According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the star guard has told the team that he will not report to training camp next week and does not plan to play for the franchise again.
“Well, I hope we can change that thought,” Rivers said on ESPN’s Keyshawn, JWill, and Max on Wednesday morning. “That’s part of our job.”
The disconnect between the Sixers and Simmons seemed to have its start in last season’s Eastern Conference semifinal Game 7 loss to the Hawks. In that game, Simmons passed up a wide-open dunk for a pass — putting a bow on a confounding lack of shots in the latter part of the series.
“The greatest thing in sports is, you know it’s fair, you fail at times and then you get back on the horse and try,” Rivers said. “You would be amazed if I told you how many times through a summer when you don’t win, which is 29 teams, how often you have to go through something similar to this. Because losing’s hard. People internalize it, and you have to deal with it. So we’re going to deal with this.”
After the series, Rivers was credited with saying that he wasn’t sure if the Sixers could win a title with Simmons at point guard.
“That’s not what I said, actually,” Rivers interjected Wednesday when asked about the comment. “This is when narratives … and this is what makes our jobs hard. I actually said when the guy asked, guys, I’m not answering that stuff right now. I don’t even know how to answer that. So what I was talking about was not answering the question. It had nothing to do with Ben.”
Rivers said he called an impromptu news conference the next day to clarify that he was not saying that Simmons couldn’t lead a championship team, and Simmons knew what he meant.
“But it’s amazing how it gets started and just takes a life of its own,” Rivers said Wednesday.
What Rivers actually said after the Game 7 was: “I don’t know that question or the answer to that right now. You know, so I don’t know the answer to that.”
Rivers was asked Wednesday if Simmons can play for him and win a championship.
“Yeah, all day. All day. He just does so many things, man,” Rivers said, going on to explain how scoring isn’t everything.
“The Ben Wallaces of the world. It was great to see him go into the Hall of Fame. And the Dennis Rodmans of the world … help teams win titles and have Hall of Fame careers without being great scorers,” Rivers said. “I do think Ben can score way more than he has scored, but that’s not what makes him great. What makes him great is all the other things he does.”
Simmons averaged 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists in the regular season. He shot 56% from the field, but only 30% from the 3-point line — attempting only 10 all season, an astounding number in today’s game. He has attempted two 3s in 34 career playoff games.
Still, he is a three-time All-Star and has made the NBA’s all-defensive team twice.
He had only five points in that Game 7 loss to the Hawks, but he added eight rebounds and 13 assists. And there’s another thing Rivers pointed out: Simmons held Atlanta star guard Trae Young to 5-of-23 shooting.
So Rivers doesn’t want to just concentrate on the shooting.
“We forget how he gets guys open shots, how he puts pressure on defenses with his athletic speed,” Rivers said. “Yeah, there’s things he needs to work on and we can work on, but we can absolutely win with him.”
While Rivers wants to change the narrative, he hasn’t had much of a chance this offseason. He was asked how much he has talked to Simmons.
“Not much, but we’ve had some,” he said. “And I get his feelings. I understand where he’s at right now, but we’re going to keep trying to work on it to get him in the right place.”
As for on the court, Rivers said the 76ers have hired a shooting coach.