Friday, October 7, 2022

Nets’ Ben Simmons shares his side of 76ers story, says infamous pass play vs. Hawks ‘looks terrible’

In an interview on JJ Redick’s podcast, “The Old Man and The Three,” Ben Simmons said that he doesn’t wish he’d done anything differently during his tenure with the Philadelphia 76ers — even on that play.

“No, ’cause I wouldn’t be here,” Simmons told his former teammate. “I don’t think you can say, ‘Yeah, I wish I went up and dunked the ball ’cause that was the whole game’ — like, come on. Nah, I think if I didn’t go through what I’ve gone through the last year and a half then I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

Initially, Redick didn’t have to ask Simmons directly about the infamous pass to Matisse Thybulle in Game 7 against the Atlanta Hawks. After Simmons mentioned it, Redick said that, “for whatever reason, that’s the play that everyone talks about.” Simmons joked that it was “the hundred-point basket,” then explained the sequence from his perspective, just like he did after the game: He spun baseline, and, mistakenly assuming that Trae Young and Danilo Gallinari would both be there to contest his shot, passed to Thybulle. 

“I’m thinking, OK, quick pass, he’s going to flush it, not knowing much space there was,” Simmons said. “It happened so quick that you just make a read. And in the playoffs you need to make the right decisions the majority of the time. And for that moment, I mean, bro, it happened and I was like, OK, f—, now we gotta go make another play. That’s how I’m thinking. I didn’t realize how everyone’s posting. I’m like, it was that big?”

Redick acknowledged that Simmons was turning baseline and didn’t necessarily know how open he was. He also told Simmons that, on video, it looks really bad. 

“Yeah I know,” Simmons said. “F—, it looks terrible. When I look at it now, I’m like, man I should’ve just f—in’ punched that shit. But it didn’t happen. And I was OK with that. I can live with that. I can live with, OK, everyone’s trying to kill me over one play. Like, does everyone want to watch film with me? Like, the whole arena? I can dissect everything if you guys want. But that’s not realistic.”

Simmons and Redick played together in Philadelphia from 2017 to 2019. On the podcast, they laughed about Simmons recruiting Redick over text message during the 2016-17 season, Redick’s final year with the Los Angeles Clippers. “You basically tampered,” Redick said. The two fondly reminisced about the Sixers’ 16-game winning streak to close the 2017-18 regular season, a stretch in which Simmons was the star of the show because Joel Embiid was sidelined. “To me, that’s basketball,” Simmons said. “Growing up in Australia, the way we play is just fundamentally — obviously not everyone’s super athletic, when you come to the States it’s different — but it’s moving the ball, it’s cutting, it’s passing, it’s running. That’s what basketball is.” 

Those good times did not last. Simmons, now a member of the Brooklyn Nets, requested a trade after the loss to the Hawks and got in a public standoff with the Sixers when he told them he wasn’t mentally ready to play. Redick asked if the Atlanta series exacerbated problems that he was already having. 

“I think it was like, you know, I’m already dealing with a lot mentally just in life, as a lot of people do,” Simmons said. “But it got to a point where, after that series, I’m getting — it’s like from the people that you’re supposed to have the support from, or that comfort from. And I wasn’t getting that, either. So it was just a lot, it was a toll on me. And then mentally, I just — it killed me. I was like, f—, like no energy for anything. I was in a dark place. And it took me a long time. The first thing for me was really identifying, like, OK, I gotta get right. And it’s not a physical thing. It’s mentally.”

Simmons said that acknowledging it was “a huge step for me.” Now, he’s “in a great place,” he said. “And I feel comfortable talking about it now. But those were some dark days for me. And especially, you know, f—, everything’s public. That’s the crazier part. But yeah. Everyone goes through different struggles, some bigger than others, but everyone has their own battles. And I think that was tough for me, just knowing I didn’t really have that support, either, from teammates or whatever it was at that time.”

Redick said that, while he loves Embiid and Doc Rivers, “They essentially threw you under the bus after Game 7. That’s indisputable.” 

“For sure,” Simmons said. “For sure. Yeah.”

On the subject of being fined when he wasn’t playing, Simmons said: “It’s not about the money for me now. I want peace and happiness. I want to be in a good place. And if that costs me whatever it’s going to cost me, that’s what it’s going to cost. My peace is more valuable than money.”

On showing up late to training camp, then Rivers kicking him out of the gym, Simmons said: “I was trying to do the right thing at least. Like, do right by whatever the f—, the team, my teammates, whatever, whoever it is. But trying to do the right thing. And I just was not in that place to play. I wasn’t. I just couldn’t do it. And getting kicked out of that practice that day, I actually spoke to Doc before practice. I was like, ‘Doc, I’m not ready. Mentally, I’m not ready. Please just understand that.’ I tried to let him know prior. And he was like, ‘Well, I’m going to put you in anyway.’ I’m like, ‘All right.’ 

“He told me to get in,” Simmons continued. “I looked at him. It was like one minute into practice. Like, ‘Ben, get in.’ First of all, no one’s doing that, you’re doing this on purpose. And that’s how I felt, too. I was like, OK, it seems like everyone’s just 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 f—ing team. So I’m like, now they’re fining me for little things. It was just a buildup of — obviously I didn’t handle things the right way, but also the team didn’t, either. And the people who had that power.”

Redick asked Simmons if he and the organization had irreconcilable differences. 

“Yes and no,” Simmons said. “I was trying to, for myself personally, get to a good place to get back on the floor. So it was never even — getting on the floor was my priority. And trying to get myself to a place where I was mentally good to do that. And I was in such a bad place where I was like, f—, I’m trying to get here and you guys are 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, teammates — I won’t say all teammates because there’s great guys on that team that did reach out, that are still my friends. But I didn’t feel like I got that. And it was just a tough place for me.”

On the report from The Athletic that most of those teammates wanted to fly to Los Angeles and convince him to rejoin the team in late September, Simmons said: “Now you want to fly out when training camp is about to start? Like, I was in L.A. for months. No one came. No one was there. You could’ve came. Now you want to make it public that you were flying out? That’s bullshit. No one was getting on that plane. Come on, man. That’s the f—in’ truth. There was guys in L.A. that didn’t say anything to me.”

Despite all of this, Simmons said that, “for the most part,” he had an “incredible” time in Philadelphia. He also said that he wasn’t himself in the Hawks series. 

“It was a buildup over time,” Simmons said. “I was kind of like deflecting. I was just pushing it to the side and not addressing my mental health. And I was — it’s hard to do that when you don’t really know, like, f—, why do I feel this way, why am I feeling this way? Just different things. And once I was able to really address it I was like, oh shit, I need to — I want to get myself right, I want to get to a good place mentally and be able to do my job and learn to deal with the things I’m dealing with in the right ways and not going down a downward spiral. Because there’s a lot of people that go through it and never address it.”

Simmons has not played in an NBA game since that series, and he had back surgery in May. On the podcast, he said he “can’t wait” to get on the court. He also invited Redick to come out of retirement and sign with the Nets. 

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