After staying away for two weeks to start the NBA preseason, 76ers All-Star guard Ben Simmons reported to the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Monday night -- much to the surprise of an organization that had expected him later in the week, sources told ESPN.
As the Sixers neared the tip of a 115-104 preseason victory over the Brooklyn Nets, Simmons -- fresh off a flight from Los Angeles -- entered the arena to take a COVID-19 test and start the process of returning to a franchise from which he has requested a trade, sources said.
What comes next is unclear, but the Sixers are desperate to restart communication with the three-time All-Star who hasn't had a direct conversation with the front office or coach Doc Rivers since a late August meeting in which he reiterated his desire for a trade.
Why return now? Simmons is described as wanting to prove a point, and knowing he had done so with something that almost never happens in the NBA: sitting out training camp, costing himself nearly $1 million in lost salary and fines, and delivering an unmistakable message that he wanted a trade out of Philadelphia. The Sixers scoured the league but never came close to finding a deal that returned them the kind of elite player they'd want in exchange for Simmons, sources said. The trade market can shift quickly once the regular season gets underway -- and more players become eligible to be moved on Dec. 15 -- but the Sixers have no traction on a trade now, sources said.
There are expected to be conversations on how much of that money could be returned to Simmons should he reintegrate into the Sixers and return for the season, but it's currently unclear whether Simmons' intentions are to merely report to the team or truly rejoin it. Simmons has four years and $147 million left on his contract.
Simmons is expected to meet with the organization's leadership starting Tuesday at the team's practice facility, sources said. That will be telltale for the organization to begin to discover whether there's an opening to convince Simmons that a reconciliation is possible -- or whether Simmons' return is simply what's needed to get the kind of trade that the Sixers want to stay contenders around All-NBA center Joel Embiid.
Simmons' arrival concluded several weeks of discussions between the organization and Simmons' agent, Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul, to get Simmons back to Philadelphia. After talking again Monday morning, the Sixers were under the impression that Simmons would likely return later in the week -- only to have a team executive texted on Monday night and told that Simmons had arrived at the arena and that he needed to get into the building to formally report and begin satisfying his COVID-19 protocols, sources said.
Simmons had held out in hopes of accelerating a trade, and perhaps returning could become the answer to reinvigorating his value in the marketplace. Under the terms of the NBA's collective bargaining agreement, Simmons lost roughly $360,000 for each of the two preseason games he missed. The 76ers are believed to have fined Simmons for missed practices: $2,500 for the first, $5,000 for the second, $7,500 for the third and for every practice after, being left to the discretion of the team, with the ability to go up to $50,000.
For now, Simmons is back in Philadelphia. How long is unclear, but after a long, acrimonious summer, it was a start.
ESPN's Tim Bontemps and Bobby Marks contributed to this report.