Takeaways from Daryl Morey and Doc Rivers' Sixers media day press conference

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All things Simmons, expectations, more takeaways from Morey-Rivers presser originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

There was no elephant in the room Monday at the Sixers’ media day.

Zero reporters at the team’s practice facility in Camden, New Jersey, seemed reluctant to ask about Ben Simmons, the three-time All-Star who has requested a trade and is expected to hold out of training camp.

We’ll begin with Simmons but also touch on a couple of other topics in these takeaways from Sixers head coach Doc Rivers and president of basketball operations Daryl Morey’s season-opening joint press conference.

Infinite Simmons questions

Yes, Sixers players have had internal discussions about Simmons and his conspicuous absence. And Rivers has thought about what’s to come if Simmons is on the roster during the season but still firmly against suiting up.

“We’ve had a talk about it for sure,” he said. “The players talked about it. It’s been the summer, so we haven’t been around each other a lot — more individual conversations all summer. So this was the first group setting we’ve had since our last meeting. I wanted to hear what they had to say about it and we talked about the season, and this should be something we’re looking forward to even though … this is going to be a topic of discussion. Probably in every new city we go into, someone’s going to want to bring up some version of Ben. I think our guys are ready for it.”

Preparing for constant questions across the country about a missing player isn’t normal, in part because it would be exceedingly rare for a healthy 25-year-old who just finished runner-up in Defensive Player of the Year voting to sit out regular-season games. 

Morey said there’s “a lot of hope” for reconciliation, insisting he doesn’t believe Simmons will be an outlier. 

“Look, we just know the history — you can look back at how these things play out,” Morey said. “Ben’s a great player and we expect him back. We expect him to be a 76er.”

As Morey told it, the Sixers opened trade conversations on Simmons only once the player and his agents requested that path. 

Of course, it’s also notable here that it was widely reported the Sixers included Simmons in James Harden trade talks last year.

“Let me give some background,” Morey said. “They came to us and asked for a trade shortly after the season, his representatives, in Chicago. We were not looking to trade him. To Coach’s point, (he’s a) multi-time All-Star, Defensive Player of the Year (runner-up). We were on the doorstep, like many teams. … Look, every team goes through its own journey. Ben is a very good player, a big part of this team. We’re disappointed he’s not here. We’re making our choices. But we’re excited — we’re very excited — about the players who are here, and we’re going to focus on them. And we’re taking our journey to be a championship team. We don’t know exactly what that will be. 

“In terms of what trades or non-trades, I only have one focus, which is to do what gives us the best chance to win a championship. So I will do all the signings and non-signings, all the trades and non-trades. You can know that when they happen or don’t happen it’s because, along with Coach Rivers, we think it’s the best thing to give us the best chance to win the championship.”

Contractually, Simmons is obligated to attend media day and training camp practices. NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark reported the Sixers are expected to fine him, and Morey’s comment Monday on the matter also suggested as much. 

“I would say we’re not going to talk about the specifics of fines or things like that,” Morey said, “but I will say that it’s very clearly spelled out in the CBA and his contract what happens.”

How hazy are the expectations? 

For the past four seasons, Simmons was integral for the Sixers on both ends of the court. He sparked fast-paced offense, set up three-pointers and guarded stars of almost all positions.

How does not having such an impactful player change Rivers’ preseason approach? 

Well, clearly not the easiest situation,” he said. “But individually, it’s easy. I look at the young guys that we have — I try not to include Matisse (Thybulle), but he’s young — (Furkan Korkmaz) and Shake (Milton) are young; Tyrese (Maxey) is young. So individually, it’s easy to set their goals and their standards for where we need them to be for us to take the next step. 

“We’re going to focus on who’s here. We’re going to try to build our team out to who’s here right now with hopes that we do have Ben at some point. But right now, that can’t be our focus. I can only touch the people who are in front of me and so that’s my goal right now, is to get their mindsets right about moving forward.”

Though the Sixers were the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed, a step back in the standings wouldn’t have been shocking even if everything was fine with Simmons. 

The Nets are still star-studded, despite the uncertainty over Kyrie Irving’s COVID-19 vaccination status. Milwaukee is fresh off its first NBA championship in 50 years. The Hawks just eliminated the Sixers in the second round of the playoffs, and the Heat and Bulls are among the East teams that made splashy additions. 

The Sixers have gotten younger, though — Danny Green and Seth Curry are the team’s only players in their 30s — and Morey views that as a positive. 

We’re different than most one-seeds — and credit to Coach on this — in that we have most of our players on the upswing of their career and improving,” he said. “We have more draft picks to improve in the future. We have more ways to improve than most one-seeds, most contenders. So we’re very excited, both with where we’re at right now and how we’re on the upswing relative to other teams that are in a similar situation.”

Genuine sources of optimism 

Almost any subject for the Sixers besides Simmons is welcome these days.

Nevertheless, Morey and Rivers did not appear to be manufacturing inauthentic enthusiasm once questions expanded past Simmons. 

“We love the team,” Morey said. “As I mentioned, we have young players who are all on the upswing, save for a couple wily vets that we love as well. We’re going to have internal improvement.

“If opportunities present (themselves), obviously my job is to look at those. But we’re really excited about where we’re at and we’re excited about taking that next step. And while we’re on the upswing, most of the teams we’re chasing and were behind last year are on the other direction.”

Rivers remains a fan of second-year trio Tyrese Maxey, Paul Reed and Isaiah Joe’s whole-hearted commitment to improvement. All three played well in summer league, and Rivers confirmed Monday that Maxey is set to assume a larger role regardless of what happens with Simmons.  

“Our young guys, I’ve got to tell you — and I said this last year about them — it’s the best-working young group I’ve ever had in my 21 years,” he said. “And I’ve never said that. And then they did it again this summer. That group, for whatever reason — I don’t know if it’s one guy leading that group to do it — they’re just workers. So I’m really excited about it.”

And, although the Sixers weren’t especially active in free agency, Rivers had no trouble putting a good spin on those moves, too. At a minimum, the team looks like it should be deeper in the frontcourt and give Rivers greater flexibility. 

“I think (Andre) Drummond’s a big pickup for us. (Georges) Niang to me is the silent pickup that I personally believe will really be big for us in a lot of ways, especially if we try to play small ball, because of his ability to stretch the floor. But more importantly, I just think being together for the second year makes us a better team. 

“Joel (Embiid) was asking what we’re going to do tomorrow and I just said, ‘We’re going to pick up from where we left off.’ We don’t have to teach for three hours of practice with no conditioning, which we had to do last year. I think that’ll be an advantage as well.”