The 76ers are beginning their offseason sooner than expected, but there will be no shortage of issues. The biggest one revolves around Ben Simmons and whether his poor free-throw shooting and reluctant shooting in general during the playoffs will lead to his exit.
Coach Doc Rivers and president of basketball operations Daryl Morey have both given public support since the Sixers were eliminated in a 103-96 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series Sunday night.
The front office and coaching staff are not going to say anything publicly that would lower Simmons’ value even more. Still, it is interesting how passionate people are in defending Simmons.
One of those people is teammate Danny Green, whom the Sixers missed after he suffered a strained right calf early in Game 3 that sidelined him for the rest of the playoffs.
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Backing his teammate
Simmons isn’t usually an outwardly emotional person. He doesn’t have the type of effervescent personality that, say, teammate Joel Embiid has.
Simmons doesn’t always show much emotion either on the court or when talking during postgame press conferences. That tends to give the impression that his level of commitment isn’t high, but Green, who just completed his 12th NBA season and first with the Sixers, says nothing could be further from the truth.
“I think it is a mistake that people think that he doesn’t care, I guess by his tone, his mannerisms, whatever it would be in press conferences,” Green said in a wide-ranging Zoom interview Monday. “And by his actions, you can see in his play that he cares. He’s a little afraid of certain things because of how his interviews go, he doesn’t show much, I guess emotions, but believe it or not, he cares and it hurts him more than anybody.”
This postseason surely added to the hurt. In the series against the Hawks, Simmons shot just 15-for-45 (.333) from the foul line. He attempted only three fourth-quarter field goals in the seven games and averaged just 9.9 points for the series.
“He’s a bigger critic than anybody about himself, and it hurts him deeply he wasn’t able to be himself and help his team win because he knows what is at stake,” said Green, a pending free agent. “He wants to win and it is going to hurt him this summer, the way it will hurt us.”
Simmons, who missed his first season because of injury, just completed his fourth season. He will turn 25 next month. Last year, Simmons missed the postseason with a knee injury.
This year’s playoffs have been his worst by far, and Simmons faces a summer in which the criticism likely won’t die down.
“The City of Philadelphia is going to be on him, the media is going to be on him,” Green said, “but he is a young kid, a young player in this game, and he deserves a little latitude especially for what he has done and what he has gone through this year.”
Keith Pompey writes: Morey wasn’t about to tip his hand about Simmons’ future in Philadelphia.
Rivers believes that, despite his poor postseason, Simmons is salvageable.
Marcus Hayes writes that Embiid says it wasn’t his fault that the Sixers were upset by the Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Hayes also writes that Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson agree that Simmons can’t return next season as a member of the Sixers.
Ed Barkowitz writes that PointsBet is offering odds on where Simmons will get traded, if indeed he is traded.
The Eastern Conference finals
Philadelphia seems to be the type of market that bails on the playoffs once its team is eliminated. It will be interesting how many Philadelphia area fans will care about the series between the Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks that begins Wednesday.
For those who care, this should be an interesting series. The Hawks will again be underdogs, and instead of dealing with Embiid, they will have to find a way to slow Giannis Antetokounmpo, who just averaged 31.9 points and 12.9 rebounds in Milwaukee’s seven-game semifinal series win over the Brooklyn Nets.
The key matchup will be former Sixer Jrue Holiday looking to contain Trae Young, who averaged 29.0 points and 10.9 assists against the Sixers.
The Sixers had defensive player-of-the-year runner-up Ben Simmons covering Young for most of the time from Game 2 through Game 7. Young also had second-team all-defensive selection Matisse Thybulle on him as well.
Despite the talents of Simmons and Thybulle, Young routinely beat both off the dribble. Now Young will face Holiday, a first-team all-NBA defensive-team selection this season. He has been a first-team choice twice and a second-team selection once.
A key could be which of the two guards wears down first. Holiday averaged 39.7 minutes in the Brooklyn series, and Young averaged 39.6 minutes against the Sixers.
Wednesday: Eastern Conference finals begin, Atlanta at Milwaukee, 8:30 p.m., TNT.
July 19: Deadline for early-entry players to withdraw from the NBA draft (5 p.m.).
July 29: NBA draft.
Aug. 2: Teams can begin negotiating with free agents (6 p.m.).
Aug. 6: Teams can begin signing free agents (12:01 p.m.).
Aug. 8-17: MGM Resorts NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.
Passing the rock
Question: Read your article online and thanks for stating that the Hawks deserved some credit for winning the series and being mentally tough in Wells Fargo. The series to say the least was great. Not because we won but because both teams were so even. When reading articles from Philly, all I hear is the Sixers lost to an inferior team. That being said, Atlanta moves on. One other point: Yes Ben Simmons may deserve criticism in the Game 7 defeat. However, he did a great job defensively on Trae Young. At least from our angle Trae did other things to help his team win. — Brian Shonson, via email
Answer: Thanks for reading our newsletter from Georgia, Brian. I admit it was a great series, from a drama standpoint. Five of the games were decided by seven or fewer points. As for losing to an inferior team, none of that matters. The Hawks were the better team in the series. I thought the Sixers got a break by facing Atlanta in the second round, but I was proved wrong.
As for Simmons, no amount of great defensive work could make up for the offensive shortcomings. Most of all, he knows it and admitted it after Game 7. An All-Star player must have an impact on the offensive end in the playoffs, and Simmons didn’t and that is why he faces the biggest offseason in his still-young career.