Ben Simmons Smirks

From the off-court leadership to the roster, so, so much about the Philadelphia 76ers has changed during this abbreviated offseason. It all started with the dismissal of head coach Brett Brown within hours of being eliminated from the playoffs. The lack of accountability held between the team’s leadership and star players, having quietly festered for years, finally spilled out into the public.

Between Joel Embiid’s lack of conditioning and Ben Simmons’ quiet refusal to shoot jump shots, a lack of accountability had ultimately become the basis of the Sixers’ disappointing playoff eliminations in each of the past three seasons. That lack of accountability became very public this past season. It started with former-Sixer Jimmy Butler’s comments on also-former-Sixer JJ Redick’s podcast. There was also the repeated comments made by Josh Richardson to the media. He directly stated that the team’s frustrations were a product of there being no accountability. The most blatant showing of that lack of accountability was Brett Brown publicly challenging Ben Simmons to take more three-point shots, only for Simmons to then go unpunished for not taking any outside jump shots at all until the season resumed in the Disney bubble. 

With the introduction of new head coach Doc Rivers, the previous era of leadership is over. There is a new sheriff in town, with a championship ring backing his credibility as a head honcho. By the sounds of it, the players realize it’s a new dawn, too.

“I think our mindset was off. Accountability is a huge part of winning.”

Ben Simmons spoke to the media on Friday, marking his first availability since being in the bubble. Among his interesting remarks was his take on the team’s performance in Orlando. “I think we didn’t know where we were going to get a bucket. Who was going to get us a bucket?”, Simmons said. “From that to knowing where we needed to be at in certain times. People being held accountable for certain things, whether it’s a minor thing, it all plays a part. He [Josh Richardson] definitely was right. We weren’t in a position to go into that bubble and win. I think our mindset was off. Accountability is a huge part of winning.”

Simmons continued: “You can’t just come into a situation like the bubble if guys aren’t ready and have that chemistry and accountability already. Doc and I have spoken about it. You can tell the teams that were doing well in the bubble were tight-knit and were held accountable for certain things going on.”

But, Isn’t That Hypocritical?

One could make the argument that Simmons’ behaviors in previous seasons make his words hypocritical, to some extent. Simmons’ ongoing defiance of Brown, and Brown’s unwillingness to punish him for not fulfilling the jump shot challenge, was a big story over the course of last season. It was easy to perpetuate the sentiment that the Sixers needed a new leader on the basis that one of the stars didn’t feel as though he had to listen to his coach. A star showing that he can disregard the coach without repercussions sends a dangerous message to the rest of the roster. It’s refreshing to hear Simmons acknowledge that leadership and accountability were a problem last season. But, he needs to take a look in the mirror and come to terms with the fact that he was part of the accountability issue.

With that said, it seems as though the introduction of Doc Rivers may be just what Simmons needed.

“I think bringing Doc and all these guys in, and Doc’s team with all these coaches around, the maturity has risen with the team.”

Simmons pointed to the players in his availability on Friday. “There’s only so much that can happen with players and coaches. That’s on the players to make sure they’re held accountable,” the two-time all-star said. “If they’re not going to listen to certain things, then they’re not going to win. I think it’s a great opportunity for us being younger guys to have somebody like Doc come in so we got to get it done.”

Simmons then pointed to the new coaching staff and veteran additions as pillars for the improved culture. He added: “I think bringing Doc and all these guys in, Doc’s team with all these coaches around, the maturity has risen with the team. I think it’s been great to see that and see guys be accountable for certain things and come in here ready with a different mindset.”

Ultimately, time will tell whether or not Simmons’ words are authentic. He is certainly right about one thing, though–it comes back to the players. The previous coaching regime was deserving of its departure. But, the players must ultimately be responsible for themselves if the team is going to contend for a championship.