When Philadelphia Sixers new Power Forward and Point Guard in the making Ben Simmons suffered a broken foot in training camp, the high hopes of a franchise that has seen more losses than wins the past three years, came crashing with a massive thud it could be heard across the Atlantic; Ghana to be specific.
Losing Simmons is a big deal in Philadelphia because for starters, he is the team’s first overall pick since Allen Iverson was drafted number one in 1996 and has been the one player coming into the league with a similar level of greatness imbued in him if any of Shaquille O’Neal’s statements are to be used as reference points.
A recently inducted NBA Hall of Famer calling the Aussie a “LeBron Type” of player right before he played an official NBA game definitely stoked the hype inferno. Talent aside, Simmons represented something more than a mere player.
He represented the victory in the process of accumulating losses to get the next generation’s star and an end to the process propounded by now sacked General Manager Sam Hinkie who consistently gutted the roster to one that looked like a College basketball team as a way to lose more games and gain higher chances of landing top players in the draft.
Now Simmons is injured and there is talk already of his agent Rich Paul reportedly in line to shut him down for the season as the surgery on his foot will require at least three months to heal. Should that happen or should he return January next year like Portland Trailblazers C.J.McCollum did in his rookie year after suffering a similar injury early in the season, the Sixers can cook up something better than James Harden can on defense.
Maybe it’s the way I see things but from where I sit, losing Ben is a blessing in disguise for Coach Brett Brown and the entire Philadelphia organization. How was the team going to possibly allot good minutes to the many big men on the roster with the likes of top prized assets Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Jakarr Sampson and there is good old Elton Brand in there. Finally, Embiid is healthy to compete after two straight seasons on the sidelines with a broken foot and back injury and that solves the problem for Philadelphia. For the Cameroonian has what it takes to be the team’s best player with his improving ability to shoot from distance and well developed defensive skills thanks to his unique blend of timing, speed and height –he has grown two inches taller and now stands 7 foot 2 inches.
Before Simmons went down with the foot related malaise, Noel questioned the logic in having so many big men on the roster stating, “It doesn’t make sense” in an interview. Trade rumors dating back to last season’s midpoint involving Noel and Jahlil Okafor have to be quelled now as the uncertainty of Simmons availability for the season at least, means it is safe to believe neither Noel nor Okafor would be traded. Starting both men has proven to be difficult with the side faring better when one has to take a seat with both men being anemic to shooting away from the basket. Embiid will be brought along slowly to avoid a relapse and in that time, Okafor and Noel can see a lot of minutes to show management what they can do and even impress a potential suitor if management is still insistent on moving one of them.
Prior to the Olympics, the forgotten man in this equation would have been Dario Saric; the Croat was drafted 12 overall in the 2014 Draft but has been in Turkey since. The Rio Games gave the world a sneak peek into his catalogue of moves as Croatia missed out on a medal behind the U.S., Serbia and Spain. Now he is in town and his skill set gives one the impression he will be a good fit alongside a defensive oriented player like Noel. Furthermore, an African connection can be struck when Okafor-whose father is Nigerian and not a very good defender by the way-is paired with Embiid. The ramifications of Simmons injury have been centered on the pitfalls the Sixers is likely to have but rarely been that of the almost limitless possibilities his absence presents the team and that is the point the world has missed.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah