Sixers can’t let Simmons’ injury alter season plans
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.
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.