Editor's note: This story has been updated after the 76ers suspended Ben Simmons one game for conduct detrimental to the team.
AT FIRST GLANCE there was nothing out of the ordinary about the call Philadelphia 76ers general manager Elton Brand received a few minutes before 7 p.m. on Oct. 11. Agent Rich Paul was on the line, for probably the third time that day.
That had become standard as the Sixers and Paul's client, Ben Simmons, played out one of the longest, most frustrating games of poker between a franchise and its disgruntled superstar the NBA has seen in years.
After months of a mostly unproductive staredown, Brand received a call and text message from Paul, informing him that Simmons had ended his two-week, unpaid staycation in Los Angeles and was outside the door of the team facility, reporting for a COVID-19 test.
Simmons had shown up to face an organization and a city he'd let down in the playoffs last season -- something many in the organization doubted he'd ever do.
"I don't know if he can face the team or the fans after everything that happened last year," one source close to the situation puts it.
But there he was in Philadelphia on the night of Oct. 11, this transcendent player whose confidence had unraveled to such an extent he has sworn all summer he'd do just about anything except face the people who witnessed it.
The Sixers didn't have time to ask questions. They had to hastily arrange for the testers to come back to the facility, according to sources close to the situation.
Simmons wasn't giving away any answers, either.
Was he actually back? Or was he just reporting to stem his financial losses?
Simmons' side had been dealt a blow the previous week when the NBA and players' union issued a memo stating a player without a "reasonable excuse" will not be paid for games he does not play. Previously, the collectively bargained league memos had used slightly softer language, like "would not" be paid, which Paul's agency believed left room to argue Simmons could ask to be paid for the salary he lost if and when he was traded, sources said.
That memo -- issued while Simmons was across the country, hunkering down for a protracted absence he thought would create leverage, or at least incentive for the team to trade him -- had felt like the kind of small event that could have a giant ripple effect.
But in a meeting with Brand, head coach Doc Rivers and president of basketball operations Daryl Morey on Oct. 12, Simmons offered little insight -- and has offered his teammates even less.
Simmons' reluctance to physically and mentally engage with the Sixers since his return has been a consistent theme, sources told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski on Tuesday. After getting kicked out of practice Tuesday, Simmons was suspended one game for conduct detrimental to the team and he will miss Philadelphia's season-opening game Wednesday against the New Orleans Pelicans.
The only explanation he has offered them throughout this process came months ago, when Paul invited everyone to his house in Beverly Hills.
Much has been made about that August meeting. Snippets of the Sixers' message to Simmons have been revealed and dissected.
But it's what Simmons said to them that mattered most.