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September 22, 2022

Ben Simmons addresses end of Sixers tenure in new interview

Sixers NBA
Sixers-Nets-Ben-Simmons-return_031022 Eric Hartline/USA Today Sports

Ben Simmons with the Brooklyn Nets.

In a new interview with JJ Redick on 'The Old Man and the Three' podcast, former Sixers player Ben Simmons offered his first public thoughts on a host of issues from his time in Philadelphia, to the chagrin of people like me who thought they were done writing about Ben Simmons' time in Philly.

I'll hit you with some quotes and quick commentary. You can view the full episode here, but these are some of the highlights.

What went wrong in the Hawks series

I think it was me, and it was a build-up over time, I was kind of like deflecting, I was pushing it to the side of not addressing my mental health. It’s hard to do that when you don’t really know why do I feel like this, why am I feeling this way, different things. Once I was able to really address it, I was like oh sh-t, I need to, I want to get myself right and I want to get to a good place mentally and be able to do my job, and be able to learn to deal with things I’m dealing with in the right ways and not going down a downward spiral. Because there’s a lot of people that go through it and never address it.

I was most disappointed in this part of the interview because it focused on these vague platitudes rather than, you know, what was actually going through Simmons' mind during the Hawks series, and/or why he thought they lost to a team they were considerable favorites against. 

On the one hand, completely understandable that there is a limit to his vulnerability in a public forum, and no one is asking him to detail legitimate mental health struggles on camera for the consumption of thousands of people. But the springboard to basketball is never really made. There's still a gap to close, though, between Simmons dealing with mental health issues and his outright refusal to do some very basic things that the vast majority of players do at all levels of basketball, players who are often much worse at the sport than he is. 

The infamous non-dunk in the Hawks series

In the moment I just spun, and I’m assuming Trae [Young] is going to come over quicker. I’m thinking he’s going to come full-blown, and I see Matisse, and Matisse is athletic and can get up, and I’m thinking okay quick pass, he’s going to flush it, not knowing how much space there was. It happened so quick, you just make a read. In the playoffs, you need to make the right decisions a majority of the time, and for that moment, bro, it happened and I was like okay now we got to go make another play. That’s how I’m thinking, I didn’t realize everyone was posting it.

...

It looks terrible, when I look at it now I’m just like, man, I should have just punched that sh-t. But it didn’t happen, and I was okay with that. I can live with that, I can live with okay, everyone’s trying to kill me over one play, does everybody want to watch film with me, the whole arena? I can dissect everything if you guys want. Also, I’m guarding the fucking best player on the other team the whole game. [Kevin] Huerter had what like 27 points?

(A quick editor's note here: Simmons' mention of Huerter was immediately followed by an abrupt cut on the video version of this podcast, so I wonder if there was perhaps a little more said about who was guarding him during that game. Speculation only, but my guess is no one wanted to irritate Seth Curry, who is still Simmons' teammate in Brooklyn.)

To me, the back half of this exchange was more revealing than anything else in the interview. I tend to agree with Simmons that harping on one specific play is a silly exercise, and that it was not a "100-point play" as he called it elsewhere in the interview. But the defiance over his decision persists, and that was perhaps the defining feature of his time in Philadelphia. Simmons' insistence on playing and seeing things his way ultimately led to his unraveling and the place where he finds himself now. So it goes.

The mental struggle after the Hawks series

I’m already dealing with a lot mentally in life, as a lot of people do. It got to a point where after that series I’m getting, it’s like from the people you’re supposed to have support from, or that comfort from, and I wasn’t getting that either. It was a toll on me. Mentally, it killed me, I was like f--k, no energy for anything, I was in a dark place. The first thing for me was really like, identifying okay I got to get right, and it’s not a physical thing, it’s mentally. That first thing of acknowledging it is a big step for me…those are some dark days for me.

If you're looking for someone who is going to dismiss or downplay Simmons' mental health struggles, look elsewhere. Wanting to know how it impacted him from a basketball sense aside, I would be happy for any person to be able to get help they need if they're dealing with inner demons.

Redick and Simmons acknowledged that "the people you're supposed to have support from" included Doc Rivers and Joel Embiid, if you feel like debating the degree to which they "threw him under the bus" for the 500th time in a year. The truth, I think, is somewhere in between. Neither man was as diplomatic as they should have been in that moment, but with Embiid specifically, his point was one of many made about the end-of-game failures of the group. Simmons wanting to go somewhere with more support is understandable, but it was not an assault on his character or anything other than people weary of the same old song and dance from a longtime member of the organization. 

