It was almost 11 months ago that the Brooklyn Nets completed a blockbuster trade with the Houston Rockets for James Harden — which, as a result, meant All-Star guard Ben Simmons would remain with the Philadelphia 76ers.
“I mean, this is a business,” Simmons said then. “Things like that happen. Only thing I can control is, you know, how I approach my workouts, the games and my day-to-day thing. So, you know, I’m just trying to be professional and to do the right thing and help my team get wins.”
That quote came after a Sixers game in Philadelphia against the Miami Heat on Jan. 14. The Heat returned to Philadelphia on Wednesday — but this time, Simmons wasn’t playing. Instead, he has turned the tables on the 76ers, first asking to be traded in the offseason and then spending the past two-plus months engaged in a contentious holdout to attempt to make that request a reality as soon as possible.
The year 2021 has been a chaotic one around the 76ers — not that that’s anything new for this team in recent seasons. But to see how things reached the point they have today between Simmons and the 76ers, one doesn’t need to go back to the Harden negotiations, but instead to this past spring — and yet another failed Philadelphia playoff run. — Tim Bontemps
‘Here to win’: Simmons answers critics in 76ers’ Game 2 victory
Simmons, 25, had a breakout offensive performance in Game 2 of the 76ers’ first-round playoff series against the Washington Wizards on May 26. He also snapped back at those who questioned his approach.
The All-Star guard recorded 22 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists without needing to step on the floor in the fourth quarter as the 76ers won to take a 2-0 lead in the series.
In Game 1, Simmons had 15 assists and 15 rebounds but just six points. That unbalanced line led to negative feedback, particularly in Philly. It led to coach Doc Rivers calling out 76ers fans by saying, “If you guys don’t know the treasure you have by now, then shame on everyone.”
Simmons said: “I thought it was pretty hard to get 15 assists and 15 rebounds in the NBA in the playoffs. I thought that was pretty impressive. And we won. What y’all want? You want to win? For me, I’m here to win and I’m doing what I need to do to help my team win, whatever it is. I’m not trying to prove anybody wrong or anything like that. I’m trying to do my job to win.”
June 1: Rivers defends his decision to keep Simmons on the court late in a Game 4 loss to the Wizards, who intentionally fouled Simmons four times, including three times in the final two minutes. “You want me to take Ben Simmons off the floor?” Rivers says postgame. “I’ll pass on that suggestion.”
June 7: Rivers, one day after a second-round Game 1 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, says he keeps a “catalogue” of video clips showing what he believes to be unfair whistles against Simmons. The 76ers win Game 2 a day later behind 40 points from Joel Embiid.
June 12: Simmons has his hands full on defense in the first half of the Game 3 win against Atlanta. Rivers challenges him to do more. “We just thought he passed up too many opportunities — in the fast break, at the post,” Rivers says. “And so we told him we were going to come out and feature him on the post. And he was great for us. It’s exactly what we need.”
Simmons shoulders blame after 76ers’ Game 7 loss, playoff exit
After the 76ers bowed out of the 2020-21 playoffs following a postseason in which he was historically inept from the free throw line and struggled to score in the second round, Simmons took the blame.
“I ain’t shoot well from the line this series,” Simmons said following the Sixers’ 103-96 Game 7 loss to the Hawks. “Offensively, I wasn’t there. I didn’t do enough for my teammates. … There’s a lot of things that I need to work on.”
He was particularly unreliable at the end of games, failing to attempt a single shot in the fourth quarter in five out of the seven games
Simmons shot 15-for-45 (33%) on foul shots against Atlanta and 34.2% from the line for the 2021 playoffs overall, accounting for the worst free throw percentage in NBA playoff history for a player with at least 70 attempts, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information.
In Game 7, 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.
June 21: The idea Simmons will spend the offseason improving his shooting stroke has become an annual discussion in Philadelphia. Not even 24 hours after his team’s season ended, Rivers says he believes this summer will be different for Simmons: “It’s not going to be an easy job. But it’s definitely a job that Ben can do.”
June 24: Discussions on Simmons’ future with the Sixers’ franchise start during the NBA draft combine in Chicago and include Simmons’ agent, Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul, 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey and general manager Elton Brand, sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
June 28: Simmons informs the Australian Olympic basketball team he will not participate in the Tokyo Games. Sources had told ESPN’s Brian Windhorst the week prior that Simmons was doubtful to play in the Olympics because he planned to focus on skill development.
