It’s September 30th, 2016. The Philadelphia 76ers are finishing up their last scrimmage of the team’s training camp at Stockton University. The Sixers, who are coming off a 10-72 season, have high aspirations for the upcoming season with the addition of number 1 overall pick, Ben Simmons. With about a month left until the home opener, fan excitement levels can hardly be contained as they eagerly wait to see what lies ahead for this team.
Then suddenly, disaster strikes.
Ben Simmons fractures his fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot and is out for the season.
Another injury. Something this city has seen far too much of. Fans become even more irate with “The Process” and chalk up the 2016 season as a lost cause.
Now, if you’re a “process truster” like me, you viewed the situation a bit differently than others. Honestly, with the luck the Sixers have had with injuries to their draftees, I’ve become accustomed to our top picks missing their first year.
Still, when I got that Bleacher Report notification about it, I was devastated.
But ultimately, I did what any “Hinkite” would do, and that is to look to the future.
Instantly, I began to envision Ben Simmons, coming back even stronger, with the addition of the high lottery pick we’d have from that washed season. Granted, I never imagined Embiid being as great as he was and the team to increase their win total by 18 games, but I did see promise and hope in that injury.
I tried to do my best glass half-full perspective and pictured a scenario where Ben Simmons ran the point while our oodles of cap space landed us a solid wing or small forward to go along with Dario and Embiid.
And now that we’re fast forwarded to almost a year later, I can say with confidence that Ben Simmons’ injury was a blessing in disguise.
If you step back, and really take a look at the injury and its impact, it’s clear to see the benefits from him missing a season.
For starters, Simmons was able to grow. Just like how Noel and Embiid both grew as players and professionals over the course of their injuries, Simmons did the same. He’s already expressed, on Instagram, how the year off taught him more about himself and the player he became. “I’ve had a year to learn, experience and develop my game to the point where I’m ready to grab this upcoming season by the throat,” says Simmons. “Looking back now, I would have killed the old me on the court.”
Even Simmons himself acknowledged the importance that year off did for his game and his confidence on the court. The adjustment a player must make from college to the NBA can be a difficult one.
In Simmons’ case, his transition is quite different as he jumps from being a college freshman, to the face of an NBA franchise. A year off to learn the ins and outs of the game is not such a bad thing. It worked for Embiid as he continuously carved through defenses to a tone of 20.2 points per game with 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.
Now, his situation is a bit different than Simmons, considering he sat out TWO full years instead of one. However, showing that he’s already a top 5 center in the league, when healthy, Embiid’s success can be attributed to his time off the court. I guarantee Embiid didn’t shoot the way he does now coming out of college. That time he had to refine his game and learn how the NBA worked was crucial to his development as a player.
Another reason the Ben Simmons injury is a blessing in disguise is that it got us Markelle Fultz. With Simmons sidelined, the Sixers were destined for another bottom five finish in the league. The 76ers, who have drafted in the top three for the last four years, are far too familiar with being the bottom dwellers of the NBA.
Heck, the draft lottery is like a cherished holiday in this town.
Yet slowly, but surely, you can see that light at the end of the tunnel for this team. And that light just might be Markelle Fultz.
Even with the way the draft lottery panned out, the Kings’ swap was luck and there’s no way one could have predicted that 0.1% would have landed them the 3rd overall pick.
Fultz, a 6’4” combo guard out of the University of Washington is taking his talents and 7’0” wingspan to Broad Street. Already knowing that Ben Simmons will be the floor general when on the court, Fultz’s fit is what makes this pairing so perfect. He complements Simmons well with his 41.3% shooting stroke from downtown and has the ability to be the secondary ball handler.
When Simmons is on the bench, Fultz can come in and handle the point guard duties like he did in college. This combination of size, length, and youth in a backcourt might just be one of the most unique the game has to offer.
Still don’t believe that injury was worthwhile? Well, I’ll try to sell you here. I believe that the Ben Simmons injury has worked its magic in getting the 76ers linked to LeBron. Yes, LeBron James.
Now I know it’s a long shot. Once again, it’s LeBron bleeping James. And the linkage has more to do with Ben Simmons, the player, than the actual injury.
But over the offseason, several pieces have fallen into place that hint at a potential change of scenery for the King. First off, LeBron’s already won in Cleveland. He’s got his ring; he delivered his hometown a championship. He owes them nothing now.
Secondly, LeBron’s relationship with the Cavaliers’ front office is in turmoil. As stated by Chris Sheridan, a former reporter for ESPN and the Associated Press, “NBA source said today: ‘This will be LeBron’s final season in Cleveland. He is 100 percent leaving. Relationship with owners beyond repair.’”
That was reported on August 16th, 2017, so a lot has changed with the current state of the Cavs. The blockbuster trade of Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas plays a huge role in this, as Cleveland was also able to acquire Brooklyn’s 2018 first round pick. A pick that coveted and valuable might just be the nail in the coffin, as LeBron can now say he didn’t leave the Cavs empty handed if he decides to go elsewhere next offseason.
Focusing on resigning LeBron will be priority number one for the Cavs, but if that deems unsuccessful, resigning an All-Star point guard in Isaiah Thomas to go along with that Brooklyn pick isn’t such a bad plan B. Yes, it’ll be tempting to see who the Cavaliers draft with that pick next year, but I don’t think LeBron will mortgage his future in hopes of landing Michael Porter Jr. or Marvin Bagley III.
And finally, LeBron’s connection with Ben Simmons is too obvious to point out. Both have similar styles of play, which in most cases, can be a bad thing… but not when it’s LeBron James.
I’m sure the Sixers wouldn’t mind the potential clash of similar talents between the two. Their relationship extends even further as both are apart of Klutch Sports Group and can be seen working out together this offseason. Add in the fact that James acknowledged J.J. Redick’s documentary with Uninterrupted by commenting “The Process”, and you got Sixers fans like me grinning ear to ear hoping that actually means something.
Again, this is LeBron James we’re talking about. He’s not going to just willingly join a team that has gone a combined 75-253 over the last four years. He wants to win and he wants to win now. The success of the Sixers’ this season is crucial in his decision making. But if we see Ben Simmons play like he did in summer league, Markelle Fultz play like a young Dwyane Wade, and Joel Embiid play like he did in those 31 games last year, the idea of LeBron joining a young and potentially scary nucleus is not as far-fetched as it seems.
That all being said, this all comes back to Ben Simmons injuring his foot. If Simmons never got injured, the Sixers most likely don’t finish the season with the fourth worst record in the league. If Simmons never got injured, they most likely wouldn’t have gotten the third overall pick in the draft lottery and traded with the Celtics for the number one overall pick. If Simmons never got injured, the Sixers most likely would be a known commodity by now, and the hype around this team wouldn’t be where it is today.
But Simmons did get injured and all we have to show for it is Markelle Fultz, 25/1 odds to win the Eastern Conference, and a very thin linkage to the association’s best player. Classic unlucky Sixers, huh?