(Had Simmons opted to take barbs at Embiid for his own struggles as it relates to playoff health and performance, it would have been within his right to. He has mostly toed the line of professionalism when it comes to his former teammate, though, and did so again here, with Redick leading the point about Embiid and Rivers.)

Whether constant debate about his shooting messed with him

This started building up, they're saying I can't, so should I not? I'm f--king confused now. You don't want me to shoot, but you want me to shoot. It did f--k with me a lot, but I kind of found peace in a place where I’m like, f--k it, it’s basketball. I’m great at the game, I needed to go out there and show people what I can do and my talent…I feel like all this stuff that’s happened the last few years for me has kind of helped me grow and mature in a way I don’t think I would of if I didn’t have those experiences.

Let's be clear here — I don't think anyone who follows the NBA, much less cares about the Sixers, ever sat down and seriously thought it was a debate whether Simmons should shoot. Of course, he should shoot when shots were there, the objective of the sport is to put the ball in the basket, and Simmons' refusal to shoot changed how teams defended him (and by extension, the group) over time. If an entire arena of fans watched the film with Simmons, he'd be able to point that out just as well as he could point out things he did well during a game.

Simmons and Redick joked about Simmons shooting 20 threes a game this year, so we'll see what he offers when the lights are on this year. Somebody else's issue to monitor now.

His infamous practice return during the preseason, and why he decided to show up:

"I was trying to do the right thing," Simmons said. "Do right by whatever the f--k, the team, my teammates, whoever it is. I just was not in the right place to play, like I wasn’t, I just couldn’t do it. Getting kicked out of that practice that day, I actually spoke to Doc before practice and I was like, Doc I’m not ready, mentally I’m not ready. Please, just understand that, I tried to let him know prior. He was like, well I’m going to put you in any way. Told me to get in, I looked at him it was like one minute into practice, Ben get in, first of all no one’s doing that, you’re doing that on purpose. And that’s how I felt, it seems like everyone’s trying to f--k with me now. I’m getting fined for like not lifting weights, but physically I’m one of the strongest guys on the f--king team, so they’re out there fining me for little things. It was just a build-up of, obviously, I didn’t handle things the right way, but also the team didn’t either, and the people who had that power."

Being one of the strongest guys on the team is, to my knowledge, not the difference between whether someone gets fined or not for skipping team-mandated activities. Doc Rivers' role in the relationship between player and team falling apart should not be dismissed — the two were not on speaking terms for a time last summer while Simmons was still with the team — but this was certainly not a big conspiracy to take Simmons' money.

(While we're on the subject, Simmons discussed the fines elsewhere in the interview: "People were like, well, let’s take his money, and I’m like, I don’t give a f--k about the money, I don’t care about the money, it’s not about the money for me now. I want peace and happiness, I want to be in a good place. If that costs me whatever it’s going to cost, that’s what it costs. My peace is more valuable than money.” I suppose we can chalk this up to the arbitration process both sides settled out of recently, but his agent was on the record that the fines being levied were compounding Simmons' mental health issues.)

The lack of support he felt trying to come back to the team:

Getting on the floor was my priority, and getting myself where I was mentally good to do that. I was in such a bad place where I’m trying to get here and you guys are throwing all these other things at me where you’re not helping. That’s all I wanted was help, I didn’t feel like I got it from coaches, teammates, I won’t say all teammates because I had great guys on that team who did reach out that are still my friends. But I didn’t feel like I got that, and it was just a tough place for me.

On the story about his Sixers teammates trying to fly out to meet him in L.A.

That’s not the truth, you guys were going to fly out, now you want to fly out to the end of when training camp is about to start. I was in L.A, for months, no one came, no one was there. You could have came, now you want to make it public you were flying out? That’s bullsh-t. No one was getting on that plane, come on man, that’s the f--king truth. There were guys in LA that didn’t say anything to me. That’s irrelevant to me, there were a lot of things getting put out that shouldn’t have been put out, and those people know who they are.

Again, truth falls somewhere in the middle. On a human level, yes, there should have been better, more proactive efforts from important people in the organization to check up on Simmons throughout last summer. Unfortunately, Simmons' version of this story rests on the idea that he was an open and receptive person to the rest of the team during that offseason, which was not the case. As we've established, he was not on speaking terms with Rivers for most of the summer, and after submitting a trade request during a meeting with the team's power brokers in the summer, there was the obvious period of uncertainty that any team goes through when a big-name player wants out and that knowledge becomes public. That wasn't exactly a time period ripe for visits from the squad.

There you go, I've saved you over an hour of your time. Watch below if you still feel inclined.



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