Sept. 1: Embiid denies a reported “rift” with Simmons and says in a series of tweets he loves playing with his teammate in Philadelphia. “Stop using my name to push people’s agendas,” Embiid writes. “I hope everyone is back cuz we know we’re good enough to win.”
Sources: Simmons won’t report, is done with the franchise
Sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that Simmons will not report for the opening of training camp and he intends to never play another game for the franchise. Simmons wants a trade out of Philadelphia and has told management he has no plans to wear an NBA uniform again until he is moved to a new team, according to sources.
Simmons explained his stance to ownership and management in a late August meeting in Los Angeles and has had no direct contact with the 76ers organization for weeks, sources said.
Simmons has four years and $147 million left on his max contract — including $33 million for 2021-22. His contract is structured for him to receive 50% of his salary before Oct. 1.
At Simmons’ request, the Sixers have discussed trades throughout the league since the end of the playoffs, but they have been disappointed in the offers and have decided to hold on to him with hopes he would start the season and improve his trade value with his performance.
Israel Gutierrez likes the idea of the Trail Blazers trading for Ben Simmons.
Sept. 22: “Well, I hope we can change that thought,” Rivers says of wanting to convince Simmons to stay. “That’s part of our job.” The disconnect between the Sixers and Simmons bubbled up in the Game 7 loss to the Hawks. After the playoff series ended, Rivers was credited with saying 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 when asked about the comment on Sept. 22. ” … 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.”
Sept. 22: Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob is fined $50,000 for violating the NBA’s anti-tampering rule. Lacob cast doubt during an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle that the Warriors would be interested in acquiring Simmons. “In some ways, it doesn’t really fit what we’re doing,” Lacob told the newspaper.
Sept. 27: Morey says he has “hope” of a 76ers-Simmons reconciliation, pointing to the Aaron Rodgers situation in Green Bay as proof things can turn around between a team and its disgruntled star. “I think there’s a lot of hope,” Morey said during his season-opening news conference alongside Rivers.
Sept. 30: Embiid calls the situation with Simmons “disappointing” and “borderline kind of disrespectful” to the rest of the team. The comments come following a report by The Athletic that Simmons feels his partnership with Embiid has “run its course.” Simmons has yet to report to training camp.
Oct. 1: The 76ers do not pay Simmons the $8.25 million — 25% of his contract — that he was owed Oct. 1 and place the money into an escrow account, sources tell ESPN. The 76ers deduct from the account any fines Simmons accrues as the season progresses. (If, or when, Simmons shows up, he will be given the money that is remaining in it, sources later told ESPN.)
Oct. 11: Discussions gain momentum on Simmons returning to the 76ers, sources tell ESPN. Philadelphia management and Rivers progress in talks with Paul on a resolution for Simmons to report to the team, sources say. Simmons could soon speak with team officials, something he hasn’t done directly since that August meeting.
Oct. 11: Rivers reiterates Philadelphia has wanted Simmons to play for the team, and that his teammates will welcome him back if he does return. “We’ve said from Day 1 what we wanted,” Rivers said before Philadelphia faced the Brooklyn Nets in a preseason game.
Oct. 15: Simmons, who clears the NBA’s health and safety protocols to rejoin the 76ers, does not play in the 76ers’ preseason finale against the Detroit Pistons. Simmons’ absence is listed by the team as “reconditioning,” and he does not travel with the team to Detroit.
Domonique Foxworth says 76ers president Daryl Morey needs to accept he can’t win a trade involving Ben Simmons.
Simmons practices with 76ers, status for NBA opener unknown
Rivers tries to play Simmons’ return to the 76ers cool, introducing the point guard to the team at practice with a joke like the coach would use for any other player who returns from a drawn-out absence.
“That’s how it is,” Rivers says on Oct. 17. Only problem was, this was no ordinary return from an injury or any other ho-hum excuse. Simmons practiced Sunday and faced his teammates for the first time since his trade demand — in other words, he begrudgingly slips on a Sixers jersey with a team he no longer wants to play for and teammates he no longer wants to play with.
When asked if Simmons’ return to practice was awkward, 76ers forward Tobias Harris said, facetiously, “No. It was perfectly fine.”
No decision has been made on Simmons’ status for Wednesday’s season opener at the New Orleans Pelicans. “When he’s ready, he’ll play,” Rivers said.
Oct. 19: ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reveals new reporting that while Simmons has rejoined the 76ers, the stalemate is far from over. “I don’t know if [Simmons] can face the team or the fans after everything that happened last year,” one source close to the situation says.
