The Ben Simmons saga in Philadelphia concluded last February at the 2022 NBA trade deadline. After requesting a trade from the Philadelphia 76ers a year ago, it took months before Simmons was moved to a new team.
Eventually, the Sixers and the Brooklyn Nets struck a blockbuster deal at the deadline. Philadelphia sent Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, and draft compensation to the Nets in exchange for James Harden and Paul Millsap.
While the trade officially ended the Simmons saga, there were still a lot of questions left unanswered. Simmons participated in an introductory press conference with Brooklyn media days after the trade went down. Still, he didn’t go too in-depth while addressing certain situations that led to his breakup with the 76ers.
More than one year after requesting a trade from the Sixers, Simmons sat down with former Philly sharpshooter JJ Redick to discuss the dramatic offseason that eventually led to him parting ways with the 76ers on ‘The Old Man and the Three Podcast.’
Throughout the 2021-2022 NBA season, Simmons made it clear on numerous occasions that working on his mentality was an uphill battle and a constant work in progress.
By the time he reached the Atlanta Hawks series in the second round of the 2022 NBA Playoffs, Simmons had admitted that his mental health had reached all-time lows. At the time, Simmons felt he lacked support around him as the criticism about his struggles in that series grew louder.
“I’m already dealing with a lot mentally in life,” the three-time All-Star said. “It got to a point where after that series I’m getting; it’s like from the people you’re supposed to have the support from or that comfort from that I wasn’t getting that either. It took a toll on me — mentally — it killed me. I had no energy for anything, and I was in a dark place.”
Simmons began working with mental health professionals during the 2021 offseason to address the issues he was battling throughout his final year in Philly.
“The first thing for me was to identify like, okay, I gotta get right, and it’s not a physical thing — it’s mentally,” he explained. “I think that first thing of acknowledging it was a huge step for me. I need to address this. I need help in these areas. Being able to do that, that was the start of getting to where I am now. I’m in a great place, and I’m comfortable talking about it now.”
A Failed Attempt at Returning
Simmons was expected to hold out from the Sixers when training camp rolled around last year. As it became clear a holdout was on the horizon, a rumor surfaced regarding Sixers player’s plans to fly out to Los Angeles, where Simmons spent most of his time during the offseason. According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, many roster members were gearing up to visit Simmons to get him to buy back into the organization after requesting a trade. Per Charania, Simmons turned those guys away.
“So many things happened, and people don’t really realize that’s not the truth,” Simmons said, regarding reports about his teammates willing to fly out to see him. “You guys were gonna fly out, and now you’re gonna fly out when training camp is about to start? I was in LA for months. No one came. No one was there. You could’ve came, but now you want to make it public that you were flying out? That’s bulls***. No one was getting on that plane. Like, come on, man. That’s the f****** truth. There were guys in LA that didn’t say anything to me. But that’s irrelevant to me. There were a lot of things getting put out that shouldn’t have been put out. Those people know who they are.”
As expected, Simmons missed media day when it rolled around in late September of 2021. He also wasn’t present at practice for the first week. After missing several practice sessions and multiple preseason games, Simmons shocked the basketball world when he finally came to work.
While there was speculation that Simmons had an ulterior motive upon his return — the star guard claims that he was trying to do the right thing by coming back. Unfortunately, his presence was more of a distraction than his absence.
“I was trying to do the right thing,” Simmons claimed. “Do right by the team and my teammates and whoever. Trying to do the right thing, but I just wasn’t in that place to play. I wasn’t — I just couldn’t do it.”
A few days into his return, Simmons was set to speak to the media for the first time since Game 7 against the Atlanta Hawks. Before reporters could even get into the gym for a post-practice media session, Simmons was kicked out of practice for being a distraction, according to Sixers head coach Doc Rivers.
“He was a distraction today,” said Rivers back in October 2021. “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 then, and we went on with practice.”
Rivers didn’t offer much insight on the situation, nor did Simmons’ former teammates. When Simmons finally told his side of the story this week, the Brooklyn Net felt he was being singled out even after claiming he wasn’t mentally ready to help contribute in practice.
“I spoke to Doc,” he explained. “I was like, ‘Doc, I’m not ready, mentally I’m not ready, please understand that.’ I tried to let him know prior. He was like, ‘Well, I’m going to put you in any way.’ He told me to get in. It was like one minute into practice, he was like, ‘Ben get in.’ First of all, no one’s doing that. You’re doing this on purpose. That’s how I felt too. It seems like everyone is trying to f*** with me now. I’m getting fined for not lifting weights, but physically I’m one of the strongest guys on the team. They were fining me for little things. Obviously, I didn’t handle things the right way, but also the team didn’t either.”
There was skepticism about Simmons’ willingness actually to get back playing with the 76ers. While many rumors speculated that Simmons was willing to do anything to not suit up for the Sixers again, the star guard claimed that he genuinely tried to get his mind right to return to the floor.
“Getting on the floor was my priority, and trying to get myself to a place where I was mentally good to do that,” Simmons explained. “I was in such a bad place where I was like, I’m trying to get here, and you guys are like throwing all these other things at me to where you’re not helping. And that’s all I wanted was help. I didn’t feel like I got it from coaches or teammates. I won’t say all teammates because I had great guys on that team that did reach out that are still my friends, but I didn’t feel like I got that. It was a tough place for me.”
Simmons never made it out on the floor for the 76ers during the 2021-2022 season. Despite being a member of the organization for more than half the season, Simmons only participated in practice sessions. Although Daryl Morey and the Sixers front office were willing to keep Simmons around as long as they needed to before finding an ideal trade scenario, that idea was no longer necessary when the Nets were ready to make a deal.
Now, Simmons feels he’s in a great place and is excited for the next step of his career as he’s set to make his Brooklyn debut next month. With Simmons finally telling his side of the story, that should close the book on the Simmons saga officially.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for All76ers, a Sports Illustrated channel. You can follow him for live updates on Twitter: @JGrasso_.