Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers said the Ben Simmons drama is muting the fun of opening day for the NBA title contenders.
Simmons will not feature in Wednesday's opener against the New Orleans Pelicans – the three-time All-Star suspended by the 76ers due to "conduct detrimental to the team" following reports he was ejected from practice after Rivers grew frustrated with his lack of engagement.
76ers guard Simmons has demanded a trade amid criticism following last season's shock playoff exit to the Atlanta Hawks and was absent from Philadelphia for the first two weeks of preseason work before showing up on October 11 to begin fulfilling COVID-19 protocols that would allow him to re-join the championship-chasing franchise.
Speculation over Simmons' future is now set to intensify amid reported interest from the likes of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers and Indiana Pacers.
Ahead of the 76ers' clash with the Pelicans, Rivers told reporters: "It's a predicament that we're in and that part is no fun. It really isn't.
"We get to play right now and Ben is not. I want Ben to be playing. That's his job."
Simmons – an elite defender who signed a five-year, $177.2million contract extension in 2019 – and his shooting problems were laid bare during the 2021 postseason with the top-seeded 76ers, who were eliminated in the semi-finals.
The 25-year-old had no fourth-quarter field-goal attempts in his last four games of the playoffs against the Hawks last season. He is the only NBA player in the last 20 seasons to have four consecutive postseason games with no field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter during a season in which he was an All-Star, according to Stats Perform.
Simmons averaged just 10.1 field-goal attempts in 2020-21 – a career low, which dropped to 7.9 in the playoffs. It was the same story with his scoring as it dropped to a career-worst 14.3 points per game and 11.9 in the postseason – both career lows.
Then there is Simmons and free throws. He was exposed by rival teams as they regularly sent him to the line, with the Melbourne-born guard making just 25 of 73 shots in the 2020-21 playoffs. His 34.2 free-throw percentage is the lowest ever in a single postseason.
"Obviously you don't want any of those things. You get a lot of texts, 'great job' and all this stuff and it's not," Rivers said. "I don't think people understand ... you want all your players to do well.
"You cheer for your players. Even when they're in a tough spot, you want it to go well for them, you do. When you're put in positions like [Tuesday], it's no fun."
Philadelphia – who finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference last season – have won five of their last six games against New Orleans, though the Pelicans claimed their last home meeting. Of those six games, five were decided by seven or fewer points.
Seth Curry shot 45.0 per cent from beyond the arc for the 76ers last season – his third consecutive campaign shooting at least 45.0 percent from three-point range, all with different teams. He is the fourth qualified player in NBA history with three straight seasons of 45.0-percent shooting from downtown, according to Stats Perform.