Ben Simmons may not want to play another game for the Philadelphia 76ers, but the feeling isn't mutual. During an appearance on ESPN's First Take on Wednesday morning, Sixers coach Doc Rivers discussed the ongoing Simmons situation and made it clear that, while Simmons has indeed informed Sixers brass that he wants out, the team wants him back for the upcoming season.
"I think in sports, you've been around it a lot, there's been so many times this has happened that hasn't been reported and the guy comes back," Rivers said. "So, listen, we're going to go through it. We're going to always do what's best for the team. But I can tell you, up front, we would love to get Ben back and if we can we're going to try to do that. Ben has a long contract so it's in our hands and we want him back.... We just got to keep communicating and see where we can take this.. Right now Ben is still part of this team, and I'm going to focus on that part of it."
The rift between Simmons and the Sixers dates back to last season when Simmons was dangled in trade talks for James Harden. A deal never came to fruition, but the fact that the organization was willing to move him rubbed Simmons the wrong way, despite the fact that he said all of the right things publicly at the time. Things really came to a head following Simmons' underwhelming performance against the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals. After the series, Simmons was unhappy with comments made by both Joel Embiid and Rivers.
CBS Sports HQ Newsletter
Your Ultimate Guide to Every Day in Sports
We bring sports news that matters to your inbox, to help you stay informed and get a winning edge.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox.
There was an error processing your subscription.
When asked if he thought Simmons could be a championship-level point guard, Rivers replied "I don't know the answer to that." During his appearance on First Take, Rivers tried to couch that comment by explaining that he was trying to be dismissive of the question, and not of Simmons specifically.
"I want to correct that. I would love you guys to play what I said, because [I] never said what was reported," Rivers said. "The question was asked about Ben, it was the first question after we just lost Game 7. My answer was 'I'm not answering any of that stuff right now guys. I don't even know how to answer that.' That had nothing to do about Ben. I was basically saying 'I'm not answering that crap.'
"What disappointed me, it was being portrayed that I was out there saying that I don't think we can win with Ben, and I do. I told Ben that the next day. What really disappointed me was that I went on and said 'guys, I know exactly what I was talking about,' and no one heard it. They just kept running their narrative. I've been in sports a long time, and I'm not misrepresented very often, but in that case I was. But it is what it is. Ben knows, Rich [Paul] knows, and I know."
Despite their perceived differences, the Sixers are still interested in helping Simmons grow as a player, and the way Rivers sees it, that starts at the free throw line -- an area where Simmons was an unmitigated disaster during the 2021 postseason. Simmons shot 25-for-73 from the line during the playoffs. That equates to 34 percent, which is the worst mark in a single postseason in NBA history. So, following the season the Sixers hired a free throw coach to help him improve from the line.
"It's about the free throws," Rivers said. "We absolutely have to improve him there... We hired a free throw coach, a shooting coach. We want to get him in the gym, we want to work him and get him better. Because I believe that one thing frees him up."
It remains to be seen whether or not what amounts to a public plea from Doc Rivers will be enough to convince Simmons to report to training camp, but it was at least worth a try for Philadelphia. In the meantime, the team will continue to be in no rush to trade Simmons, who still has four full years remaining on his current contract with the team.
Given his contract status, Simmons has little leverage in the situation, and thus only has two real options. He could report to the team and play until a trade materializes, or he could stay away from the team and risk losing huge chunks of his salary via a suspension and subsequent fines from the franchise. Ultimately, the whole thing could come down to how much money Simmons is willing to forfeit by staying away from the team. If he's alright with missing out on a sizeable chunk of cash that he would be otherwise entitled to, then perhaps his absence will be an extended one. If not, maybe he'll return to the team and make the best out of the situation until a trade is inevitably made.