Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers appeared on ESPN's The VC Show with Vince Carter on Tuesday and said he's spoken to Ben Simmons once since his fallout with the organization and subsequent trade to the Brooklyn Nets.
Rivers said he believed all parties could have worked the situation out, though that ultimately didn't happen (4:30 mark):
"That one comment [made after the Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the 2021 Eastern Conference Semifinals] had nothing to do with why Ben wanted to leave. Let me just say that. It was a lot of things—as Ben told me, and publicly now—that happened long before I got there. What frustrated me was that I still think it shouldn't have been enough to want to leave. I just didn't. I told Ben that. I kept telling him that. 'This is not why you want to leave the team. You work these things out.' They didn't get worked out.
"We've had one talk—a long, long talk—but we did have one good talk. Ben called me, afterwards, which I thought was great, and we had a good talk. The point was he was already leaving and ... listen, I really believe, even though 99 percent of the people didn't, that we could make this work with Ben and [Joel Embiid] and the team. Because I'm built that way, that's what coaches have to do."
The comments Rivers was referencing came when he was asked if Simmons could be the point guard for a championship team following the Game 7 loss two playoffs ago.
Simmons, in that Game 7, went just 2-for-4 shooting and scored five points. He famously passed up a wide-open dunk late in the fourth quarter, instead passing the ball to Matisse Thybulle, who was fouled and made one of two free throws.
Embiid told reporters after the game he thought that play in particular was one of the key moments in the loss.
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"I'll be honest, I thought the turning point was when we—I don't know how to say it—but I thought the turning point was just we had an open shot and we made one free throw." <br><br>- Joel Embiid on the start of the turning point in Game 7 <a href="https://t.co/kHHATQtjAz">pic.twitter.com/kHHATQtjAz</a>
Simmons didn't publicly detail why he forced his way out of Philadelphia after that playoff failure but did tell reporters in February after he was traded to the Nets in the deal that sent James Harden back to Philly that his reasoning "wasn't about the fans or coaches or comments made by anybody" but was a "personal thing" that he had been dealing with for some time.
"I don't think it was really [one thing], it more so just piled up a bunch of things that have gone over the years to where I just knew I wasn't myself," he added. "I needed to get back to that place of being myself, and being happy as a person and taking care of my well being. That was the major thing for me. It wasn't about the basketball. It wasn't about the money, anything like that. I want to be who I am and get back to playing basketball at that level and being myself."
As for what the particular circumstances that soured Simmons on the Sixers might have been—perhaps a wonky on-court fit with Embiid, or the Sixers perhaps privately viewing Embiid as the franchise centerpiece over Simmons, or the consistent shuffling of the roster for several seasons in a row around that pair—he clearly felt the situation became untenable.
Rivers disagreed. But it's a moot point now, as the Sixers build around a core of Embiid, Harden, Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris, and the Nets await the on-court debut for Simmons amidst all of the other drama surrounding the organization and its pair of mercurial stars, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.