Oct. 19: The 76ers announce late in practice that Simmons has been suspended one game for conduct detrimental to the team, a suspension he serves for the 76ers’ season-opening game the next day against the Pelicans. In the wake of the 76ers suspending Simmons, Embiid says he has yet to speak to Simmons, and declares it isn’t his or his teammates’ job to “babysit” anyone.
Oct. 20: Rivers says the typical fun that surrounds opening day is muted with Simmons under team suspension. “It’s a predicament that we’re in and that part is no fun. It really isn’t. We get to play right now and Ben is not. I want Ben to be playing. That’s his job.” Rivers said the experience is not something he is celebrating. “I don’t think people understand … you want all your players to do well. You cheer for your players. Even when they’re in a tough spot, you want it to go well for them, you do.”
Oct. 21: Simmons leaves the team’s practice facility without working out and is expected to meet with organizational leadership the next morning to again discuss his murky playing status, sources tell ESPN. Simmons describes discomfort in his back to Sixers staff and undergoes a brief treatment. In a Philadelphia radio interview, Morey reiterates the Sixers will not be rushed into trading Simmons. “People should buckle in. This is going to take a long time.” Morey added: “This could be four years. The conditions that I’m pointing out to you don’t change. Unless Ben Simmons is traded for a difference-maker, we’re in the prime of [Embiid’s] career. We have to get back either Ben Simmons playing well for us, who helps us win the championship, or we have to get back a difference-maker for Ben Simmons — or this could be four years from now and we’re still like, hey, we took the best shot at it we could.”
Oct. 21: Philadelphia Eagles veteran center Jason Kelce has some advice for Simmons: “I don’t want to crush any other players, but what’s going on with the 76ers, Ben Simmons, stuff like that, all of that is because of a lack of accountability, a lack of owning up to mistakes and a lack of correcting things. … So everybody can bitch and complain about how tough this city is to play in. Just play better, man. This city will love you.”
Simmons tells 76ers he’s not mentally ready to play
Simmons had planned to meet with medical professionals for an evaluation after telling the team on Oct. 22 that he wasn’t mentally ready to play to his expectations and needs time to step away, sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Simmons meets separately with Rivers, medical staff and teammates at the team’s facility in Camden, New Jersey, and starts a process that is expected to keep him from making his season debut, according to sources. After he tells the team’s medical staff of his reasons for needing to seek help, the Sixers reportedly offer Simmons whatever resources are necessary to assist him. He is officially ruled out of Friday’s game with Brooklyn for personal reasons.
The Sixers have been fining Simmons for missing games, practices and meetings — nearing $2 million this season — but there is a provision in the collective bargaining agreement that protects players’ salaries for failing to render services “if such failure has been caused by the player’s mental disability.”
Oct. 23: In the wake of Simmons addressing his teammates in person for the first time since his holdout, Harris gives an impassioned defense of Simmons after Philadelphia’s 114-109 loss to the Nets on Oct. 22. “At this time we have to respect his privacy, his space, and we’ve got to be there for him, with what he’s going through and this process,” Harris says. “It’s easy to look at something on the surface and come to assumptions on a lot of things, especially athletes. … So at this time he needs more support. I just think we have to be there for him as a team, and I relayed that to the group.”
Nov. 2: The 76ers have been increasingly frustrated with Simmons’ refusal to accept organizational assistance to address his mental readiness to play, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Simmons has been working with team doctors to treat a back ailment. But, he has been working with mental health professionals via the National Basketball Players Association since the summer.
Nov. 5: The 76ers fine Simmons his $360,000 game salary for missing the victory over the Pistons on Nov. 4, and plan to continue fining him until he cooperates with team physicians on his mental health and fulfills other basketball-related obligations, sources tell ESPN.
Nov. 8: After initial resistance, Simmons meets with a team-recommended medical specialist to discuss his mental health, sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Simmons meets with the 76ers’ medical specialist after regularly showing up to the team’s facility for daily basketball activity with coaches and individual teammates.
Sources: Lillard off-limits in trade talks for Simmons
As the 76ers gathered momentum in trade conversations for Simmons, the Portland Trail Blazers reiterated on Dec. 10 that one of the Sixers’ top targets — All-NBA guard Damian Lillard — is not available to be discussed, sources told ESPN.
Nevertheless, the Sixers have become more engaged on multiple fronts in talks centered on Simmons. Philadelphia has been aggressively trying to assemble two- and three-team deal structures to land a package that would include a top 25-level player, sources said.
The Blazers have been open to discussing a deal for Simmons centered on guard CJ McCollum, but that conversation never gathered traction, sources said.