AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
Dwight Howard was teammates with Ben Simmons on the Philadelphia 76ers last season and believes the LSU product is doing “the best job he can” as trade rumors and speculation swirl this season.
The Los Angeles Lakers big man joined Tyler R. Tynes of GQ for a lengthy interview and said of Simmons, “it’s difficult to talk about mental health for a lot of people” while showing support for his former teammate.
“He’s done the best job he can,” Howard said. “I don’t think the Philly fans have really treated him fairly throughout this whole situation based off what they heard in the media. They feel like he’s obligated to them. But what if this was your son or daughter or one of your friends dealing with what Ben’s dealing with? How would you handle it? How would you feel?”
Some of Simmons’ situation can be traced back to his struggles in the second-round playoff loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
He was a liability at the free-throw line and allowed Atlanta to pack the lane against Joel Embiid because he wasn’t a threat to shoot from the outside. What’s more, Simmons passed up a dunk at an important moment in the Game 7 loss.
“As a competitor, yeah I was pissed off [laughs],” Howard told Tynes when asked about the non-dunk in Game 7. “I wanted him to go up and try to score. But he didn’t. And that wasn’t the only reason we lost the game. So I can’t blame that whole situation on him. It’s very unfortunate.”
Since then, there have been reports of Simmons telling the front office he no longer wanted to play in Philadelphia, a team-issued suspension because he didn’t engage in a practice and plenty of trade rumors.
ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reported earlier this month “there has been frustration mounting, according to people close to the situation, that Ben has not been accepting any of the help the team has offered him, in terms of helping him with his mental readiness. He has been working with mental-health professionals through the players association, but thus far, I’m told he hasn’t really kept the team in the loop on that.”
While Howard, 35, is now a veteran, he was selected right out of high school as the No. 1 pick of the 2004 NBA draft. Few people are better suited to understand what Simmons is going through since the 76ers playmaker was taken with the No. 1 pick in 2016 after just one year of college basketball.
Howard suggested as much to Tynes:
“I know exactly what he’s going through. It’s a learning phase. I don’t think people understand how difficult it is to be an 18 year old kid to come into a world like this. It’s a different reality being in the NBA. Ben is young and being the face of a franchise going through changes. And everything you do will be publicized. All your mistakes, all your failures. When you do something bad, they put that out there more. The whole world sees it and they judge you based off your mistakes. All of us have problems we deal with on the daily. I don’t think people really and truly understand that part and they get offended when players don’t wanna talk or won’t do certain things.
“With Ben, how can you speak on a situation when you don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors? It’s a lot of growth he’s had to go through. It’s very tough to be in the spotlight and deal with some of these things, especially when you feel like you’re alone. People say he isn’t where he needs to be as a player, but I’m proud of his growth. I’m always gonna stick up for him, he was my teammate. At the end of the day, even if we don’t play on the same team, you still my brother.”
Howard also compared when he was looking for a fresh start away from the Orlando Magic to Simmons’ current situation and explained it wasn’t anything personal against the fans or the city.
Simmons is yet to play this season, and Philadelphia has struggled with consistency on the way to a 10-8 record.