After initial resistance, Philadelphia 76ers All-Star guard Ben Simmons met with a team-recommended medical specialist to discuss his mental health on Monday, sources told ESPN.
It is unclear what Monday’s meeting means for the Sixers’ ultimate hopes of a Simmons return to play, but it was a change of direction for Simmons in his dealings with the organization.
The Sixers had begun to fine Simmons for failing to live up to obligations in his contract after they found him to be uncooperative about partnering with them on his mental health and taking the steps needed to work together toward an eventual return to play. As part of the Sixers’ requests, the team wanted him to meet with its own mental health professionals — which Simmons finally did on Monday.
The Sixers had reinstated a series of fines on Simmons late last week, including $360,000 for missing Thursday’s game with Detroit and continued to express frustration that Simmons had fallen short of providing basic information surrounding his meetings with mental health specialists provided by the National Basketball Players Association, sources said.
The Sixers had also begun fining Simmons for his failure to participate in basketball-related requirements such as strength training, film study and other responsibilities at the team’s practice facility in Camden, New Jersey, sources said. Simmons, who started the season with four years and $147 million left on his contract, has been showing up regularly at the team’s facility for some daily basketball activity with coaches and individual teammates, and plans to continue doing so, sources said.
Simmons and the Sixers have had a four-plus-month standoff that started after the team’s Eastern Conference semifinals loss to Atlanta. Simmons, 25, has asked for a trade, and previously told the team that he had no interest in playing again for the Sixers. The Sixers have discussed trades but aren’t close to making one and want Simmons to play until a deal can be found. In fining Simmons last week, officials believed they had been supportive of Simmons’ stated need to seek mental health assistance and were left no choice but to take those actions in response to the three-time All-Star’s previous refusal to provide basic details of his course of mental health meetings, evaluations or treatments, nor to accept consultation with any specialists arranged by the team, sources said.
Despite the absence of Simmons this season, the Sixers are 8-3 — including four victories without starting forward Tobias Harris because of COVID-19 — and own the best record in the Eastern Conference. All-Star center Joel Embiid tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday and will be out of the lineup for the next several games, sources said.
After Simmons incurred $2 million in penalties for a training camp holdout and limited return to the team, the Sixers stopped fining him on Oct. 22 when he told team officials and teammates that he wasn’t mentally prepared to play for the team and planned to seek professional assistance.
In that time, Simmons, 25, has worked cooperatively with his own and team physicians on a back ailment. On Monday, Simmons and the Sixers took a new step together regarding Simmons’ mental health. Simmons and his representatives have been unhappy with the Sixers’ handling of the situation since public criticism was leveled at Simmons in the wake of his poor Eastern Conference semifinals performance in June.
The Sixers have struggled to find a trade package that meets their goal of a high-level player in return and tried unsuccessfully to convince Simmons to return to play until a deal can be found. Philadelphia president of basketball operations Daryl Morey has said that the Sixers want a high-level player in return for Simmons, and that hasn’t been available to them yet in months of trade discussions.