January 12, 2021
The Sixers continue to get further and further away from the positive COVID test that altered their early-season form, but they remain under the spotlight thanks to some suspicion over Ben Simmons' availability over the weekend.
On Monday, Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo! Sports discussed the situation with Chris Haynes on the "Posted Up" podcast, with Goodwill claiming he was told Simmons left the team while they were still waiting in New York waiting out test results, contact tracing, and next steps on the league end of things.
"The 76ers decided that night we are going to stay in New York while everything gets sorted out. What I have gathered was that Ben Simmons left New York that evening. He left New York and went back to Philadelphia. Got a, you know, apparently probably hired a driver from a service, I don't think Ben Simmons in a regular old Hyundai Sonata or nothing like that. On a car service, I believe it was probably something reputable, the team clearly found out. Here’s the one thing that we do know, Chris, because of the restaurant protocols and everything else, there's certain restaurants in places that you can’t go to. There are no restaurants in New York City that are approved so if a team is staying in New York City they have to stay there.
Apparently Ben Simmons said, ‘Nah, I’m out, I’m headed out." Got a driver, went back to Philly. I believe the team found out. And I believe team security, as you know, team security knows these things, they’re like the CIA, you know what I mean? Team security knows what the writers are doing. This is some serious stuff. So, they find out, Ben Simmons has to come back, and magically or however you want to say it, he ends up on the injury report the next day, not playing. Now, who knows how you want to connect the dots. That's not for us to do here on the Posted Up podcast. [Posted Up podcast]
Asked about what happened on Tuesday evening before their game against the Heat, head coach Doc Rivers confirmed that Simmons was on his way out of New York City, but he claims it wasn't for a malicious reason and could have happened to a number of people with the team.
"It wasn't reported the way it sounds. Obviously, that night we were all in disarray, a bunch of guys were ordering cars, because we all did think we could go back home," Rivers explained. "Ben was on his way, I called him and told him he couldn't because of league protocols, and he just turned around and came back. I don't read, so I heard, but the way it sounded was like it was some kind of bad thing and it wasn't, it was just the way it was."
"We didn't know anything. At the time, even I was ordering a car. We didn't know what we could do the next day, we thought we could leave and get tested at home. Then we were told we could not do that. So, after that game it was, it was a lot of different moving parts going on at the same time."
There was certainly pushback from the league on the Sixers over the weekend regardless of Simmons' transportation home, eventually resulting in the $25,000 fine handed down to the franchise on Monday.
A point of contention from the league's end centered around Doc Rivers' choice of words when discussing Simmons missing the Nuggets game on Saturday. Rivers implied during his pregame presser that the Sixers basically already knew Simmons' availability was in doubt heading into the weekend, meaning they either masked his injury by not listing him on the injury report Friday or that they used an injury as cover for something more dubious like the scenario described by Goodwill.
"Ben in the Brooklyn game had some knee stiffness, and so we almost probably knew after the game that he wouldn't play tonight," Rivers said. "And then Joel started complaining about his back over the last, he started yesterday. And we didn't know if he was playing or not. But honestly, with the minutes we would have to ask, it would be insane to play him."
Simmons did not travel with the team for their Monday matchup with Atlanta, with the team saying at the time he had responded well to treatment on his left knee, and Doc Rivers adding that he expected him to be available for Tuesday night's matchup with the Heat. The swelling the team said he was dealing with was in the same knee Simmons had surgery on following an injury suffered during the league's bubble restart, which lent credence to the idea they might need to give him some rest days during a crowded schedule.
In any case, Simmons is back in game shape and available for Tuesday night's game against the Heat, so if there is suspicion that Simmons was in any way violating league protocol, the league has not sent that signal yet. Considering the revamped protocols handed down by the league on Tuesday — including much stricter off-court rules and limitations to on-court interaction between players — this seems to be the end of the "Ben Simmons fled the scene" saga. Carry on.
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