Ben Simmons, already a fairly reclusive public figure, took an even further step back after the Sixers were eliminated by the Hawks in the second round of the NBA playoffs on the back of probably his worst playoff series as a pro.
Simmons, a lightning rod for Sixers fans - and basketball fans everywhere - was crushed from all angles for shrinking in the second-round series, barely producing in the fourth quarter and actively passing up a dunk in the waning moments of Game 7. He said after the loss that he had a mental block in the series and that he needed time to get his "mental right".
After more than a month away from posting, Simmons returned Tuesday - his 25th birthday - with an Instagram post that vaguely acknowledges the criticism he received after the playoffs and his need to improve while also standing firm in his convictions:
A pretty innocuous post, all things considered.
Simmons saying he's "doing what he loves" on his birthday, with photos of him in the gym circulating social media and these shots of him practicing, feel at least a little bit like a subtle jab back at personalities and talking heads who questioned his work ethic as he struggled in the Hawks series.
(Unsurprisingly, once you get past the verified accounts the comments section turns into a maelstrom of people attacking Simmons' abilities. As always, avoid.)
While this is the first time Simmons has publicly put out a message since the playoffs, he was spotted last month with an apparent new romantic interest, British radio presenter Maya Jama, at Wimbledon in London. The two have increasingly made their apparent relationship public over the summer; on Monday, Jama snapped a smiling photo with Simmons in her Instagram story after a fan asked how Ben was.
From one person's perspective, I certainly hope Simmons continues to "remain relentless", both on and off the court. He's an interesting all-around person and an electric basketball player when he is indeed playing with relentless pursuit, as he puts it here. It's when that relentless nature fades away that he becomes the player fans are ready to trade for Damian Lillard.
We'll see whether Simmons continues that pursuit in a Sixers uniform or in different threads as the always-chaotic NBA summer beats on.