As the Sixers’ 2019-20 season crumbled, Ben Simmons was absent from the Disney World bubble, in the early stages of recovering from surgery on his left knee. He had no chance to offer a final opinion, therefore, on a disappointing season.
The 24-year-old agreed Friday with Josh Richardson’s assessment that the Sixers didn’t have enough accountability, though he thinks the team has begun to address that issue.
“A hundred percent,” Simmons said in a virtual media session. “We didn’t know when we were going to get a bucket, who was going to get us a bucket. From that to knowing what we needed to be in at all times, people (not) being held accountable for certain things, whether it’s a minor thing — it all plays a part. (Richardson) definitely was right. We weren’t in a position to go into that bubble and win. I think our mindset was off, and accountability is a huge part of winning. I think he’s definitely right.
“Bringing (head coach Doc Rivers) and all these guys in — and Doc’s team, with all these coaches around — the maturity has definitely risen with the team. I think it’s been great to see that, and see guys be accountable for certain things, and see guys come in with a different mindset. And also having those veteran guys come in like Dwight (Howard) and Danny Green is really setting the bar, so you know what to expect.”
Richardson had publicly called out perceived internal problems throughout the season, but his comments after the Sixers’ Game 4 loss to the Celtics were the first time he’d directly linked the insufficient accountability to Brett Brown, who was fired as head coach the next day.
In what were ultimately his final words to reporters as a Sixer, though, Richardson placed responsibility on the players.
“I think we had good communication here (at Disney World),” he said. “I think we all had good intentions. I think on the court, we did a better job of listening. But there’s got to be some conflict. I think that’s our next step, is being able to have some conflict on the bench, like you saw in one of our first (seeding) games. I think that was good for us.
“I think we’ve got to be comfortable in uncomfortable times — in times of conflict, in times where if I’m not doing my job, I want somebody to cuss me out. That’s just what I grew up in, that’s what I came from. I’ve seen good teams and I know that conflict and accountability is a big part of that."
Simmons on Friday named Rivers’ Clippers team as one with accountability woes.
A recent story by The Athletic’s Jovan Buha detailed the Clippers’ season-long struggle to integrate two new stars, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, who received preferential treatment that “began to compromise the standard of the culture they had built.”
“You can’t just come into a situation like the bubble … if you aren’t ready and you don’t have that accountability and chemistry already — and Doc and I have spoken about it,” Simmons said. “You can tell the teams that were tight-knit and were held accountable for certain things going on. And you could see it.
"You can kind of see it with the Clippers now, things that are coming out. Same with us — guys weren’t held accountable, that’s myself included. So you really see it. The team that did win was the Lakers. The Heat were playing well; they’re a tight-knit group. The Celtics played well. And it shows, especially in the bubble.”
Unlike Simmons, Tobias Harris didn’t use the word “accountability” when asked about what went wrong last year, instead identifying injuries and figuring out how to play together. Indeed, it makes sense that a team with players in uncomfortable positions, a laborious offensive style and few extended stretches of health would not coalesce very effectively.
Harris was positive about the Sixers’ collective approach in the early days of this campaign.
“… As far as right now, there’s a real seriousness," he said, "and a real vibe in the gym of ‘Hey, we have to get our respect back. We have to really come out with this type of demeanor that we have something truly to prove this year.’ There’s this type of seriousness and this type of vibe that we all expect from one another.”
When pressed on the fact that the last team his head coach led fell short of expectations, in part because of suboptimal chemistry, Simmons summed up the topic well. Rivers does not have infinite influence or authority, despite being an NBA head coach for over two decades, and neither did Brown.
“It comes down to players,” Simmons said. “There’s only so much that can happen with players and coaches, and that’s on the players to make sure they’re held accountable. And if they’re not going to listen and do certain things, they’re not going to win. I think it’s a great opportunity for us, being younger guys, to have someone like Doc come in, but we’ve got to get it done.”