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November 02, 2021

Report: Sixers frustrated by lack of communication as Ben Simmons works on mental readiness

Sixers NBA
Ben_Simmons_6_Hornets_Sixers_Frese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons.

After a relatively quiet week-and-a-half on the Ben Simmons front, we are back in the rumor mill again, breaking down an apparent lack of communication between Simmons and the team regarding his mental health.

According to ESPN's Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski, Simmons has met with mental health professionals through the National Basketball Players Association, and the Sixers are unhappy as a result of being out of the loop. Here's a look at the reporting from that duo:

The Philadelphia 76ers are increasingly frustrated with Ben Simmons' refusal to accept organizational assistance to address his mental readiness to play, sources told ESPN. 

While Simmons has been working with team doctors to treat a back ailment, he has been unwilling to meet with team doctors to discuss his mental readiness, sources said. 

Instead, sources said, Simmons has worked with mental health professionals via the National Basketball Players Association since the summer. So far Simmons has yet to provide details of those meetings to the team, sources said. 

On a regular basis at the team's Camden, New Jersey practice facility, Simmons has engaged with teammates and members of the coaching staff in one-on-one scenarios but has not advanced to rejoin full team activities and it's unclear when or if he will. 

The Sixers remain eager to help Simmons address his mental readiness so he can return to the team. There's uncertainty whether he's progressing with that same objective, sources said. [ESPN]

The Sixers being frustrated at a lack of communication isn't all that surprising or new, and Simmons' decision to work with professionals outside of the Sixers' immediate view is not a condemnable offense. But there is a problem to sort out, certainly, and the disconnect between both sides persists all these months later.

From the beginning, Philadelphia has offered Simmons whatever assistance he might need in order to be his best self on and off the floor, with mental health resources (among other things) made available to any member of the organization who might need them. Once Simmons came to the team and expressed the need to get right mentally, teammates of his spoke out publicly and offered support, noting that it would be a group effort to get him to the right place.

"It's easy to look at something on the surface and come to assumptions on a lot of things, especially athletes," Tobias Harris said recently. "In general, in this space, we're depicted as superhumans, and you're not really supposed to have feelings or go through anything. So I think we just have to really understand he's a human first, and if he's going through something at times, we have to respect that and go through that as a team, organization, fans, all the way down the line. 

"Because when he's in here putting on a show and helping us get wins, everybody is cheering and praising, but we live in a 'What have you done for me lately?' type world, but when that's not the case, it's easy to turn around. 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. And I hope that message is loud and clear to the fans and everybody around the organization, and honestly, you guys, as well."

Simmons has not been completely away from the team during that time, working out with Spencer Rivers at the practice facility and making brief appearances at team shootarounds. The Sixers have fielded numerous questions about timetables for Simmons since that team meeting, unable to offer anything concrete in return. That's part of why the team is looking to get more information. 

Though ESPN's reporting suggests Simmons has worked with NBPA-adjacent professionals since the summer, his lack of mental readiness was not brought to the team until recently, a declaration that followed a series of attempts from Simmons and his camp to force his way out of Philadelphia. The Sixers were and are prepared to give Simmons time to sort out what he needs to, but would like to know (and have contractual grounds to demand) what sort of people he's speaking to, any treatment options he has or has not been recommended, and broader details of that nature that could be used to develop a firm return-to-play plan for Simmons. 

To put it in broader workplace terms — if an employee goes to their boss and notifies them they need time to sort out something like a mental health issue, a family/personal matter, etc., most decent employers would extend their sympathy to that person and give them time to process feelings and grief. But once that person's temporary absence turns into an indefinite hiatus from work with no clear return date, the employer is going to seek a doctor's note or some sort of clarifying documentation that explains where they've been and what comes next. 

The Sixers don't need and aren't requesting the minute-to-minute details of what Simmons is doing. But they are in search of a status update, just as they would be if Simmons had a physical injury worked on by outside physicians or therapists. The CBA is clear that when an issue impacts their ability to play, players have an obligation to share any/all relevant information on the matter with their team.

Simmons, who is being paid by the organization at the moment while he sorts through things off the court, is well within his right to seek out help and advice from whoever he chooses. Going outside of his employer's scope in that search is easy to understand in this situation. Given his desire to get out of this situation, Simmons is likely searching for people who can help him achieve what he wants, not necessarily what the organization wants out of him. 

But the two sides are going to have to come together at some point, even if Simmons continues to assess his options elsewhere and turn down opportunities to use resources offered by the team. The Sixers don't appear inclined to accept radio silence forever, and Daryl Morey's promise of four years of this circus appears more realistic by the day. Strap in.

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