The Philadelphia 76ers won’t be receiving the gift of Ben Simmons for Christmas this year. The star point guard has yet to take the court all season for the team that drafted him first overall over five years ago. Naturally, the Sixers have had to adapt to life without their All-Star point guard as well as the constant headlines churned out by the media. But as one of Simmons’ teammates described, it’s been business as usual in the City of Brotherly Love.
Ben Simmons is unlikely to return to the Philadelphia 76ers
Simmons is still technically a member of the 76ers. Although all indications appear as if the 25-year-old’s days in Philadelphia are all but over.
The three-time All-Star has made it abundantly clear through both his words and actions that he wants nothing to with the 76ers franchise. While Philly once envisioned the guard as a part of its championship core, the team has been active in searching for a trade partner. According to the latest report, three teams are still in on the sweepstakes.
This all started after Simmons’ humiliating performance during the Eastern Conference playoffs last season. Soon after, reports came out about how the 6-foot-11 star wanted a fresh start elsewhere. His unhappiness with the organization only continued before telling the team he was mentally unfit to play. But after refusing to cooperate with team physicians, the Sixers began to fine their disgruntled point guard for every missed game moving forward.
Simmons, a two-time All-Defense selection, is in the second year of a five-year, $177 million extension.
The 76ers aren’t distracted by the Simmons drama
With a high-profile story such as this, the 76ers who are present have had to answer questions on behalf of their truant teammate. But even with the heightened attention and silly drama overshadowing a 16-15 season, the Sixers don’t see Ben’s lengthy sabbatical as a distraction.
Philadelphia forward Georges Niang was asked about the Simmons drama on JJ Redick’s The Old Man and the Three podcast. Redick, a teammate of Simmons’ from 2017 through 2019, asked Niang what it’s been like to play without their star point guard.
“So I’ve never played alongside him, so I don’t know what it’s like to actually have him in practice,” Niang told Redick. “Obviously those three days [when Simmons was in training camp] … it was hard for me to focus in practice because I was like, ‘Alright, what’s about to happen here?'”
Yet as time has passed, Niang explained how he and the rest of the team have been able to move on without their floor general.
“Obviously he addressed the team. Mentally he isn’t ready to play,” the 28-year-old Niang said. “But now we’re focused on who’s playing tonight, how we’re going to get through tonight. And [head coach] Doc [Rivers] has made a great point of just being like, ‘Hey, we’re going to take it one battle at a time, one day at a time.’ … Whoever’s on the active roster that night, that’s kinda how we’re going about it this season.”
How far can the Sixers go without Simmons?
At 16-15, the Sixers have a way to go to match last season’s Eastern Conference-leading 49-23 mark. Despite his flaws, Simmons played a big role in Philadelphia being in that position. So is there any chance of being there again without him?
Joel Embiid remains an integral part of any success the 76ers achieve. The 7-footer has seen a slight offensive downtick without Simmons, but the four-time All-Star is still averaging a strong 25.1 points and 10.9 rebounds. The Sixers are also seeing noteworthy seasons from guards Seth Curry and Tyrese Maxey, two players clearly benefiting from more playing time they’d otherwise be sacrificing for Simmons.
Yet as a whole, Philadelphia is 16-15 for a reason. Its offensive and defensive rating sit 19th and 20th in the league as of Tuesday, the mark of a below-average team. Philly could use more from underperforming players like Tobias Harris, who is falling well short of the expectations that come with his five-year, $180 million contract. Though in all likelihood, Philly’s best chance to improve lies in any future Simmons trade and what it can get for the disgruntled star.
If or when that Simmons deal happens, don’t expect the 76ers to lose focus on the task at hand.