again,” Morey said, referencing Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who also wanted out before the NFL season. “Look, every situation is different. But we have a lot of optimism we can make it work here. . . . Ben is a great player, and we expect him back. We expect him to be a 76er.”
Simmons stands to lose significantly from his stance. He’ll be fined $25,000 by the NBA for skipping out on media day, and with $33 million owed to him this season, this stalemate stands to get uglier if it extends into the regular season. A group of players attempted to fly out to Los Angeles last week in hopes of getting Simmons to reverse course. Simmons told them not to bother getting on the plane. Forward Tobias Harris said if he had known Simmons was that upset after the season ended, he would’ve immediately had the whole team “pull up to Ben’s house” to work out the problems.
“I’m trying to win, and [Simmons being in Philadelphia] is the best thing for us right now,” Harris said. “He helps us win basketball games.”