Ben Simmons' absence in Philadelphia at the start of training camp was to be expected. After the three-time All-Star requested a trade early on in the summer, he made it clear that he had little intentions of playing for the Sixers when training camp and the preseason approached.
Several practices have come and gone without Simmons showing face at the team's headquarters in Camden, New Jersey. Three preseason games are in the rearview, and Simmons hasn't been with the team on the bench for any of them.
But as the Sixers competed in the third quarter of their Monday night matchup against the Brooklyn Nets, it was reported that Simmons flew to Philadelphia and was ready to report to the team. Later on, it was revealed he actually showed up at the Wells Fargo Center before tip-off to take a COVID-19 test for the NBA.
Suddenly, the attention after Monday night's game shifted from one direction to another. Although the Sixers picked up an impressive shorthanded win over the Nets, Doc Rivers, Joel Embiid, Isaiah Joe, and Furkan Korkmaz found themselves discussing Ben Simmons more than their performances on Monday night.
The Simmons saga has been all of the talk outside of the Sixers' locker room. From within, though, several players mentioned above made it clear that the team avoided the drama by focusing on the players that have been in the building throughout the offseason -- and not the guy holding out from the team.
"From the first day of training camp, all our focus was just to be ready on the court, whoever plays, whoever doesn't play," Furkan Korkmaz explained. "We were just trying to stay ready and then try to execute what we wanna do as a team, not as individuals. Of course, we talked about the situation at the beginning of the season in the locker room and on the court, but that wasn't our main topic. Our main topic was how we can get the championship. That was our mentality. It was not about individuals."
Joel Embiid, who has expressed disappointment in the Simmons situation as a whole, made it clear he wanted the three-time All-Star back with the team despite everything that's transpired over the last few months. However, Embiid also made it clear that Simmons and others have to buy into this year's team in order for it all to work out.
"I'm trying to keep everybody focused on basketball and focused on whatever we have here, whatever we've been building," Embiid explained. "Guys are gonna come in, and there's gonna be adjustments and stuff, but everybody has to buy in because if one or two people don't buy-in, you have no chance. So, we just need to buy in and believe that we have a chance to win. I believe in the group that we have, and obviously, with him being back, we have a chance to win."
Sixers second-year guard Isaiah Joe hasn't spent too much time in an NBA locker room. Therefore, he doesn't know much about how holdouts and trade drama affect teams directly. Based on his first experience with the situation, though, Joe believes that the situation sort of made the Sixers come closer as a team.
"I think the most important thing is to stay close to each other," Joe said. "This whole process has made us a lot better between each other. We do a lot of things as a team, so it just shows that we can't be spread out on islands. We need to be together, be one unit, and I think it shows even on the court that we've learned to adapt."
Will Ben Simmons play basketball again for the 76ers? Right now, the motive behind his return is unclear. While his arrival indicates he could take the court for the Sixers once again, his presence could be a play to stop the 76ers from deducting money from an escrow account for each preseason game and practice that he misses. Soon enough, the reason for his return will be revealed.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him for live updates on Twitter: @JGrasso_.