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Michele Roberts on Ben Simmons stalemate: ‘could be resolved if everyone behaved like a grown-up’

2019 NBA Finals Cares Events Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

The Ben Simmons situation marches on. And the Executive Director of the National Basketball Players Association thinks it should have been resolved by now. Michele Roberts, not far off from retirement, voiced her discontent in the ongoing game of “chicken” during a recent interview with SiriusXM Radio Wednesday.

Quick background, on June 24, there was a meeting between the former first overall pick’s agent Rich Paul, Sixers’ President Daryl Morey and GM Elton Brand to discuss Simmons’ future. That led to a summer’s worth of trade rumors and speculation but nothing came to fruition. Things escalated (or not really) when Simmons formally requested a trade through his representation. And we thought he might be prepared to holdout.

The language around his reason for not appearing in games changed by the second game of the season. Simmons reportedly admitted he needed to take time to work on his mental health and wasn’t ready to play because of that. He was soon kicked out of a practice for loafing about.

Roberts has weighed in on this subject before. After Daryl Morey appeared on the Mike Missanelli show and suggested the stalemate could go on for up to four years, here was what Roberts offered. Per Yahoo’s Vincent Goodwill:

“Really? Is it so hard to believe that Ben’s not mentally at a place to compete? Professional athletes — like the rest of us — have difficult periods in our lives that require time and energy to heal. We have and will continue to provide Ben with the support and resources he needs to work through this. Threatening the prospect of ‘another four years’ serves no one’s interests. Like Tobias [Harris], I say let’s respect Ben’s space and embrace him while allowing him the time to move forward.

“So, take a breath and count to 10: We are all too good to continue to play this perpetual game of chicken.”

The Sixers around that time were offering to work with Simmons. They offered him access to mental health practitioners (he understandably preferred not to work with team doctors) and trainers for his sore back (Simmons took them up on that).

I don’t believe the team issued a statement or replied to Roberts then, but if they had I’m assuming it would have sounded something like this: “no, it’s not hard to believe he’s not mentally ready to compete, we understand, and we want him to take whatever time he needs, keep us in the loop on the progress, then rejoin our team. We don’t want to trade him at all, as soon as he’s ready, we’re hopeful to get back to winning with Ben in the lineup.”

Many people, including some of our writers, have scoffed at the notion that the Sixers don’t want to trade Simmons. But it does seem to have more than a little validity to it. Numerous credible reports have suggested the team only wants a star in return, and let’s face it, isn’t most of the NBA “on the block” in a potential Damian Lillard blockbuster? The Sixers may not want to trade Ben that much more than the Raptors want to trade Fred VanVleet. Not particularly, no. Oh wait! Unless you’re offering Dame, then sure.

But of course, unlike VanVleet who leads the NBA in minutes, Simmons is still not playing.

Rich Paul has suggested the Sixers’ handling of this has exacerbated underlying issues. Simmons continues to forgo salary for what the team would explain is a general failure to not fulfill duties in his uniformed player’s contract. And here we are.

Fast forward and now Roberts is still apparently disgusted with the whole drama.

Per Keith Pompey, of The Philadelphia Inquirer, the latest from Roberts’ appearance with Sirius:

“Candidly, I think a lot of this stuff could be resolved if everyone behaved like a grown-up,” she said to hosts Antonio Davis and Rick Kamla. “I think what’s happening in Philadelphia frankly is ridiculous and I don’t know why we’re playing chicken with each other.

“ It just strikes that this is something that could be worked out. It’s difficult.”

Roberts uses the phrase game of chicken several times. But who is the “everyone” in this instance? She’s already defended Simmons for having a legitimate mental health struggle. So does she feel Ben and his team are part of this everyone? You can’t have a game of chicken with only one team, right? So what does she feel is Simmons’ share of this responsibility? How could his side “grow up” and end the game if (she’s insisting) he’s not mentally ready to play? Or does Simmons’ camp not count towards the everyone here?

If it’s only the Sixers to blame then, what does she want Philadelphia to do? Offer more support? Provide more resources towards his mental health? Reprimand coach Doc Rivers, whose post Game 7 comments have been said to have contributed to this mess?

Would Roberts be concerned that simply changing teams and cities might not resolve the root of what is keeping the former No. 1 overall pick from suiting up?

Does she know the trades available to Morey and think they’re good enough to forgo hope for a Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, Zach LaVine, James Harden, Jaylen Brown, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Kyrie Irving? Does she have information suggesting not one of those stars might be open to change of scenery come July? To basically call the Sixers babies here for not executing a trade by now necessitates a very high level understanding of their specific offers and potential future offers. I don’t see how Roberts would have all of that info.

These are basketball questions and grownups would reasonably differ on the best answer here.

Roberts continues, per The Inky:

“With Ben, he wants to leave,” Roberts said. “Now, I understand that teams don’t want players to announce that they are leaving because they have contractual obligations....

Look, none of us is privy to every detail …,” Roberts said. “This is not an issue that emerged at the start of the season. There has been an issue with this player and that team for a while. Rumor has it promises were made about being able to move the player and obviously those promises either weren’t kept or couldn’t be kept. Who knows?

“But at some point there’s got to be, as best as I can tell, they have been at loggerheads since the beginning of the season with very little communication between the player and the team. I just don’t roll like that.”

Maybe if we knew more about an ongoing issue or these secret rumors about a broken promise we’d see things just like Michele Roberts. But without access to that information, I’m not fully grasping what she thinks has gone wrong and what she thinks might fix it.

I’m guessing she would prefer Morey just cave and take the best deal on the table.

I know Roberts represents the players here and I have empathy for the players side here. If we zoom out to 10,000 feet, I think we could probably agree with the essence of her point. There is blame to go around. There is a way to resolve this situation. That’s likely true. But without hearing more specific reasons for blame, or suggestions for what would resolve this, it’s hard for me to read this stuff and not just scratch my head.

If you believe Ben Simmons is not mentally ready to play, then I would like to hear how you think he and his camp can be “grownups” and help resolve this.

Would an adult have found a way to help Simmons back onto the floor, which the Sixers would clearly prefer? Or would a mature person have traded Simmons for CJ McCollum back in August?

There is an icky precedent set if players can sign four-year max deals then get traded simply because they’d like a trade. If there was some type of secret promise made, I want in on it. Then maybe I’d see things more like Roberts. But with all of the limited info I’m privy to, I’d love to hear what she’s suggesting to end the chicken. Maybe someone is being a baby here. But I have to hear more about the how and why.