Ben Simmons believes the Philadelphia 76ers’ recent actions are exacerbating his mental health issues, and that the team wants to deem him fit to force him to play, regardless of what he tells the team’s mental health therapist, his agent told The Athletic on Thursday.
“I truly believe the fines, the targeting, the negative publicity shined on the issue — that’s very unnecessary and has furthered the mental health issues for Ben,” Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul said. “Either you help Ben, or come out and say he’s lying. Which one is it?”
A 76ers team official told The Athletic on Thursday it is “absolutely not” the case that they are forcing his return or accusing him of lying. The team’s position is that he should partake in all team activities until there is information from its mental health professional or Simmons that would preclude him from playing.
The 76ers say they have been fully supportive of Simmons’ process and have worked to provide him with all possible resources. As it stands, short of a doctor’s evaluation declaring he can’t play, the team expects Simmons to ramp up to return.
The team sent Simmons a schedule for Thursday that included the team’s game against Toronto, which Simmons believes is an effort to withhold his game check if he does not appear at Wells Fargo Center. A fine has followed each time the 76ers have done this in the past. Simmons, who requested a trade out of Philadelphia in June, showed up to the arena on Thursday afternoon for a team meeting but did not participate in the team walkthrough or the game versus the Raptors.
Simmons, 25, has had no timetable to return to game action, but he has made it clear to team officials that he wants to be back on the floor when ready. Simmons has been participating in individual workouts, day-to-day body treatments, team shootarounds and meetings.
“In this case, we have to get Ben help and not put finances above mental health,” Paul said. “As an agent, I understand contractual obligations and I hold myself accountable in this business. But if someone is telling you something, we can no longer turn a blind eye in today’s world.
“This is no longer about a trade. This is about finding a place where we can help Ben get back to his mental strength and get back on the floor. I want him on the floor playing the game that he loves. I want Ben on the floor whether that’s in a 76ers uniform or any other uniform, that’s not up to me, but I want him in a state where he can resume play. We want to cooperate and want to work him back on the floor.”
Sixers officials said they were pleased to hear Paul state he is open to Simmons staying in Philadelphia. President of basketball operations Daryl Morey and other team officials have said that they believe Simmons is a piece for their championship-contending team and want him back in the lineup.
After telling the team over the summer that he wouldn’t report to training camp, Simmons arrived in Philadelphia on Oct. 11, two weeks into camp. The 76ers say that Oct. 22 was the first time Simmons informed them of any mental health concerns, and the moment they received his message they made available resources and provided support. Paul, however, said the 76ers were informed in the offseason that Simmons was not mentally ready to play in Philadelphia.
The 76ers stopped fining Simmons on Oct. 22, but after two weeks went by without further information from Simmons about his process and clarity on his return-to-play status, the franchise reinstated fines and withholding payments on Nov. 5. Only then, team officials say, did Simmons meet with the team-affiliated specialist, on Monday, Nov. 8.
Team officials insist they have shown good faith throughout the process, such as releasing to Simmons the $8.25 million they withheld in an escrow on Oct. 19 — hours before he was thrown out of practice for declining to participate in a defensive drill — providing him with specialists to treat his back injury and mental health assistance as needed. Sixers officials emphasized that, to date, the team has yet to receive any information from its team therapist or Simmons’ personal specialists that would preclude him from playing or practicing.
Paul, however, says that Simmons is not yet prepared to play.
“He’s not there yet. How can a doctor, who has only met with Ben once, say, ‘Ben is mentally ready to play?’ So do we keep digging on him, or help him?” Paul said. “Now that we understand that reluctance from Ben, it all makes sense. There was a shying away from it. If Ben has repeatedly showed behavior that entails he isn’t mentally ready to play, embrace him. Support him. We have to remove our ego from it. We all have to take responsibility.”
Paul says he still respects the team’s upper management amid the current dispute. “I don’t think the 76ers are a bad organization. Josh Harris and David Blitzer are great governors, they’ve done a great job with the organization. I have respect for Daryl Morey,” Paul said. “Ben has a mental issue, let’s support him. I’m happy he got to a place where he realized and accepted help. I understand it’s a business, but even in business, you need humanity.
“I have a great level of respect and love for the city of Philadelphia, as someone who loves the game, but this isn’t about that. This is about Ben getting back to a place mentally where he can be back on the floor — and only Ben can tell us when that is. We have to allow him to do that.”
Simmons met with the 76ers’ mental health specialist on Monday for one hour, and team officials say more meetings are scheduled between the two and that Simmons must continue to show documentation of the steps he is taking as part of the process. In a team-issued questionnaire Simmons completed on Wednesday night, several inquiries centered around whether Simmons wants a trade — not his mental health status, a source said.
According to Paul, Simmons has allowed the team’s mental health professional to talk to his personal therapist and encouraged them to work together to help him find a path back to the floor. Simmons also made it clear to both sides that information from their talks was to be treated as confidential. Simmons expressed that he would allow the two therapists to continue to help him.
Paul drew a contrast between the situation with Simmons and that of Houston Rockets guard John Wall, another of his clients, who is being paid by Houston while sitting out the season, even though he is healthy enough to play. “John is able to play, but Houston is OK using the (Collective Bargaining Agreement) to pay him not to play,” Paul said. “So which way is it? John is perfectly healthy and ready to play, and it’s OK in the CBA. We are being professional with both instances, but how can it go both ways? John and the Rockets have been professional about their situation, and we are also expecting the same with the 76ers.”
Simmons’ trade request in June followed a Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals, after which Doc Rivers and Joel Embiid made critical public comments about Simmons’ play. Neither Rivers nor Embiid has apologized to Simmons for those remarks, sources said.
Sources say 76ers’ ownership has not met with Simmons since he returned to Philadelphia, and president of basketball operations Morey met with Simmons one-on-one once when he approached Simmons about his playing status on Nov. 3.
After being thrown out of his third practice with the 76ers, Simmons met with Rivers and his teammates on Oct. 22 and informed them that he was not mentally ready to play and needed time to be in the proper state of mind. Multiple teammates publicly and privately supported Simmons, with Tobias Harris saying, “We have to respect his privacy, his space, and we’ve got to be there for him.” Last week, the 76ers became increasingly irritated with Simmons because the organization felt he was not providing further clarity on his process and not working with their team specialists.
(Photo: Matt Rourke / Associated Press)