On Tuesday, ESPN published a wide-ranging report from Ramona Shelburne detailing the many layers of the standoff between Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers.
In this report, Shelburne stated that Simmons — who stands to lose $32 million if he sits out the entire season — remains “frustrated that [Doc] Rivers didn’t come to see him while he was training in Los Angeles last summer.”
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Apparently Simmons felt, and continues to feel, that Rivers was the one who needed to go to lengths to repair the relationship after he had the audacity to question whether Simmons could be the point guard of a championship team. It’s an absolutely fair question, but that’s not the point, I suppose, in Simmons’ eyes.
Never mind that Simmons didn’t deny that he ignored numerous text messages from Rivers and told his teammates to not come see him in L.A. Rivers not rushing to tend to Simmons’ damaged ego was one of many things about which Simmons is apparently unhappy, a list that includes the fact that Joel Embiid called out his poor play, and more specifically his ill-timed reluctance to shoot the basketball from point-blank range, in the Sixers’ second-round loss to the Atlanta Hawks, and Daryl Morey’s previous attempt to trade him for James Harden.
On Tuesday, Rivers addressed the ESPN report and the claims made within with regard to his support, or supposed lack thereof, of Simmons, essentially firing back in what I would call pretty warranted self defense.
Here are the notable quotes from the Bucks County Courier Times‘ interview with Rivers:
“That’s the first time I’ve ever heard that,” Rivers told the Bucks County Courier Times, part of the USA TODAY Network, on Tuesday afternoon. “There’s nobody that’s been more supportive than me. I have a tape someone sent me of almost an hour of me over and over (praising Simmons). You heard me last year every day.
“It’s all posturing. That’s why you haven’t heard me – I don’t get involved in all that stuff. I’ll leave that up to the front office and Ben’s camp. I’m staying out of that part. But, listen, some of this stuff I laugh at and I feel bad. I think Ben’s a good kid. I want Ben to do well.”
“…We need people to tell us the truth,” Rivers said. “Unfortunately as a coach in the NBA, I have to do it a lot. I’ve accepted it as a coach over the years. Some handle it well (and) some don’t. Sometimes I don’t deliver it well, even though I try. I’m not perfect, either.”
“…At the end of the day, everything I try to do is about winning. The people who can handle that, can handle me very well. The people that can’t, probably don’t handle me well. And I don’t lose an ounce of sleep over it.”
“…I always have supported Ben,” Rivers said. “I want him to do well. It’s just the excuses and all that stuff. One of the things I tell all my players is that respect is a two-way street, especially these young guys. You can’t expect to ignore us or not listen and then want us to do something different to you. You have to respect each other to be successful in life.”
Rivers is right. All last season, he went went to almost laughable lengths to defend Simmons and his inability, or unwillingness, to shoot the ball. He basically called reporters stupid for even questioning a very obvious hole in Philly’s offense, claiming they didn’t know how to properly value all the things Simmons does at an elite level that contribute to winning. Nobody ever denied all those things, but Rivers was looking for any way — even if it made him look almost foolish in the process — to dismiss any and all criticism being levied against Simmons.
Rivers isn’t a perfect coach. He could’ve done things differently with Simmons, and vice versa. But his not running across the country to coddle the ego of a player who ignored his attempt at communication is not something for which he needs to apologize.