On eve of Sixers summer league debut, Ben Simmons eager to prove worthy of No. 1 pick

On eve of Sixers summer league debut, Ben Simmons eager to prove worthy of No. 1 pick

SALT LAKE CITY -- When it comes to measuring his potential as a pro basketball player in the NBA, Ben Simmons isn't thinking like other rookies. Simmons is already looking at the top players in the league and seeing what he needs to do to bring his game up to their levels.

How he compares with other rookies doesn't matter to the former LSU star. Faring well against the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durrant is a greater driving force in his development.

“Those are the guys I have to be facing, so I have to get ready for them,” Simmons said. “I respect everybody. I don't fear anyone. So when we go into every game, I'm willing to put in the work to win.”

Simmons will get his first chance to show what he can do for the Sixers when they meet the Boston Celtics in the Utah Jazz summer league opener on Monday. The Sixers will also play the San Antonio Spurs and the Jazz this week before facing the Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls and Golden State Warriors next week in the Las Vegas summer league.

He and fellow first round draft pick Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot practiced with the summer league team for the first time on Sunday, a day after they signed their rookie contracts.

The native Australian showed a little rust on day one, but it didn't diminish the thrill Simmons felt finally lacing up his shoes and getting out on the court again.

“It feels so good to be a part of a team,” Simmons said. “Just being on the court. It's the first time I've played since my final game at LSU.”

The spotlight will be fixed on the Sixers' top pick throughout his time in the Salt Lake City and Las Vegas – on and off the court. Being the No. 1 overall pick creates a natural target. Simmons knows other rookies want nothing more than to prove themselves at his expense.

Not only is he anticipating getting everyone's best shot, he's welcoming it.

“I know a lot of people will be coming for me because I got that No. 1 spot,” Simmons said. “It's always been like that for me since high school. Everyone has always wanted to go at me and have that shot. It's fun. I love getting the challenge.”

Simmons made a good first impression with the Sixers' coaching staff on his first day of practice. His size, his athletic play and his passing ability drew praise from head coach Brett Brown. In his limited time seeing Simmons so far, Brown already likes how Simmons is fitting into the team culture with his unselfish play.

Brown saw this kind of potential from Simmons during his lone season at LSU. In 33 games with the Tigers, Simmons averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists in 34.9 minutes per contest.

"He just finds awesome joy and enthusiasm in sharing the basketball and that becomes contagious," Brown said.

Simmons is the latest talent to come out of a burgeoning Australian basketball pipeline. He is the second top five pick from the country in the last three seasons after the Jazz selected Dante Exum fifth overall in 2014. Exum is a close friend and former teammate of Simmons. He described the Jazz point guard as being like a brother to him.

Simmons sees both he and Exum making it to the NBA as a positive sign for the sport's growth in his home country. Their success, he believes, will only make it easier for other Australians to pursue their NBA dreams.

“There's a lot of talent back there,” Simmons said. “A lot of Australian players coming into the NBA helps kids back home get recruited. It's a lot easier for them to adjust this system and get a lot more looks from colleges.”

Sixers fans need to relax about team's offseason

Sixers fans need to relax about team's offseason

Here’s a brief message that some Sixers fans can use right now: relax.

Remember that you have a team with two budding superstars that reached the Eastern Conference semifinals just last season and should only be headed upward from here.

Sure, there’s going to be some level of disappointment when Brett Brown proclaimed the Sixers were going “star hunting” this summer only to come up empty on the free-agent market outside of re-signing their own players.

But, more than anything, how things transpired for the Sixers over the past few weeks should let you know that much more goes into landing a free agent than simply basketball.

Look at the first major domino to fall in free agency, Paul George. The five-time All-Star didn’t hesitate to make his decision and announced he was rejoining the Oklahoma City Thunder at a Russell Westbrook party shortly after midnight on July 1.

