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November 05, 2021

Sixers resume fining Ben Simmons for lack of cooperation in return-to-play process

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Ben_Simmons_2_Hornets_Sixers_Frese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons.

The Sixers resumed fining Ben Simmons on Thursday evening, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported first this week, the next step in a long, drawn-out battle between the Sixers and their disaffected star. Simmons was docked a $360,000 game check for missing Thursday's game, and the Sixers will continue fining him until he meets the obligations he has as a member of the organization.

Earlier this week, there were rumblings out of Philadelphia that the Sixers were unhappy with the lack of communication from Simmons as they try to get him back into the fold. Two weeks ago, Simmons met with teammates and other power players in the organization and expressed that he was not mentally prepared to play, the first time such an explanation had been offered to the organization. The Sixers ultimately accepted that explanation from Simmons and resumed paying Simmons as he worked out in the facility with Spencer Rivers, showing his face from time to time at team shootarounds.

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, there was an initial period of good faith where teammates spoke up for him and team officials saw him making more of an effort to work at the facility. And Simmons' camp has insisted that he is working with professionals provided to him through the National Basketball Players Association, claiming he has done so since the summer.

The point of contention is the absence of a follow-up from Simmons in the time since. Under the NBA's collective bargaining agreement, if a player has a medical issue that is impacting their ability to play, they have an obligation to provide any and all relevant information to the team on that issue if they are working with parties outside the team to treat it. Typically, this comes in the form of dealing with physical issues — a player could not simply claim they have a torn knee ligament as a means to indefinitely stay away from the team, for example, without showing some form of proof that they are/were working to rectify the issue. It is also applicable for mental issues, if they impact the player's ability to play basketball*.

*This has been where public conversation has gone off the rails some. NBA teams don't have the right to get minute-to-minute reports from, for example, a player's therapy session or meeting with a mental health professional, and don't even need to be made aware said meetings are taking place if it has no impact on their ability to play. If a player is seeking counsel for something personal, e.g. a death in the family, teams don't have the right to demand basically anything from the player. In this case, though, Simmons has specifically presented mental readiness as the barrier between him and his return and has since failed to share anything about what he's doing to work on the problem, how any work he has done would be implemented while putting him back on the floor, and so on. It's an important point of distinction — the Sixers wanting to be Big Brother overseeing sensitive mental health meetings would be a very different story.

Simmons is not under any obligation to work with team-recommended specialists to deal with this or any other issue. But the CBA makes clear that information on any medical issue that is presented as a return-to-play obstacle has to be shared, both as a matter of professional responsibility and to enable teams to provide the best possible support and resources to aid players in their return to the floor. 

Down on the floor, the players have responded to the situation by just putting their heads down and plowing through any distraction that might exist, pushing to a 7-2 record without Simmons in the early part of the season. Players on the team, most notably Tobias Harris, offered public support to Simmons immediately after meeting with him two weeks ago.

"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."

What has Simmons done lately? That's the question the Sixers want answered right now. And it appears they will continue to fine Simmons until and unless they get it.

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