It seems eons ago, but it was really a little more than a year ago that the Sixers traded Ben Simmons to the Nets in a package that brought James Harden to town. In that time, very little was said about him by members of the Sixers organization.
Friday forward Georges Niang broke his silence about his former teammate, and he pulled no punches.
Niang was a guest on The John Kincade Show on 97.5 The Fanatic, and was asked about the contrast between the current team and last year’s edition.
PAT EGAN: “What was the difference between this year’s team, at this point, and last year’s team? Last year’s team had just gotten James Harden –
NIANG: I was gonna say, I got a lot to say about that.
JOHN KINCADE: You’re five wins ahead of last year’s pace.
NIANG: We are? Well, Ben Simmons kind of handicapped us at the beginning of last year. I mean, I wasn’t gonna say it, but now, you know what I mean?
KINCADE: Now you’re playing into the crowd.
BOB COONEY: He’s out of the Nets rotation, by the way.
NIANG: Well, that ain’t none of my business. [laughs] When you’re building rosters, talking from a general manager standpoint – I don’t know how much [Simmons] makes, but it’s a max contract. So you immediately take that off the books, ‘I’m not playing,’ you have to figure it out where other role players have to step up and replace, you know, the passing, dribbling, rebounding, defense –
KINCADE: You didn’t say shooting.
NIANG: Yeah, exactly my point… [P]eople don’t understand, the team aspect is very important. I think Doc Rivers does a good job of buying into the team. So when you don’t know who you’re going to have night in and night out, ‘Is he coming back? Is he this?’ I feel like the updates we were getting about him were, like, when I turned on my TV and listening to Stephen A. Smith, like ‘He’s gonna be at practice tomorrow.’ And I was like, ‘There he is.’ So last year was difficult because you didn’t know who you had, right? So the trade deadline’s coming up and everyone’s walking in like, ‘Well, who’s being attached to him that’s going in [on a trade]?’ You had that uneasy feeling. And now it’s like, ‘OK we did trade Matisse [Thybulle to Portland], we got Jalen [McDaniels], but you know who you’re going into war with every single night, and I feel comfortable with the pieces that we have because we do have some great players in this locker room.”
Niang finally said the quiet part out loud, that Simmons seemed – and still seems – horrified of shooting a basketball. But he also added some good perspective regarding Simmons’ holdout, and how it hamstrung the team both on the court and off it.
It’s interesting also to hear him admit the level of uneasiness in the locker room leading up to the Simmons’ inevitable trade, where players didn’t know which among them would be included in the package going elsewhere. That can certainly have an unwelcome psychological strain on players trying to maintain consistency.