76ers

Will the Sixers run it back? The answer should hinge on Ben Simmons

Will the Sixers run it back? The answer should hinge on Ben Simmons

The 76ers have 10 players from last season’s roster who can enter free agency in a little over a month. But it’s one of the few players under contract for the 2019-20 season that should be the central figure in determining how the Sixers handle their offseason.

Ben Simmons is not an easy person to read. While Joel Embiid can sometimes be accused of lacking a filter, Simmons is first-team all-defense when it comes to revealing his thoughts publicly.

That’s not a criticism. It’s certainly Simmons’ right to keep his thoughts to himself. But where this comes into play for the Sixers is the ability to read what Simmons is thinking about his future in Philadelphia. Does he desire the chance to break away from Embiid and prove he can be the primary force on a winning team? Or does he want to see just how fertile an extended partnership with Embiid can be?

The answer to those questions should impact how Elton Brand approaches this offseason. 

If Brand believes Simmons wants to stay long term, the Sixers should be hesitant about running it back with last year’s team. While Jimmy Butler proved capable of being an offensive focal point at the end of tightly-contested playoff games, the organization would be better served in the big picture by giving Simmons the chance to develop into that type of player rather than the bystander he became too often on the offensive end in the playoffs.

Taking a look at the Raptors and Warriors, a major factor in making the Finals is having at least one player that can create and make his own shots in the half court. If Simmons can crack that code, the Sixers can attempt to cultivate the depth they lacked this past season with their available cap space. 

There’s undoubtedly risk involved in this proposition. Everyone knows Simmons has never made a three-point shot in his career. Almost all of his scoring takes place in the paint. There are even well-founded concerns as to whether he’s shooting with the correct hand. But even with all of those red flags, the combination of Simmons’ age (still just 22), his incredible skill level, and overall maturity lends credence to the belief that he will develop a consistent jump shot. If and when that happens, there will be nothing he cannot do on a basketball court.

Conversely, if the Sixers believe Simmons wants out of Philadelphia as soon as he has the option, then they should attempt to bring back as much of their veteran nucleus as possible and hope that a full season together and the likelihood that Kawhi Leonard will depart Toronto pushes them over the top. This scenario also ensures that the cupboard is not totally bare for Embiid if Simmons departs. 

So Brand is left to answer a question that has eluded most: what is Ben Simmons really thinking?

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There are positive signs, but still glaring issues with Sixers

There are positive signs, but still glaring issues with Sixers

After dropping their second straight game in overtime Friday night in Oklahoma City (see observations), the Sixers at times sounded like a team looking for answers.

More of that is likely struggling to answer questions coming off another brutal loss. They have an idea why they’ve lost five of their last seven after starting their season 5-0. A large part of it is a group with a bunch of new faces that are still figuring each other out. On Friday, fouls were an issue as they allowed the Thunder to attempt 41 free throws.

For a team that has championship aspirations and got off to such a hot start, this isn’t where they expected to be 12 games into the season.

“Obviously we're frustrated,” Tobias Harris said to reporters postgame. “7-5 is not where we want to be. It's early in the season and right now we're going to progress and get better and figure out ways that we can help each other and help our team and go from there. This game is over. Tomorrow, we'll watch film on it, we'll find out which ways that we can better ourselves and be ready for the next game. [We’re] 7-5 right now but ... we'll just go into the next game and be ready to get that win and go from there.”

There are reasons for optimism — with Harris being arguably the biggest.

After missing 23 straight threes and looking lost recently, Harris splashed his first trey of the game and looked like a totally different player. He finished with 21 points on 8 of 16 from the field and 3 of 4 from three. He was much more aggressive and decisive than he’d been in the previous two games.

Josh Richardson, returning to his native Oklahoma, has continued to show signs of improvement. He poured in 28 points, his highest total as a Sixer. More importantly, he’s looked much more comfortable in the offense as he figures out his role.

Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons both had their moments. Embiid had a game-high 31 points and Simmons broke out after a quiet first half to play the entire second half.

One of the team’s biggest issues is figuring out the pairing of Embiid and Al Horford. The reality is Horford has never played with a center like Embiid who demands the ball and attention offensively. It’s been an obvious adjustment for Horford, who shot just 5 of 12 Friday and has done most of his damage with Embiid off the floor.

The uncomfortable offensive fit for the entire starting five has been a big reason the Sixers have been involved in so many close games. A familiar theme emerged Friday, as the Sixers held a nine-point advantage with 7:20 to go in the game. Instead of hitting the gas and putting the Thunder away, they gave up a 12-2 run and saw their lead evaporate.

These are talented players that have won in different places. They’re still learning how to win together.

“I was just telling Al about that,” Harris said, “and really it's just I think a matter of right now we are yet to be up like eight points and push that to 15 and really push what we're doing and move forward with that, and really imposing our will and dominating. And that's something that we have to get to and that's something I think we're still learning — how we can do that and how we can make those type of runs. That's something we definitely got to get better at.”

The good news is you see the talent and recognize some of the issues.

And Brett Brown has 70 games to figure it out.

“If you're sick and you don't know why, that's a problem,” Brown said. “We are in a tough spot right now, but it's a long year. I think that it doesn't take much for me to understand where we have to get better. And it's really that simple. If you're scratching your head, sort of confused, then I think we got some problems and that's not what I'm doing. I think the guys understand the areas that matter most that can best impact changing the way things are going and get back on the winning side.”

They know the problems, now they just have to answer the questions.

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Sixers Talk podcast: What went wrong in OKC?

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NBCSP/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: What went wrong in OKC?

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Brett Brown's decision to have Furkan Korkmaz play key minutes in overtime, using more pick-and-rolls with Joel Embiid, and the loss to the Thunder.

• Should Brown have gone to Korkmaz when Tobias Harris fouled out in overtime?

• Do the Sixers need to rework their offense?

• The starting lineup looked good at times, but what went wrong in OKC?

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