Doc Rivers wants to change Ben Simmons' mind: 'We're not gonna give up'

·5 min read

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers spoke about the Ben Simmons situation on Wednesday, for the first time since Simmons reportedly said he wouldn't report to Sixers training camp and intends to never play for the team ever again. 

Rivers appeared on ESPN's "First Take" with Stephen A. Smith on Wednesday, and the two had a lively discussion about the situation. If you're familiar with Doc at all, you know that there isn't an ounce of surrender in him. He wants Simmons back and he's not ready to throw in the towel.

Smith: "I was told last night that [Simmons] wants to play for anyone but the Philadelphia 76ers. Your response to that, sir."

Rivers: "Yeah, we hear it all, Stephen A, and that's fine, but we're not going to give up on that."

Rivers focused on the positive

Rivers confirmed that Simmons had met with the Sixers and told them in person that he wanted out. But while Simmons might consider this the last step, to Rivers it's just the first step in a longer conversation. He focused on the number of times a player has wanted out but ended up coming back and being successful — more than the public is even aware of. 

On ESPN's Keyshawn, JWill, and Max radio show, Rivers was even more positive about Simmons staying despite his clearly stated desire to leave: "Well, I hope we can change that thought. That's part of our job."

Rivers continued to emphasize the importance of patience and communication during his interview with Smith. 

"That may be where [Simmons] is at today, that may not be where he's at tomorrow. You just don't know, Steve, and that's why we just gotta keep communicating and see where we can take this. You are right, he's got four years left on his contract, it's in our hands."

When Smith asked Rivers what his expectations are for Simmons this season (as opposed to his hopes), Rivers' answer was simple: "To get him back." If Simmons doesn't come back, Rivers said he doesn't know what they'd do, but they'll cross that bridge when they come to it. 

Rivers tries to clarify Simmons championship comment

Smith also asked Rivers about his now infamous comments about whether Simmons could be a point guard on a championship team. PhillyVoice's Kyle Neubeck transcribed the full exchange between Smith and Rivers, in which Rivers essentially tries to retrofit his previous answer to sound better in context. 

Smith: "In the aftermath of the loss to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 7, you were on the record saying at that particular moment in time that you didn't know whether or not he was the point guard of the future for a championship franchise. Joel Embiid was on the record, you know, questioning the play where he passed up the dunk and gave up the ball, to Thybulle, that that played a part ..."

Rivers: "Well, I want to correct that."

Smith: "Please do."

Rivers: "I want to correct that. I would love you guys to play what I said, because, and I've told you this before Stephen A., I never said what was reported. The question was asked about Ben, it was the first question after we just lost Game 7, my answer was, 'I'm not answering any of that stuff right now guys, I don't even know how to answer that.' That had nothing to do what's about Ben, I was basically just saying, 'I'm not answering that crap, those questions.'

"It was being portrayed that I was out there saying I don't think we can win with Ben, and I do. I told Ben that the next day. What really disappointed me was the next day I went on and said, 'Guys, y'all knew exactly what I was talking about,' and no one heard it. They just kept running their narrative. I've been in sports a long time, and I'm not misrepresented very often, but in that case, I was. But it is what it is. Ben knows, Rich knows, and I know."

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - APRIL 28: Head coach Doc Rivers of the Philadelphia 76ers speaks with Ben Simmons #25 during the first quarter against the Atlanta Hawks at Wells Fargo Center on April 28, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Sixers head coach Doc Rivers hopes that he and the team can convice Ben Simmons to change his mind and rescind his trade request. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Neubeck also provided the exact transcript of the question Rivers was asked during that fateful postgame media session, as well as his answer.

Reporter: "Do you think Ben Simmons can still be a point guard for a championship team like the one you guys want to become?"

Rivers: "I don't know that question or the answer to that right now. You know, so I don't know the answer to that."

When you read that in context, it seems pretty clear that Rivers meant to say exactly what he said about Simmons. It's hard to blame him for trying to soft soap it a little, though. Rivers was extremely raw after the Sixers' Game 7 loss, and what he said reflected that. In retrospect, he likely regretted being that direct, and he's been trying to fix it ever since. Most importantly, Rivers said that Simmons knows what he actually meant, and so does his agent Rich Paul. 

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