Sixers injury update: Zhaire Smith (knee) will not join Sixers in Disney World

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Sixers injury update: Zhaire Smith (knee) will not join Sixers in Disney World

Sixers guard Zhaire Smith will not travel to Disney World for the resumption of the NBA’s season, according to the team.

Smith has a bone bruise in his left knee. He was experiencing pain in the knee prior to the Sixers resuming workouts last week. He’s expected to make a full recovery.

A first-round pick in 2018, Smith missed most of his rookie season after suffering a Jones fracture in his foot and then dealing with a serious allergic reaction. He’s played in just 13 career NBA games, including seven this season. It seemed unlikely that he'd see meaningful minutes in the eight seeding games or playoffs.

Smith spent the bulk of the year playing in the G-League for the Delaware Blue Coats. The athletic 21-year-old showed signs of improvement. He averaged 13.5 points and hit 37.6 percent of his threes in 28 games with the Blue Coats.

Since Smith will be out because of injury and not because of a positive COVID-19 test or opting out of playing, the Sixers will not be able to make a corresponding roster move.

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Sixers will 'inch (Ben Simmons) back into this,' Brett Brown says

Sixers will 'inch (Ben Simmons) back into this,' Brett Brown says

If the NBA does ultimately resume play in about six weeks at Disney World as planned, health and safety will be prominent storylines for every team traveling to a quasi-bubble during a pandemic. 

For the Sixers, that’s especially true — any new information on Ben Simmons’ lower back or Joel Embiid’s conditioning is notable. Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix provided an update on Simmons through a conversation he had with Brett Brown.

“My opinion, and this is not confirmed yet, is that we are going to be able to inch him back into this,” Brown told Mannix. “Is he going to be 100%, I don’t expect that. But I think he is going to be available.”

It’s worth emphasizing that Brown considers his comment an “opinion,” and that it’s not a major departure from any previous update. 

On May 5, Elton Brand said he was “very optimistic (Simmons will) be able to play if and when we’re given that green light to resume.”

On May 15, Brown praised Simmons for his efforts to rehab from the lower back nerve impingement he suffered in February, which Brown described as serious and “disturbing.” 

“It could be a little bit of the silver lining of this pandemic,” he said, “just the fact that you actually have the chance to get somebody like Ben, as important as Ben is, back into our team.” 

The NBA intends to have eight “seeding games” before the postseason, which would begin on Aug. 17. Though the Sixers would have a chance to rise as high as the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, those games leading into the postseason clearly wouldn’t be as high-stakes, and they could provide an opportunity for Simmons to ramp up to a higher level of health and fitness. 

Shake Milton had thrived during Simmons’ absence, starting at point guard and averaging 17.8 points and 4.1 assists over his past nine games. However many minutes Simmons is able to play, Milton should retain a key role.

That was actually a point Brown made back on March 10, the day before the NBA season was suspended, in forecasting what might change if/when Simmons returned.  

He's still optimistic about the Sixers' title chances.

"... It’s a melting pot of opportunity," he told Mannix, "albeit under crazy sort of conditions.”

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Sixers injury update: Elton Brand 'very optimistic' about Ben Simmons

Sixers injury update: Elton Brand 'very optimistic' about Ben Simmons

On March 11, the NBA season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. That also happened to be the last time before Tuesday that the Sixers had given an official comment on Ben Simmons’ injury status. At the time, the Sixers said Simmons would be re-evaluated for the nerve impingement in his lower back in approximately three weeks. 

In a conference call Tuesday, general manger Elton Brand said Simmons, who missed the Sixers’ final eight games before the league went on hiatus, is “doing really, really well.”

I give Ben and our medical staff a ton of credit for their hard work throughout his recovery,” he said. “I give Ben so much credit for him working so hard throughout this unknown time. Fortunately, we’ve able to arrange for him to continue to get the treatment and rehab he needs during this hiatus. I’m very optimistic he’ll be able to play if and when we’re given that green light to resume.

The Sixers are 6-5 this season without Simmons, the league leader in steals and a strong candidate for an NBA All-Defensive Team. Though NBA practice facilities have been closed, Brand noted that Simmons has been allowed to use the Sixers’ facility in Camden, New Jersey, because of his injury. 

“Ben and others have been given permission to use our facility," Brand said. "It’s essential that they have the proper equipment to workout and rehab, so he’s been doing that ever since the first week. We were able to get him access there.” 

Would Simmons be playing if the postseason was currently taking place?

Brand wasn’t prepared to give a definitive answer, though he portrayed Simmons’ progress in a positive light. ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan had reported on April 21 that Simmons would be “good to go” if the season resumes.

“It’s tough, because with him not playing 3-on-3, 5-on-5 — just to speculate there,” Brand said. “But when I FaceTime him during his workouts and his treatments and I see him, I’d be highly encouraged. His ramp-up would be different. We’ve taken our time, we’ve been methodical and thoughtful about his recovery and rehab, making sure, because we weren’t in a rush. It’s hard to speculate. He’s been working hard and I know he’d be close or ready.” 

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