Ben Simmons opens up about the 76ers’ experience and disastrous NBA playoffs

Ben Simmons said he was in a “dark place” after a playoff loss to the Atlanta Hawks at the Philadelphia 76ers and that the lack of support he received from teammates “was taking a toll” on him.

Now with the Brooklyn Nets, the No. 1 draft pick in 2016 shared his experiences during a tumultuous period that began and culminated with a season-ending loss in June 2021 — which marked his last appearance in an NBA game his eventual trade to the Nets last season.

Meanwhile, Simmons was publicly criticized for his playoff performance by 76ers star Joel Embiid and coach Doc Rivers, demanded a trade away from Philadelphia and briefly returned to the team only to be kicked out of a preseason practice session. Then, during a 2021-22 season in which he never played, he reportedly told the team he was suffering from ongoing mental health issues.

In a lengthy interview on the Old Man & the Three podcast that aired Thursday, Simmons told co-host and former teammate JJ Redick, “It came to a point after that [Hawks] Series – it’s like from the people you should have the support or that comfort from and I didn’t get that either so it was just a lot – it was a tribute from me. And then mentally I just – it killed me. I was like, ‘[Expletive]’no energy for anything.’ I was in a dark place.”

Simmons then stated that he was “in a great place” and felt “comfortable to talk about it now.”

“But those were some dark days for me,” he continued. “And above all – everything is public. That’s the crazier part. Everyone goes through different struggles, some bigger than others, but everyone has their own struggles.

“And I think that was hard for me, just knowing that I didn’t really have that support, from teammates or whatever at the time.”

During their discussion, Redick addressed a number of shared experiences, either as Sixers teammates, NBA players in general, or both with back injuries. Redick, 38, who is now in his second year of retirement, played for Simmons in the 2017-18 season, Simmons’ first full-time NBA player after breaking his foot before his rookie season, and 2018/ 19

On the podcast, Redick told Simmons that while he loves Embiid and Doc Rivers, “they threw you under the bus after Game 7 [against Atlanta]. That’s undeniable.” Simmons agreed with the claim.

Redick referenced comments from Embiid and Rivers after the loss to the Hawks, in which the All-Star center cited a dunk Simmons deciding not to try late in the game as a “tipping point” in the loss during the veteran coach expressed uncertainty about whether the Sixers would be able to fight for championships with Simmons as their point guard.

During that streak, Simmons frequently appeared timid, particularly reluctant to kick the ball. Averaging 9.9 points and 6.3 rebounds, he set career playoff lows against Atlanta and made just 45 shots in the seven games, none from three-point range. His decision to pass the ball near the basket late in Game 7 when a low block spin appeared to clear the way to the rim earned him criticism, if not ridicule, from well beyond Philadelphia.

Simmons joked with the podcast hosts that it was a “hundred-point basket,” and sarcastically argued that his non-dunk’s significance was grossly exaggerated in terms of how much he accounted for the Sixers’ loss .

The 26-year-old guard-forward explained that after his spin move against Atlanta’s Danilo Gallinari, he thought Hawks guard Trae Young was going to “get the ball.” Noting that his then-teammate Matisse Thybulle “is athletic and can get up,” Simmons said his thought process was, “Okay, quick pass, he’ll flush it,” but that he misjudged the distance between the players involved.

Redick addressed that Simmons may not have fully realized Young’s discrepancy in a “bang-bang” game right away, but went on to acknowledge that “it looks really bad when it slows down.”

“Yeah, it was awful,” Simmons agreed. “When I look at it now, I’m like, ‘Man, hit that [expletive].’ But it didn’t happen. And I was like, ‘Okay, I can live with that.’

“I mean, everyone’s trying to kill me over a play. Does everyone want to watch movies with me? Like the whole arena? I can dissect anything if you want. But that’s not realistic.”

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This offseason, Simmons staged a 76ers holdout but finished it in time to attend two practice sessions in October just before the start of the 2021-22 regular season. Rivers called Simmons a “distraction” and told reporters he released his point guard from the second practice session “to protect the team.” Simmons was subsequently suspended by Philadelphia for the season opener.

In the version of events Simmons shared on the podcast, he was “trying to do the right thing for my teammates … but I just wasn’t there [mental] place to play.”

“I actually spoke to Doc Rivers before practice,” Simmons told Redick. “I was like, ‘Doc, I’m not ready. Mentally I’m not ready yet, please just understand.’ I tried to inform him beforehand. Then he says, ‘Well, I’ll put you in anyway.’ And he told me to get in. I looked at him. It was like a minute in practice. Like, ‘You get in.’ And I say, ‘First of all, nobody does that, you do it on purpose.’ And so it felt to me, like, ‘Okay, so it seems like everybody’s just trying [expletive] with me now.'”

“Obviously I wasn’t handling things properly,” he continued, “but neither was the team and the people who had that power.”

Simmons added that “my priority was getting down to earth, and I was trying to get myself to a place where I was mentally good at doing that.”

“I was in such a bad place,” he said, “where I was like, ‘[Expletive]I’m trying to get here and you guys are throwing me all these other things that you guys aren’t helping.”

“And that’s all I wanted was help. I didn’t feel like I got it from coaches, teammates – I’m not saying all teammates – because there are great guys on this team who came forward and are still my friends – but I didn’t feel that I got that, and it was just a tough place for me.”

After being dealt out to the Nets in a blockbuster package James Harden sent to the 76ers, Simmons underwent back surgery. He didn’t say Thursday if he was fully physically ready for the start of training camp in Brooklyn next week, but made it clear he feels in a much better place mentally, praising the Nets’ team environment as “very calm.”

Simmons also expressed excitement at coming onto the court with his Brooklyn teammates, including Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

“It’s getting sick. I can barely wait for it. … I’m just looking forward to it,” Simmons said. “I think we have a special team. I think if we get it all together we’ll be champions. That is the end goal.’

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