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Doc Rivers’ appearance on First Take was ... something

The Sixers’ head coach joined Stephen A. Smith to discuss the Ben Simmons situation.

2021 NBA Playoffs - Philadelphia 76ers v Atlanta Hawks Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

Media day for the Sixers is next Monday, but head coach Doc Rivers got ahead of the imminent Ben Simmons questions with an appearance on ESPN’s First Take Wednesday.

Rivers answered questions from host Stephen A. Smith regarding Simmons’ trade demand and Rivers’ comments after Game 7.

There is a LOT to unpack here.

First, Rivers confirmed what we already knew — Simmons has asked for a trade and no longer wants to be a Sixer. He also gave the strongest endorsement from anyone in the organization to bring Simmons back.

Whether it’s posturing or genuine, Rivers handled the question well.

It was a good conversation and he gave us reasons — which we obviously didn’t agree with. But I think in sports … there’s been so many times where this has happened that hasn’t been reported and the guy comes back. We’re going to go through it. We’re going to always do what’s best for the team, but I can tell you up front we would love to get Ben back. And if we can, we’re going to try to do that. Ben has a long contract. It’s in our hands and we want him back.

The next question is where things get murky.

Smith asks Rivers about his answer to a question regarding Simmons’ viability as a point guard on a championship team posed by The Inquirer’s David Murphy. At the time, Rivers simply said, “I don’t know ... the answer to that right now. … I don’t know the answer to that.”

It seemed like a fair response. The Sixers had just lost a Game 7 to a team they quite frankly should’ve been able to beat. Simmons was outstanding defensively on Trae Young, but hurt the team immensely on the other end with a combination of poor free throw shooting and disappearing acts late in games.

Rivers attempted to clarify his statement.

I want to correct that. I would love you guys to play what I said because … 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 with Ben. I was basically saying, ‘I’m not answering that crap.’ What disappointed me … it was out there being portrayed as I don’t think we can win with Ben, and I do — I told Ben that the next day. What really bothered me is 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 narratives. I’ve been in sports a long time and I’m not misrepresented very often, but I was. But it is what it is. Ben knows, Rich [Paul] knows, and I know.

Look, we (the media) aren’t perfect — far from it. Do players and coaches get “misrepresented” at times? Yes. Do quotes get taken out of context for clicks? Definitely.

But that’s not exactly what happened here.

As someone who covered every game in some capacity and was on just about every single one of Rivers’ Zoom calls last season, I have no complaints with the way I was treated by Rivers and he generally gave me good answers. I believe there was a mutual respect there and I’m not here to take unfair shots at the coach of the Sixers.

However, this was a little unfair by Rivers. To chalk this up as the media monolith “running their narratives” is disingenuous. Murphy asked a fair question. If it’s a question you didn’t want to answer at that time, that’s fine. But you saying anything other than, “Yes, Ben Simmons can be the point guard of a championship team,” was going to get attention.

I was on the exit interview presser the next day where Rivers told us he talked with Simmons. Rivers said the discussion went well and that he was “still bullish” on Simmons. I tweeted that quote out just as I did the quote in response to asking if Simmons can be the point guard on a championship team. Which one do you think people engaged with more?

I fail to see how Rivers was “misrepresented” or how he can blame the media for this one. You could make the argument — and I have in defense of Rivers! — that the comments weren’t pernicious. He didn’t say Simmons was a bad player or that he couldn’t contribute to a title team. It’s fair to wonder if Simmons can be the point guard on a championship contender because Simmons has yet to prove otherwise.

As Kyle Neubeck of The Philly Voice has already pointed out, Rivers’ recollection of that presser isn’t totally accurate.

The oddest part about it is that the truth would have sufficed here. If Rivers just said that his comments were blown out of proportion — a much fairer characterization — and then went on to say nice things about Simmons, that would’ve done the trick.

Trying to rewrite the night of June 20, 2021, doesn’t do anybody any good.