Dwight Howard holds a high opinion of Joel Embiid, a big man not unlike himself during his prime with the Magic.
As for the Sixers’ other All-Star, Ben Simmons, Howard couldn’t have gone much further in his praise when asked about how Simmons compares to LeBron James.
“It’s a very real comparison,” Howard said Wednesday, “and I’ve been saying for a couple years that Ben Simmons is a young LeBron who’s developing an overall game. I love the way he plays, I love how unselfish he is and how mean he can be, too, on the other teams. And that’s important.
“When you have your point guard coming down and dunking on people, flexing, getting big rebounds, talking trash, doing all those things, I think it just drives you to want to be better. Watching him over the years, I see it. He has an opportunity to be one of the greatest to ever play the game and I’m glad to have an opportunity to give him some things that can help him along the way.”
With shooters around him like Danny Green and Seth Curry, the Sixers hope the 24-year-old Simmons can take a step forward offensively. He already earned a spot on the All-Defensive First Team last year. The question of whether he’ll ever incorporate a jump shot regularly hasn’t yet been resolved, though head coach Doc Rivers said last month, “I’m not that concerned by it like everybody else is.”
This is far from the first time Simmons has been compared to James, a fellow Klutch Sports client and mentor of his. They’re both big ball handlers with skills conducive to frequent triple-doubles. The claim that Simmons could be “one of the greatest to ever play the game” seems hyperbolic, but Simmons still has time to prove Howard right.
Howard, who’s played with multiple generations of NBA stars, was apparently very close to chasing a championship repeat with James. He was so close, in fact, that he tweeted last Friday night he was returning to the Lakers, then deleted that tweet and decided to sign a one-year, veteran minimum deal with the Sixers that same evening.
A report said Embiid helped in the Sixers’ aggressive recruitment process, but Howard on Wednesday identified Rivers and Rajon Rondo as key figures.
“Well, to be honest, I didn’t hear from Joel until after I committed to coming to the team,” Howard said. “The reason why I was super locked in on being here in Philly is that Doc was the only coach who called me during the free agency process. The first one that called me, and he said, ‘We want you. We want you on our team.’ And then (president of basketball operations Daryl Morey) called me.
"I said, ‘This is where I need to be right now. This is where my journey has called me, to Philly.’ And I was super happy that Doc called me, gave me the opportunity. I told him yes, I told him I would come. I talked to Rondo. Rondo was probably a big contributor, just talking to him and the relationship he had with Doc. So I would say Doc and also (general manager) Elton Brand.”
Rondo, a four-time All-Star and a member of Rivers’ 2008 championship Celtics team, is another player sometimes compared with Simmons because of his open-court creativity, defensive talent and reluctance to shoot early in his career.
Any mention of James is much more likely to grab attention, though, and Howard didn’t mind putting Simmons in that company. He’s confident he’ll be around for Simmons’ ascension, too, indicating his playing days won’t be over anytime soon.
“I love to stay in shape,” Howard said. “I love to be on top of my game physically, mentally, spiritually. … I’ve never felt better throughout my career as to how I felt going into last season, but also coming into this season. I personally feel like I can play at least four, five more years at a very dominant level. I’m just looking forward to this season and showing people that, I know I’m 34 going on 35, but I can still do whatever it takes to help a team win."