Ben Simmons last had contact with the Philadelphia 76ers front office during a meeting in late August, when he requested a trade away from the team that drafted him first overall in 2016.
But on Monday night he surprised the organisation by returning to the Wells Fargo Center unannounced ahead of their pre-season victory over the Brooklyn Nets, as first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Simmons had been absent for the past two weeks, missing training camp and the Sixers’ pre-season schedule in an attempt to force a trade away from the franchise following a tumultuous playoff run last season.
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Despite this, reports broke on Monday that after talks between the player’s agent Rich Paul and the team’s head coach Doc Rivers, Simmons would be back with the team by the end of the week.
What nobody anticipated, however, was that the Australian point forward would fly directly from Los Angeles to the Sixers’ home arena without notice. Only when general manager Elton Brand received a text saying ‘Hey, Ben’s outside the building’ ahead of tip off were the organisation aware of the player reporting back to the team.
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Ben Simmons scores 19 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds to help secure the series win over the Washington Wizards in Game 5 of their NBA playoff
According to Wojnarowski, Simmons’ future in Philadelphia remains unclear, but there is a sense the three-time All Star feels his point has been made after he failed to report to training camp and cost himself $1 million in salary in the process.
Due to the terms of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, Simmons lost roughly $360,000 for each of the two pre-season games he missed along with being fined incrementally by the team for each practice session he chose not to attend, starting from $2,500 to a maximum amount of $50,000 per practice.
President Daryl Morey has so far failed to find a suitable trade destination for their wantaway star despite scouring the league throughout the summer offseason. With Simmons’ remaining contract amounting to $147 million across four years and the reported asking price still believed to be an ‘elite’ or All-Star calibre player in return, any deal looks unlikely at the minute.
In that sense, it is perhaps no surprise at all that Simmons has completed a remarkable U-turn given the considerable evidence that any potential market for the player has dried up completely.
Ben Simmons sets up a monster dunk by Joel Embiid with the alley-oop pass during the Philadelphia 76ers’ victory over the Atlanta Hawks in Game 3 of their playoff series
But as Wojnarowski notes, that could all change once the season gets under way next week and more players become eligible to be moved come December.
As it stands, Simmons now looks likely to suit up for the Sixers once the season gets under way on October 19 and both Rivers and star center Joel Embiid appear eager to welcome him back – seemingly a dramatic U-turn of their own given the comments made after the Eastern Conference semi-finals series against the Atlanta Hawks.
Against the Hawks in June, Simmons attempted only one shot in the fourth quarter in the final six games of the series – a total of 43 minutes played – and passed up a certain game-tying lay-up with 3:30 left in the fourth quarter of Game 7, an event Embiid described as “the turning point” in the eventual defeat.
Highlights of Game 7 in the Eastern Conference semi-finals series between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Atlanta Hawks
Afterwards, to add insult to injury, Rivers was asked whether Simmons could run the point on a championship-winning team and could only respond “I don’t know the answer to that.”
More recently, Embiid, who finished as runner-up in MVP voting last season, described the trade stand-off as “weird, disappointing, borderline kind of disrespectful to all the guys that are out here fighting for their lives”.
Embiid also expressed his belief that the franchise had loaded their roster with shooters to maximise the talents of Simmons and had even traded away five-time All-Star Jimmy Butler to keep the ball in his hands.
However, he has now welcomed back his team-mate and reiterated that the 76ers are a better team with Simmons rather than without him.
Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid welcomed the surprise return of holdout Ben Simmons, but said the All Star guard has some damage control to do after saying he would never again play for the team
“He’s good for the organisation,” Embiid said on Monday night. “I’ve always said that I believe that he gives us the best chance to win. We’re a better team with him than without, that’s for sure.
“I’m happy that things have been resolved and we can move on.”
Coach Doc Rivers expressed a similar sentiment, stating that he had always wanted to keep the player.
“We’ve said from day one what we’ve wanted,” Rivers said. “We’d love to have him back. Other than that, honestly, there’s nothing to report.”
Rivers also hinted that Simmons could return to team practice sessions at some point this week. “Clearly that’s what we want, or we wouldn’t be talking if that wasn’t part of it,” he explained.
Joel Embiid’s 31 points, 11 rebounds and 3 assists weren’t enough for the Sixers as they lost Game 7 to the Hawks
Rivers did admit he had not actually spoken to his player during the holdout, instead only communicating through Klutch Sports CEO Paul.
“Other than that first 10 minutes of ‘welcome back’ and taking the c**p from your team-mates about missing camp and stuff, guys want to win,” Rivers added. “They want to win and they look at Ben as a guy that can help them do that.”
As it stands, Philadelphia do not have a healthy point guard available due to the injuries to Tyrese Maxey and Shake Milton. Asked whether Simmons could start the Sixers’ first game of the regular season in New Orleans on October 20, Rivers said “My guess is when, if he comes, I think he’ll be ready to play.”
Now that Simmons has indeed returned from self-imposed exile, it seems far more likely than not he will have the ball in his hands for the Sixers once more come their opening night.