76ers

'Freakish' Ben Simmons believes Sixers have right mindset going into 2017-18

'Freakish' Ben Simmons believes Sixers have right mindset going into 2017-18

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."

What now for Sixers after Kawhi Leonard trade to Raptors?

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What now for Sixers after Kawhi Leonard trade to Raptors?

LeBron James is a Laker. Kawhi Leonard is a Raptor.

The Sixers went star hunting and came up empty. So now what for a team that won 52 games but is likely one more superstar away from winning a title?

You may not like this answer, but the correct course of action is … nothing — at least not this offseason.

The only star that could possibly be available is the Timberwolves’ Jimmy Butler — if you choose to believe the rumors. Butler, who is an outstanding two-way player, will be 29 entering next season and has an expiring deal. He already forced his way out of Chicago and reportedly wants to force his way out of Minnesota. How much are you giving up for that?

On a smaller scale, the Sixers lost Nemanja Bjelica who reportedly agreed to sign with the team for the mid-level exception. The Serbian forward decided instead to take his talents back to the EuroLeague. Bjelica certainly wasn’t a star but he appeared to be a solid bench piece that might’ve actually been an upgrade from Ersan Ilyasova. So what should the Sixers do with their MLE?

Nothing — again, at least this year.

Who do you want that’s left? Joe Johnson? Michael Beasley? Jamal Crawford? That’s three hard no’s for me.

The Sixers should go into camp with what they have and let the competition play out. Maybe they’ll figure out what to do with Jerryd Bayless’ deal or waive Richaun Holmes or sign Jonah Bolden or make a small trade, but this roster is mostly set. And that’s fine.

This team, that again won 52 games, should be better. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons should only improve. Markelle Fultz can only go up. Dario Saric took a huge leap in Year 2 and we know the kind of worker he is. Wilson Chandler is an upgrade over any player the Sixers had on the bench last year, especially when you factor in defense.

They’re not the favorites to win the East, nor should they be. But that’s fine. With the Warriors continuing to load up and LeBron now out West, what chance does any team in the East have? (Zero is the answer, by the way). 

Fast forward to next offseason. Leonard, Butler, Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker and Kyrie Irving are among a loaded free-agent class. Any one of those players would be a fit and a huge upgrade for the Sixers and they’d be joining the team at the right time. Embiid and Simmons will both be a year more mature and developed and the Warriors will be a year older with their cap situation tighter.

As for the MLE, if the Sixers go star hunting again next offseason and wind up with someone like Leonard, they could use it on a ring-chasing, veteran mercenary. That’s much more valuable than one year of Johnson, Beasley or Crawford on a team that doesn’t have a realistic shot at a title next year.

Brett Brown may have set a tough bar for the offseason. When he did his now infamous star hunting presser, it raised expectations from the fan base. Since the Sixers came up empty in their quest, most look at the offseason as a bad one.

There’s no nice way to put it: Missing out on LeBron and Kawhi sucks for the Sixers. But all is far from lost. Name another team in the NBA that has two superstars the caliber of Embiid and Simmons both under the age of 24. You can’t because such a team does not exist.

Would the Sixers have been better off if they landed a star this offseason? Of course. But now knowing that they swung and missed, their best course of action is inaction — for now.

Movement of 2014 picks highlights how well Sixers did in that draft

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Movement of 2014 picks highlights how well Sixers did in that draft

Despite it taking place over four years ago, the 2014 NBA draft continues to look better by the day for the Sixers.

Of course, that’s the draft in which the Sixers selected Joel Embiid at No. 3 and dealt the No. 10 choice (Elfrid Payton) to the Orlando Magic for the rights to Dario Saric at No. 12 along with a pair of draft picks.

Even recapping that first-round haul for the Sixers should bring a grin across your face.

That’s mainly because of what is transpiring with the careers of the other players from that draft class.

The latest move was the No. 2 overall pick that night, Jabari Parker, being allowed by the Milwaukee Bucks to sign an offer sheet to join his hometown Chicago Bulls earlier this week.

Now think back to 2014. Remember when people were hoping and praying the Sixers would be able to move up a spot or two to snag Parker or eventual top pick Andrew Wiggins? Recall how some didn’t want to touch Embiid, who was coming off a back injury at Kansas and suffered a broken bone in his foot during the pre-draft process? Add on those that weren't supportive of grabbing the then-mysterious Saric (you know he's never coming over, right?).

It’s unlikely you’ll hear those individuals speak up now. Not with Embiid as the Sixers’ All-Star anchor in the middle and Saric serving as a rock-solid forward next to him.

And they’ll be even quieter once you factor in the statuses of those other 2014 selections.

Look at Wiggins. Yes, he’s found a home in Minnesota and even signed a $146 million extension prior to last season. However, his inconsistency has been maddening at times and even forced Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor to recently say he’s not ready to give up on the 23-year-old swingman.

When it comes to Parker, the Bucks let him walk for a reason. The combo forward suffered two torn ACLs in his four-year stint in Milwaukee. And while he was a solid contributor when on the floor, it was clear the Bucks now run through budding star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Even after that trio at the top, things aren’t exactly booming career-wise for the players that followed in the draft. 

Aaron Gordon, the No. 4 overall pick, inked an $80 million deal this summer to remain in Orlando for the next four seasons. However, the team has a 114-214 record since Gordon was drafted.

The Jazz committed $33 million over three years to guard Dante Exum earlier this offseason. But realistically, the team had so much confidence in the oft-injured fifth pick in ’14 that it drafted Donovan Mitchell and acquired Ricky Rubio from the Timberwolves just a year ago.

There are plenty of solid players after the top five from the 2014 draft, but none of them are the caliber of Embiid and few measure up to Saric.

Things really get hairy when you take a look at the middle of the lottery. Former Sixer Nik Stauskas, who was taken eighth, is now on his fourth NBA team. Noah Vonleh was picked ninth and is now playing for his third franchise. Payton was the Sixers’ pick at No. 10 before being shipped to Orlando. He signed to join the New Orleans Pelicans in free agency earlier this month, which marks his third team in four years. And the 11th name called that night, Doug McDermott, will suit up for his fifth NBA team when next season rolls around.

In all, only 10 of the 30 players taken in the first round in 2014 are with the original team they suited up for on opening night (that includes Marcus Smart and Clint Capela, who remain on the market as restricted free agents).

Two of them are Embiid and Saric, who are still helping the Sixers climb from the cellar just a few years ago to the top of the NBA food chain.

Not a bad draft haul at all and it looks even better now.

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