The past year of Ben Simmons’ life has been turbulent to say the least, weathering countless controversies (many of his own creation) while losing the trust of both teammates and fans amid a disastrous postseason that saw the All-Star point guard unravel before our eyes. The 25-year-old, now back with the team after staging a brief but nonetheless disruptive holdout at the start of Sixers training camp, has plenty of explaining to do for his playoff collapse including when Simmons, in a moment of sheer panic, inexplicably passed up an open dunk late in Game 7 of Philadelphia’s Eastern Conference semifinals loss to Atlanta. ESPN NBA insider Ramona Shelburne detailed the hours and months leading up to that fateful play—a career low point for the 6’11” Australian—revealing Simmons was “not in a good place” mentally.
According to Shelburne, Simmons was absent from the Sixers’ shootaround before Game 7 after being exposed to a team masseuse who returned an inconclusive COVID test. Of the players questioned, only Simmons admitted to seeing the masseuse, a revelation that raised eyebrows within the organization. “Many within the team questioned whether Simmons had actually seen the masseuse—or was just trying to get out of playing as he battled the basketball version of the yips,” wrote Shelburne, noting Simmons’ confidence was “shaken” by his recent struggles, particularly at the free-throw line, where he had missed 16 of his previous 23 attempts.
While Simmons regarded Doc Rivers and Joel Embiid's criticism after that game as a “a final gut punch,” his world had been turned upside down long before that. In anticipation of being traded for James Harden last fall, Simmons became enamored with having “his own team” in Houston, even looking at real estate in that area. When talks with the Rockets “fizzled out,” Simmons was crestfallen, frustrated at the prospect of spending another season in Embiid’s shadow.
Simmons was also dealing with a crisis in his family after his older sister Olivia, in a series of tweets, accused his brother of molesting her as a child. Though Simmons never commented publicly, the situation “weighed on him deeply,” further complicating the most harrowing season of his NBA career.
When Doc Rivers and Daryl Morey met with Simmons and his agent, Rich Paul, this summer, the former NBA Rookie of the Year held firm, maintaining his desire to play elsewhere on a team where he could “start over” and be free to “make mistakes.” “I appreciate you guys coming out here," Simmons told Sixers brass at the time. "I understand how you feel. But I feel how I feel. And it's just time for a change."
Simmons has cleared the team’s COVID protocols but won’t be available for Friday night’s preseason finale in Detroit as he works back into playing shape.