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October 31, 2019

Practice notes: Sixers await ruling on Joel Embiid vs. Karl-Anthony Towns fight

23_Ben_Simmons_Sixers_76ersvsCeltics_KateFrese.jpg Kate Frese/Kate Frese

Ben Simmons during the Philadelphia 76ers game against the Boston Celtics at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on October 23, 2019. (Kate Frese/PhillyVoice)

If Wednesday night was a time for Sixers players and fans to laugh at the absurdity of the Joel Embiid vs. Karl-Anthony Towns fight, Thursday afternoon was time for the team to form a protective huddle around their stars. It's all fun and games, after all, until potential suspensions for Embiid and Ben Simmons are on the line.

While Embiid's involvement in the fight was pretty obvious, there has been pushback from Minnesota's end about Simmons, who grabbed Towns in the middle of the fracas and held him down, which they have reportedly argued warrants punishment of its own.

Simmons, who was deemed a "peacemaker" by the officials last night, according to NBA ref Mark Ayotte, told reporters on Thursday afternoon that any characterization other than being a good teammate is inaccurate.

"I don't really have anything to say about it," Simmons said at practice on Thursday. "My teammate and Karl went at it, I tried to grab them and separate them and get Karl to relax a little bit because I know Karl. So yeah, I'm not, people know me they know I'm not that type of player. It is what it is."

Tobias Harris, safe from the repercussions of the chaos on Wednesday night, was a little more jovial about the situation. With a big smile on his face, he proclaimed he didn't want to get into the "nonsense" that transpired on social media after the game and asserted that Thursday was a new day, the center of his focus.

But, he said, the rush of teammates to Embiid's defense is an important thing to see from the guys you go to battle with, even if they'd prefer to avoid situations like these to begin with.

"We better have come to his defense, if we didn't we have a big issue here," Harris said. "That's our brother, that's our guy, of course we're going to come to his defense and try to de-escalate the situation. If you're on the team man, and somebody don't come to your defense, you gotta check, you gotta look at yourself in the mirror or something."

No one in Philadelphia seems to have any idea when any sort of decision will come down on the issue, who they'll be for, or what the severity will look like. There are an assortment of factors to consider from the league's end:

  1. The continuation of the beef on social media following the game. Because it can be viewed as an extension of the on-court fight involving the participants, it's unclear if their typically carefree social media policy will tighten up here.
  2. How to judge each person's role in the fight. Towns was the only guy who appeared to attempt to throw a punch during the scrap, but Embiid's reputation as an instigator, his theatrics on his way off of the floor, and other factors will get lumped in here. It takes two to tango, obviously.
  3. The debate over Simmons' involvement. Internally, the Sixers feel they're in a good position with regards to Simmons because of Ayotte's ruling and comments to the pool reporter after Wednesday's game. 

How does the league come to a conclusion on all of this? In the broadest sense, by speaking to as many people as possible.

Those conversations typically zero in on the most relevant parties, Embiid and Towns being at the center of things, but it fans out to other players on the floor, coaches on the sideline, and other personnel if necessary. 

NBA security is always involved prominently in these discussions. In addition to arena security at Wells Fargo Center and the Sixers' personal security crew, there is at least one NBA security team member in NBA arenas for every game, and they tend to serve as the point person in situations like these. From my understanding, that security member tends to be assigned to the same arena night after night, allowing them to move quickly and effectively when they need to, as was necessary Wednesday night.

As of early Thursday afternoon, it was unclear who had actually been contacted by the league in connection to the ordeal, and with both Minnesota and Philadelphia off until Saturday, there's some extra time to deliberate should the NBA see fit to do so.

At this point, there is nothing the Sixers can really do to improve the situation other than laying low and trying to minimize the situation. That's what head coach Brett Brown chose to do, despite admitting he had some thoughts about the opposing characterizations being thrown around about Simmons.

So it was left to Simmons, normally a man of few words in front of the microphone, to speak on what it shows when teammates come together in these moments.

"As a team, we have each other's backs no matter what, no matter what the situation is, we're always going to have each other's backs with whatever happens on the floor," Simmons said. "At the same time, we're a physical team, but we're not coming out here trying to fight people. But at the same time, we're a physical team."

"We're close, we're brothers, I think that's huge for us going into eventually playoffs and further down the track. I think right now where we're at is a great place, and everyone is feeling comfortable and knows we all support each other."

If nothing else, the Sixers are willing to go to battle for each other. Did they need possible suspensions to learn that? Maybe not. But it doesn't hurt to have that in your back pocket.

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