CAMDEN, N.J. -- The Sixers were on the verge of wrapping up training camp with a renewed sense of optimism as they approached the season with a foundation of promising young players.
They had one more scrimmage to complete, after which they would head back to Philadelphia feeling energized for their first preseason game on Tuesday.
But then, the all-too-familiar happened. A rookie went down. The rookie went down. First overall pick Ben Simmons rolled his right ankle and fractured his fifth metatarsal bone (see story).
“We’ve all been hit in the stomach and you lose your wind,” Brett Brown said following practice on Sunday.
The Sixers are continuing to gather medical information on Simmons’ injury. On Saturday, a league source told CSNPhilly.com Simmons will have surgery and a date has yet to be set. President of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said Sunday that surgery is “likely.” He did not specify the type of fracture (see story).
“I don’t want to get into specific definitions not having the medical expertise,” Colangelo said. “I’ve heard a lot of opinion over the last several days. I’d suffice it to say he broke his fifth metatarsal and how that’s termed or coined I’ll leave for the experts.”
The Sixers had been through this before. Joel Embiid missed the last two years with foot injuries. Jahlil Okafor is coming back from season-ending knee surgery. Nerlens Noel sat out his entire rookie season with an ACL injury. The news of Simmons’ injury was all too familiar.
“There is nobody, sadly, that’s had more experience dealing with injured draft picks than we have.” Brown said. “Over the course of time, you learn how to best deal with it. I have seen this every year I’ve been here.”
At the conclusion of camp, Brown met with Simmons at the hospital where they discussed the news, which Brown described as “deflating.” He believes Simmons’ ability to respond to challenges at a high level and the experience the Sixers staff has rehabbing players from injuries gave Simmons cause for optimism in his recovery.
“He’s a quiet man; his dad was the same,” Brown said. “He’s prideful, he wants to please. … His mood was somber but I think he got a lot excitement about sharing positive stories and truly tapping into what he has available to get him back on the court.”
The injury struck a chord with Embiid, whose NBA debut has been on hold since the 2014 Draft. He plans to be a go-to for Simmons if he has questions or needs encouragement during the recovery process.
“Obviously I felt for him,” Embiid said. “Immediately I had to talk to him and try to tell him everything is going to be ok, he has to keep his head up. … It’s all about patience and doing the right thing. You’ve got to do what you’re supposed to do.”
The Sixers had spent less than a week with Simmons, but it quickly became clear how much of an impact he could make on the team. Brown raved about his defensive potential. Simmons’ versatility provides numerous combinations and opportunities for roster experimentation. It was easy to envision how Simmons could become a centerpiece of the team.
“When I saw the injury, I didn’t believe it would be something like that,” Dario Saric said. “I sent Ben a message, stay positive. I know it’s hard for all of us. He’s one of the leaders of the team.”
The team also sensed Simmons’ excitement to begin his NBA career. While he is not overly expressive through his words, his enthusiasm came through on the court.
“I was saddened, disappointed for him,” Okafor said. “I know how badly he wanted to bring some joy to the city of Philadelphia and how badly he wanted to go out there and perform. It was unfortunate.”
The Sixers are going to take a cautious approach to Simmons’ rehab (see story). And so the team will move forward without him for now, the same way they have done so without their rookies in the past. Brown knows the mindset the players will have to take as they begin their season without one of their top teammates.
Said Brown, “There has to be a real level of resilience.”