Despite the Sixers being in the mix for George, the Thunder always had the upper hand. The Thunder had George in the fold for a full year after acquiring him from Indiana last summer and used every day to convince him OKC was the right place to move forward.

“They honestly check the boxes where I needed those boxes to be checked from what a player wants and needs out of a front office, out of a medical group, out of teammates, out of coaching staff,” George said during exit interviews. “I mean, honestly, they can't say it anymore [than] that. They checked the boxes on what needs to be checked.”

Even with George on the market, the Sixers always had their top focus on the biggest available fish in the game: LeBron James. They even secured a meeting with James’ camp, albeit only with agent Rich Paul and not the three-time champion himself. 

Still, the Sixers, with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid leading the way, were serious contenders for James as Paul confirmed.

"The teams that he looked at, he looked at for guys like Ben Simmons,” Paul, who is also Simmons’ agent, said on NBA TV during a summer league game. “There's a reason why he looked at Philadelphia, but ultimately he chose the Lakers.”

And what ultimately made James join the Lakers, no matter what his representatives say to the contrary, had little to do with basketball. James has turned himself into an entertainment mogul, so who better to learn from than Magic Johnson? 

After all, King James reportedly already had dinner in Los Angeles last week with Al Pacino and Leonardo DiCaprio

We all love Philadelphia, but those types of Hollywood power brokers aren’t exactly making reservations for restaurants on Broad Street.

So the Sixers swung and missed on George for familiarity and James for off-court opportunities. 

Perhaps you can swallow missing out on two of the game’s best players, but now role players are spurning the franchise too? That’s enough to push a Sixers fan over the edge … until you dig a little bit deeper.

Nemanja Bjelica had his qualifying offer with the Minnesota Timberwolves rescinded and immediately jumped to the best situation for him when he agreed to a one-year deal with the Sixers. 

However, Bjelica informed the team he was backing out of the deal and returning to Europe. That was until fellow Serbian and Kings general manager, Vlade Divac, came calling. Now the two sides are apparently deep in discussion on a multiyear contract.

Once you push through the initial wave of confusion, you find out that Bjelica simply didn’t want to move his family to Philadelphia for a year and be back on the hunt next summer. He was seeking what most of us do in a new job, which is stability. 

While that may seem a bit unreasonable for an NBA reserve big man, you can’t blame a guy for trying. And now it appears he may find some of what he desired in Sacramento.

Back here in Philadelphia, the Sixers are surely second-guessing what happened to their star hunt this offseason. While it came up empty-handed, the Sixers — and their fans — have to understand that so much more factors into securing a free agent than what actually takes place on the court and is not an red flag on the franchise.

Nemanja Bjelica spurns Sixers, reportedly talking deal with Kings

Nemanja Bjelica spurns Sixers, reportedly talking deal with Kings

What exactly is going on with the Sixers?

After missing out on LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and any and all superstar free agents this summer, even their bench, fill-out-the-roster type of guys are dodging the Sixers like a plague.

The latest being forward Nemanja Bjelica, who was in Philly (but not really) for just a bit longer than Eagle-for-a-second Frank Gore.

Bjelica, 30, reportedly agreed to a deal with the Sixers on July 5, providing a boost off the bench and an upgrade over Ersan Ilyasova. 

That was all grand until Tuesday, when news broke that Bjelica had spurned the Sixers and was going back to Europe, a source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Clark.

But in the greatest (or lamest) twist in a strange and sad offseason for the Sixers, Bjelica is now looking to stay in the NBA and is working toward a deal with the Sacramento Kings, according to a report by Yahoo! Sports' Shams Charania. That can't be right. No one would willingly sign with the Kings.

Bjelica posted career bests in points (6.1) and three-point percentage (41.5) last season. While he would have been a nice bench addition, it's not the end of the world. But it sure isn't a great look that the Sixers were toyed with and lost out to a lowly team like the Kings. 

After the Bryan Colangelo debacle and the star-hunting strikeout, we're officially at the "Player X would rather sign with the Kings" stage of the offseason.

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