When Philadelphia 76ers All-Star point guard Ben Simmons made it known that he wouldn't be attending Media Day or training camp in an effort to force a trade, that meant everyone else within the Sixers organization would have to speak on his absence. After tumbling out of the playoffs in the second round at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks, and an offseason where rumors swirled about trading Simmons, everything was leading up to Media Day where everyone from Daryl Morey, Doc Rivers and Joel Embiid would be asked questions again regarding Simmons' status with the team.
To start the media session off, Rivers circled back on his comments made after Philly's Game 7 loss to the Hawks where he was asked if he thinks Simmons can be a championship-caliber point guard, to which he responded "I don't know the answer to that." When it was brought up at Media Day, there was some visible tension as Rivers felt that quote had been taken out of context.
"There's sometimes called intent when you talk, and clearly what I said was 'guys I'm not answering that, I don't know right now,'" Rivers said Monday. "I wasn't answering anything -- we just finished a Game 7, and that question was asked. I just wasn't talking about it, I wasn't answering that ... who do you think defended Ben more? I still think the world of him as a player. Just because he doesn't do certain things you want him to do doesn't mean he's a bad player. He made the All-Star team. He almost won the Defensive Player of the Year award.
"So to me, sometimes I wish instead of just going with what you want, listen to my intent, that's all I'm saying. And I said it the next day. If you remember the next day we did the press conference, I reiterated it. I said 'guys, there's something out there that I didn't mean, so this isn't like me being a revisionist history."
When asked if he feels his comments were one of the problems for Simmons wanting a trade, Rivers said, "No, I don't think that's one of the problems."
Well that's a fiery way to start off the 76ers' Media Day. Next up was franchise centerpiece Joel Embiid, who also made some pointed criticism of Simmons after his poor performance against the Hawks in the playoffs last season. After that Game 7, Embiid was asked what he thought the turning point of the loss was, and he pointed to a moment where Simmons had a wide-open opportunity at a dunk in the fourth quarter and instead passed it off to Matisse Thybulle, who was fouled and made one of his two free throws. If Simmons dunked that ball the game would've been tied, giving the Sixers new life for the remaining eight minutes of the quarter. Instead, Atlanta came down after that possession and increased its lead, and grabbed control of the game.
When asked about his comments regarding that play, Embiid said he didn't regret his comments, because it wasn't meant to criticize anyone.
"It was the turning point of the game, if there's anybody that should be mad it should be me calling Matisse out for missing a freaking free throw, but we all talk about it we all joke about it," Embiid said. "We know we got to be better so no I don't have any regrets because I didn't call out anybody. I just stated the facts. I'm honest and I can't lie, that's just me. I don't have any regrets because I don't feel like I put anybody in a situation where they had to feel bad."
In regards to what he would've said to Simmons if he got a chance to sit and talk to him, Embiid gave a very measured answer.
"Honestly, I would probably say I'm disappointed," Embiid said. "Because obviously we haven't won anything, but going by what has been said through the media ... I would look at it in the way that look at what we've been able to do. Obviously we haven't done anything in the regular season -- I gotta be better, everybody's got to be better, but in the regular season we've been so good and so dominant that we know it's working. So I think it's all about taking the next step, and everybody just playing up to their potential. Whether it's me, him [Simmons], Tobias [Harris], Shake [Milton], Matisse, the new guys [Andre] Drummond. Everybody's gotta be on point, and to be able to win is hard."
When asked to clarify what he's disappointed in, Embiid said he's disappointed in the Sixers not being able to realize their potential in the playoffs with their current core of guys, and where the current situation is with Simmons. He went on to say he hopes Simmons "changes his mind," and that if he didn't want to play with him he would say that.
Tobias Harris echoed Embiid's sentiment in being disappointed in how the situation got to where it is with Simmons and the Sixers, saying that, "We've tried to be there, and we are there, situation is what it is. But as a group and as a team, we start training camp tomorrow, and I don't think he's coming through that door, so we got to push on right now."
It's clear the players want Simmons back in the fold, because as Embiid mentioned, Philly was a dominant force last season as it finished with the top seed in the East. But as reports have surfaced about Simmons not wanting his teammates to come visit him, and all the reports about teams trying to trade for him, it feels like trying to repair things isn't an option. For now, we'll wait and see if Simmons rejoins the Sixers before the season starts, or if a blockbuster trade happens that will conclude this saga.