It’s less than ideal to lose Ben Simmons for an extended period of time. It seems unfair to have another high draft pick sit out for who knows how long. This will be the fourth straight year a Philadelphia top pick misses a chunk of their rookie season.
The excitement surrounding Joel Embiid’s debut might have overshadowed Simmons in September. The news on Friday should have been head coach Brett Brown announcing Embiid as a starter for Tuesday’s preseason opener. Instead what was first reported as a sprain, ultimately turned into surgery, and months without Philly’s prized possession. The 76ers haven’t publicly announced what will happen to Simmons, but many well-regarded reporters say Simmons will undergo surgery this week, and he’s expected to miss at least three months.
Selfishly, fans want Simmons right now. It’s been grueling to watch Philadelphia try to win without playmakers the past two seasons, and now the 76ers have a playmaker who won’t even play. Simmons’s health, above all, remains most important. It’ll be interesting to see how they handle this new regime handles a potentially serious injury. Nerlens Noel probably could’ve played towards the end of his true rookie season, but Sam Hinkie decided to hold him out. It might just depend on how well the 76ers are playing at the time, but even then, Philly shouldn’t rush him back, no matter how many wins and losses they have.
Brown hinted at a starting lineup featuring Simmons at power forward, along with Jerryd Bayless at point guard during training camp. It makes the most sense for Philadelphia to surround Simmons with shooters, and Bayless would be the ideal spot-up guard for a Simmons-led unit. Without Simmons, however, the 76ers could start Sergio Rodriguez at point guard. Rodriguez remains Philly’s best pure point guard option, and they might need him more than they thought. The 76ers do have an upgrade in talent, and it’ll just be super interesting in how Brown decides to manage minutes. The preseason won’t tell us too much, since roster hopefuls will take some of the minutes normally designated for rotational players. There’s a clear replacement for Simmons at power forward, and fans will get a glimpse of that tomorrow night: Dario Saric. Brown will probably change the starting lineup several times this preseason. Philly could also alter their starting line-up based on the opponent. Last year they did that sometimes, hoping to take advantage of any mismatches. Opponents, however, sometimes used a stretch four against Philly when Brown started Noel and Jahlil Okafor together, and that didn’t go over too well.
Losing Simmons feels different than it would have had it been last season. Simmons was the main attraction this season, mainly because he would have no restrictions. He’d play 30+ minutes a night, and he’d put up nice numbers, even if he struggled shooting. Embiid still provides the most upside, but he’ll be limited from the start, and on top of that he might not be very good right away. Simmons would put people in their seats. Simmons would make flashy passes. But losing Simmons doesn’t necessarily mean Philly will lose more games. He’s the franchise player. He might be a generational talent. But Simmons would struggle at times during his rookie season. He’s not making an All-NBA team this year, nor is he making Philadelphia a playoff team. Rookies don’t usually lead their teams to the playoffs. If this were last year, fans would have every right to be outraged. What would the point of watching the 76ers if their top pick wasn’t even playing? But it’s different now. From Saric to Rodriguez, fans have plenty of reasons to remain optimistic about this season.
It’s important to note that Embiid did suffer a setback during his lengthy rehab. Stories surfaced of a maturity issue with how Embiid developed off the court. Embiid’s injury was different, and Simmons will probably have a more structured discourse, mainly because there’s plenty of evidence on how to rehab Simmons’s injury. Before Simmons fractured his foot, he showed love for his new city. He embraced the city from the moment he knew they’d draft him, and even though there was a setback, Simmons’s mindset cannot change. He has a mentor like LeBron James, and he also has peers on Philadelphia’s roster that have been in his shoes just a year or two ago. Okafor played only six games after the All-Star Break last season, so he knows how it feels to be away from playing competitive basketball.
Philadelphia begins preseason play Tuesday night against the Boston Celtics. The game will be televised on CSN. Even though Simmons won’t play, it still might the most anticipated preseason game in Philadelphia history. Embiid plays basketball for the first time since March 1, 2014, which was the night Allen Iverson had his Philadelphia jersey retired. Losing Simmons puts a damper on this fan base, but Embiid playing should help cope with the pain.