Six­ers can’t let Sim­mons’ in­jury al­ter sea­son plans

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - Jack McCaf­fery Colum­nist

More than his skill, more than his po­ten­tial, more than any­thing, there was one clear rev­e­la­tion from Ben Sim­mons’ one ab­bre­vi­ated col­lege bas­ket­ball sea­son: It was go­ing to be about him, all of it, from Game 1 to a weird, dis­re­spect­ful de­ci­sion not to RSVP for the NIT.

The sys­tem al­low­ing it, en­cour­ag­ing it, tele­vis­ing it and by all means cash­ing in on it, Sim­mons would play the 33 games, enough to sat­isfy the one-year re­quire­ment in the col­lege game be­fore gain­ing his NBA el­i­gi­bil­ity. That’s how it works. He hardly was the only one. But when LSU would fail to reach the NCAA Tour­na­ment, there would not be a 34th game, ei­ther. The NIT was out. So was he, off to con­tinue a project that may be im­pos­si­ble to com­plete.

That project was sim­ple: He was go­ing to be made into the next LeBron James, and it was

go­ing to hap­pen from the out­side in. That is, his legacy would be built first, the way it is in the mod­ern era of sports, through tele­vi­sion, which would de­cide that he was big­ger than any­thing else in his sport. From there, the rest of it would hap­pen. From there, he would learn to shoot. And from there, cen­tral cast­ing would en­cour­age him to grow from his nat­u­ral 220-pound frame into some­thing closer to 250. In about three months. What? How? “Eat­ing well and lift­ing weights and keep­ing on top of it,” Sim­mons said. “In the pre­draft, I re­ally pre­pared for it. Now, it is kind of a habit.”

In can hap­pen, and it does hap­pen when a ded­i­cated pro­fes­sional ath­lete with ac­cess to equip­ment and train­ers and nu­tri­tion­ists

and body­builders is so de­ter­mined. It’s not like 40 years ago, when Philly heavy­weight con­tender Jimmy Young ex­plained that be­ing over­weight cost him a fight, and when asked how that hap­pened of­fered the clas­sic re­ply, “With a knife and with a fork.”

Ben Sim­mons has done noth­ing for more than a cal­en­dar year, in­clud­ing play­ing those 33 games for LSU, that wasn’t de­signed to make him the new and im­proved LeBron. The weight gain was in the script.

Sim­mons never made it through his first Six­ers train­ing camp with­out break­ing his foot, which could hap­pen to any player, any­where. The know-it-alls in­sist it had noth­ing to do with his added weight. OK. Their cred­i­bil­ity is solid. So crum­ple it into the bad­luck file, with deep sym­pa­thies. But it’s what is about to hap­pen next that will fur­ther de­fine the Ben Sim­mons

Ex­pe­ri­ence, adding to the hints sprin­kled last win­ter around Louisiana.

Al­ready, printed re­ports and re­li­able ru­mor-spread­ers are sug­gest­ing that the rookie’s agent is ad­vis­ing the Six­ers to sit his client out for the en­tire sea­son. Maybe the man is just a sen­ti­men­tal­ist, try­ing to hold onto a tra­di­tion. After all, were Sim­mons to treat the next 82 games the way LSU treated the NIT, he would be the fifth an­nual 76er to lit­er­ally take a whole sea­son off, fol­low­ing An­drew Bynum and Ner­lens Noel, then Joel Em­biid, who went back-to-back.

Some Six­ers fans, those suf­fer­ing from Stock­holm syn­drome, have come to ac­cept that new re­al­ity. Their idea of suc­cess is to al­ways have the sug­ges­tion that it will hap­pen at some other time. This sea­son, though, was sup­posed to be dif­fer­ent. And Sim­mons was sup­posed to make it dif­fer­ent. And he can still make it dif­fer­ent, his un­for­tu­nate in­jury aside.

Give or take an ex­er­cise, a pre­scribed drug or a hair of good luck, the op­ti­mists, the pes­simists and the stetho­scope-wear­ers agree that Sim­mons will be ready to re­sume play­ing in three months. That’s a long time; it is not an en­tire NBA sea­son. If it is three months, that would mean Sim­mons would miss Oc­to­ber, No­vem­ber and De­cem­ber. That would leave him 49 stillsched­uled games, not in­clud­ing the post­sea­son, which, in the­ory, he would as­sist the Six­ers in reach­ing. Forty. Nine. Games. What? Are the Six­ers sup­posed to sur­ren­der 49 games be­cause Sim­mons was un­avail­able for 33? And it’s not col­lege bas­ket­ball, ei­ther, where a red-shirted player re­ceives an ex­tra sea­son later. It’s the bigs. The clock starts run­ning and it doesn’t stop. So a dis­missed year is a lost year.

Bryan Colan­gelo is not Sam Hinkie. He’ll do what he thinks is best for the Six­ers when it is time to make the Sim­mons de­ci­sion; he won’t back ev­ery­thing into an al­ready es­tab­lished plan. But if the Six­ers learned any­thing in the past two years, it had to be this: Sit­ting a valu­able player out for a full sea­son doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily work.

They tried that with Em­biid … and he was re-in­jured any­way. So Sim­mons will have three months, mo­ti­va­tion, top doc­tors, prayers from fans, a sparkling train­ing cen­ter on the Delaware River wa­ter­front and the pa­tience of a front of­fice to help him re­gain health. He’s 20 years old. He’s young enough.

Ben Sim­mons is go­ing to be a spe­cial NBA tal­ent. He’s a point guard, whether he is ready to play there right away or not. Brett Brown, a sharp coach, will work him into that spot even­tu­ally. But he is not a

250-pound, James-like for­ward. James is a once-ever bas­ket­ball phe­nom­e­non. There is no copy ma­chine that can buzz out an­other.

Sim­mons has three months to re­hab his foot. He should use that time to shed a few pounds and re­turn to his nat­u­ral phys­i­cal specs, ex­cept with bet­ter def­i­ni­tion. Un­less un­der doc­tors’ or­ders, he should never miss watch­ing a prac­tice, par­tic­i­pat­ing in a film ses­sion or study­ing a scout­ing re­port. He should make ev­ery road trip, if phys­i­cally able. Then, he should do what is best for the 76ers, not him­self, and re­sume play­ing.

He al­ready has had one bas­ket­ball sea­son rudely cut short. He’s over the limit.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

Six­ers rookie Ben Sim­mons, seen com­pet­ing in a sum­mer league game in July, un­der­went suc­ces­ful surgery for a bro­ken bone in his foot Tues­day, ac­cord­ing to a team an­nounce­ment. No timetable has been set for his re­turn, but sports colum­nist Jack McCaf­fery thinks the club should avoid hav­ing him join its long list of rook­ies who have missed en­tire sea­sons.

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