CAMDEN, N.J. — In the wake of the Philadelphia 76ers suspending Ben Simmons for their season-opening game in New Orleans on Wednesday night, superstar center Joel Embiid said he has yet to speak to Simmons, and declared — several times — that it isn’t his job to “babysit” anyone.
“I’m trying to win,” Embiid said after Simmons had been tossed from Tuesday’s practice by 76ers coach Doc Rivers. “And to win, you have to have that relationship with your teammates. I do have that relationship with all my teammates.
“But at the end of the day, our job is not to babysit somebody. We get paid to produce on the court, go out, play hard, win some games … that’s what we get paid for. We don’t get paid to come out here and try to babysit somebody. So that’s not our job, and I’m sure my teammates feel that way.
“We’re really focused on just winning and playing as a team.”
The 76ers announced late in Tuesday’s practice that Simmons has been suspended one game for conduct detrimental to the team, a suspension he’ll serve for the opening game Wednesday against the Pelicans.
Simmons had been thrown out of practice by 76ers coach Doc Rivers after he declined several times to sub in for a drill, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
“I just thought he was a distraction today,” Rivers said Tuesday after practice. “I didn’t think he wanted to do what everybody else was doing. It was early. It wasn’t a big deal. I just told him he should leave. We went on with practice.”
The 76ers have fined Simmons $1.4 million for his absence from four preseason games ($360,000 each) and levied numerous team fines for missed practices, on-court workouts and meetings, sources told Wojnarowski. Simmons hasn’t earned any money since returning to the team on Oct. 11.
By being suspended for Wednesday’s game, Simmons will lose roughly another $227,000.
Simmons’ reluctance to physically and mentally engage with the Sixers since his return has been a consistent theme, sources told Wojnarowski.
“I mean today, no,” Rivers said with a smile, when asked if he thinks Ben wants to be there. “We told him to go home. But, hopefully at some point, yeah, I do.”
Tuesday felt like a boiling point for a situation that’s been simmering for several months. Wednesday will be four months to the day of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Atlanta Hawks — the game Simmons passed up an open dunk that would’ve tied the game with less than four minutes left, and the Sixers went on to lose and see their season come to an end.
A short time later, Simmons asked for a trade, and he then held out the first two weeks of training camp in an attempt to force the 76ers to make a deal. Instead, he reported to the team last week, and after going through several days of re-entry protocols, Simmons practiced with the team Sunday and Monday before being tossed from Tuesday’s practice.
Since returning to the team, Simmons has not spoken to the media, and hasn’t said anything publicly since that Game 7 loss. That has left Rivers and his teammates to answer questions about the situation for him.
Embiid and Rivers both tried to spin the situation by saying the rest of the team is focused and engaged, but Embiid, in particular, couldn’t hide his frustration with the fact this situation has gone on as long as it has.
“At this point I don’t care about that man,” Embiid said, referring to Simmons. “He does whatever he wants. That’s not my job. That’s [the front office’s job].
“I’m only focused on trying to make the team better, win some games, play hard every night, try to lead the guys we have here and I’m sure they feel the same way because our chemistry has been excellent despite everything that’s been happening the past few months.
“So, like I said, I don’t really care.”
“At this point I don’t care about that man. He does whatever he wants. That’s not my job. That’s [the front office’s job].”
Joel Embiid, on Ben Simmons
Rivers, meanwhile, attempted to strike a conciliatory tone. When asked if Simmons would be back on the court the next time Philadelphia practices — possibly as soon as Thursday or Friday morning ahead of the team’s home opener against the Brooklyn Nets — Rivers said, “We’re gonna expect that, yes.”
And, when asked what he should do with a player that has shown he doesn’t want to be part of the team, Rivers said that doesn’t change his job description.
“Every day, every single moment, I’m going to give Ben a chance to join the team, and be part of the team,” Rivers said. “He’s under contract to be part of the team, and that’s not going to change. Sometimes it happens quick and guys join back in, and sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve been in both situations, and I’m fine with that.
“My job as a coach is to keep trying to get guys to buy in, to be in, and unfortunately this is tougher, this situation, but that’s my job. I’m not going to stop my job.”
What’s also clear, though, is that this situation isn’t going away anytime soon. Philadelphia has remained steadfast in its belief that it will only trade Simmons if it is a deal that allows the team to remain the championship contender it believes it is with Simmons. Until such a deal materializes, the 76ers will expect Simmons, who has four years remaining on his contract, to be part of the team.
Sources said Rivers has made it clear since Simmons reported back to the team last week that he would not play until he showed engagement and positive energy — and that those factors are being evaluated as much as his conditioning.
Now the 76ers are off to New Orleans for Wednesday’s game, where — at least for one day — there won’t be a possibility of Simmons returning to the court. But it doesn’t remove it from being a story Embiid and his teammates will have to keep answering questions about.
“I get paid to deliver, and that’s to win games, and obviously the ultimate goal is to win a championship,” Embiid said. “But, like I always say, I can’t do it alone. I need these guys, the guys that are here are willing to help me, and I’m willing to help them, and we’re going to continue to do it together.”