Ben Simmons is healthy and champing at the bit.
After suffering a Jones fracture in his right foot that cost him the 2016-17 season, the Sixers' point guard/forward is gearing up for his rookie season. The 21-year-old has been working out at the Sixers' practice facility in Camden, New Jersey.
"I'm excited," the 2016 No. 1 overall pick said Thursday. "I haven't played in a year. I've been playing pick up the last few days, so it's been really good. I'm feeling great and I'm ready to get out there."
The Sixers partnered with PAL in refurbishing a gym that was unveiled Thursday in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood of Philadelphia. Simmons, teammate Amir Johnson and owner Josh Harris were on hand for the event. The gym was in such bad shape, a staffer referred to it as "unusable" before PAL and the Sixers got involved on the three-year project.
For Simmons, he hopes it's just the start of his philanthropy work around the city.
"Now that I'm healthy," he said, "I think I want to contribute a lot more to the city of Philadelphia. I think that's what they deserve. "
Simmons is equally eager to contribute on the court. Head coach Brett Brown said last season he planned to use the 6-foot-10 Simmons as a point guard. He reinforced that stance Thursday (see story).
With the arrivals of Markelle Fultz and JJ Redick, two players that seem to suit Simmons' skill set perfectly, Simmons is ready to accept the challenges ahead.
"We have a great team," Simmons said. "A great young team. Some great vets we've acquired in the past season. But I'm just looking forward to going out there and just building."
One of those vets is Johnson. A second-round pick by the Pistons out of high school back in 2005, Johnson has also spent time with the Raptors and Celtics.
During those stints, he's seen some special players. He played on a loaded Pistons team that featured Chauncey Billups and Philly native Rasheed Wallace. With Toronto, he got to play DeMar DeRozan and another local product in Kyle Lowry. He spent the last two seasons playing alongside Isaiah Thomas in Boston.
For as much talent as he's been around, he's never seen anyone quite like Simmons.
"Unbelievable, man," Johnson said of Simmons. "Freakish athlete. The stuff I've seen him do just training, it almost seems like it's not fair. You get a guard to switch on him, you get a big to switch on him. He's just an unbelievable athlete and an unbelievable scorer and an unbelievable passer. He can do it all."
The promise of a young core that features Simmons, Fultz and Joel Embiid has fans salivating. The addition of a veteran sharpshooter like Redick has created palpable playoff buzz.
Johnson is battle tested. He's played in 42 career playoff games (24 starts). He knows what it takes to get to the postseason and sustain success. Johnson came to the Sixers because of his relationship with Bryan Colangelo and because he saw what they were building.
But as far as playoff talk goes, Johnson is pumping the brakes.
"One thing I know is it's very hard to win in this league," Johnson said. "For us, as a team, all we can control is working out, getting better as individuals and getting better as a team and taking it one day at a time. I know a lot of people have a bunch of talk about playoffs but it's very hard to win even a single game."
Unlike a couple of his fellow young teammates, Simmons hasn't been as boisterous when it comes to talking about the Sixers in the postseason. Simmons is just focusing on the here and now.
Besides, his ultimate goal is much bigger.
"At the end of the day, our goal is to win games, and that means championships," Simmons said. "So for us, playoffs is definitely where we want to be. And we want to win rings. I think everybody has the right idea in their heads."