INDIANAPOLIS — The 76ers keep boasting about having great team chemistry.
They’ll tell you that’s the reason behind their recent six-game winning streak despite being undermanned. Although it finally caught up to them, their chemistry has enabled young players like Tyrese Maxey and Paul Reed to step up. It’s also allowed veteran free agents Andre Drummond and Georges Niang to fit in perfectly.
The chemistry is so great that even Joel Embiid joined teammates for team meals before being placed in the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols. That’s something that seldom happened before this season.
Yet, the Sixers (8-6) want to bring Ben Simmons back into the fold.
Why? Simmons wouldn’t increase his trade value by playing. Teams already know who the three-time All-Star is and what he’s capable of doing.
Wouldn’t the disgruntled point guard, who’s engaging in negative back-and-forth with the Sixers brass, become a major distraction?
Wouldn’t that chemistry the Sixers boast about take a hit?
Surely they’re concerned about finding ways to keep the chemistry intact upon his return, right?
“I don’t think that’s something we thought about yet,” Danny Green said before Saturday’s 118-113 loss to the Indiana Pacers at newly renamed Gainbridge Fieldhouse. “I’m sure it’s going to be an adjustment.
“We know [a possible Simmons’ return is] going to take some time. So it’s not a rush. We don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon. But it’s something that hasn’t really crossed our minds yet.”
Coach Doc Rivers basically said the same thing before Thursday’s 115-109 loss to the Toronto Raptors. Right now, the Sixers are focused is on getting players out of the NBA’s health and safety protocols while on this grueling six-game road trip.
Reserve guard Isaiah Joe cleared protocols Saturday morning and flew to Indianapolis in time to play against the Pacers. He participated in a pregame workout and was active for the game. The returns of four-time All-Star center Embiid and reserve guard Matisse Thybulle are fluid.
And if that’s not enough, Green exited in the third quarter of Saturday’s game when he reinjured his left hamstring. The loss to the Pacers extended the undermanned Sixers’ losing streak to four games.
Back to Simmons.
“But now that I think about it, I won’t say I’m concerned,” Green said of a Simmons return. “But it’s just going to be another — I wouldn’t say challenge, but somewhat of a challenge, somewhat of an obstacle.
“That just happens all of the time when guys are hurt or coming back or [acquired via] trades, whatever it might be when you have new guys added to a roster or group that has been playing well ... It’s going to be an adjustment.”
With all due to respect to Green, Simmons’ return is different than someone coming back from an injury or being acquired in a trade. If Simmons is not 100% committed to be a part of the team, he could disrupt things.
But for the time being, the Simmons saga is more of a distraction than anything else. Simmons, who requested a trade, had yet to play this season. Simmons maintains that he’s not mentally able to play.
Simmons met with the Sixers’ recommended specialist to discuss his mental state on Nov. 5. That came after he had previously been unwilling to meet with their doctors to discuss his mental readiness. Simmons had, instead, been working with mental-health professionals through the National Basketball Players Association since this summer.
His agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, told The Athletic on Thursday that the team’s recent actions have worsened Simmons’ mental illness. Paul said the team wants to consider Simmons mentally ready to play regardless of what he tells the team’s mental health therapist.
Yes, things are messy. They’ve been messy for a while.
Simmons refused to come to training camp. The Sixers countered by fining him for missing preseason games, meetings, and practices.
Upon his return, he was kicked out of practice on Oct. 19 because he was not engaging in practice. He was then suspended for the next day’s season opener at the New Orleans Pelicans. On Oct. 21, Simmons complained of back tightness ahead of a scheduled individual workout at the team’s practice facility in Camden. Even after being treated and cleared to work out, he left the practice facility without participating in drills.
That evening Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey said the Simmons saga “could take four years” to resolve on The Mike Missanelli Show on 97.5 The Fanatic. Morey was referring to Simmons having four years remaining on his contract. He stated the Sixers have no intentions of trading Simmons unless they get a difference-maker in return.
The next day, Simmons informed the Sixers he was not mentally ready to play. As a result, they had to stop fining him due to a provision in the NBA collective bargaining agreement that protects players’ salaries for not rendering services if it is because of a mental disability.
But the Sixers fined Simmons $360,000 for failure to play in the Nov. 4 game against the Detroit Pistons and refusal to accept the team’s assistance to address his mental readiness to play. The next day, he met with the Sixers’ recommended specialist to discuss his mental state.
So what happens if he does play?
There’s no denying the Sixers are better with Simmons than without him over a whole season. But that’s only if he has the right attitude and isn’t disruptive.
While the Sixers have had some success, their defense, rebounding, creating turnovers, and pace are down from last season. That has a lot to do with Simmons’ absence.
Last season, the Sixers were second in the NBA in defensive rating (107.0) and opponent turnovers (15.6). They were also 10th in rebounding (45.1). Through 14 games this season, the Sixers were last in rebounding (41.8), 23rd in defensive rating (108.4), and 24th in opponent turnovers (13.2).
Aside from not getting what they deem an equal trade offer, Simmons’ ability to impact a game at an All-Star level is why the Sixers want him back in uniform. They think they’re statistically and fundamentally better with him on the floor. The Sixers believe they’ve built enough of a culture to welcome him back.
Things will be fine only if Simmons comes in with the same mindset he had the past couple of seasons. Automatically, the Sixers will increase their depth. They’ll become longer, more athletic, and a better defensive team.
But there’s no telling how Simmons would react.
The one thing that is obvious is the Sixers will need Simmons or the equivalent of him to reach the Eastern Conference finals. However, the worst thing would be incorporating a player who doesn’t want to be with the team and is troublesome.
But who are we kidding?
It’s hard to imagine Simmons playing another game for the Sixers.
His teammates have bonded well without him. The fans have a strong dislike for him, which might be an understatement.
The best thing to do is trade him.