LOS ANGELES — As coach Brett Brown sees it, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are destined to do much more than coexist as 76ers.
“I, personally, am convinced those two are going to win a championship at some point in their career and that they, for sure, can coexist,” Brown said. “The myth is that they can’t. I think that is so abused and not articulated the way I see it.”
The standouts won’t help the Sixers (37-24) in what appears to be an uphill battle Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center. Simmons (pinched nerve in his lower back), Embiid (sprained left shoulder) and a third starter, Josh Richardson (concussion, bruised nose), will miss the game against the Lakers (46-13), the Western Conference’s best team.
Unlike the Lakers, the Sixers haven’t lived up to expectations as being a solid NBA title contender. They’re tied for fifth place in the Eastern Conference with 21 regular-season games remaining.
It’s easy to argue that this season is a wash with Simmons expected to miss an extended time with his injury, with players still not knowing their roles, and with the overall underachievement. If the Sixers win their first NBA title since 1983 in the future, Simmons and Embiid would have to not only coexist, but also dominate.
Monday’s practice at UCLA was not the first time Brown stressed that his All-Star duo can coexist, but the national perception is that the two can’t. Because of Simmons’ hesitancy to shoot from the perimeter, Embiid has often drawn double-teams.
It also doesn’t help that the two thrive in different styles of play. Embiid, a three-time All-Star center, is dominant in a slower half-court setting. Simmons, a two-time All-Star point guard, thrives in transition. However, in the playoffs, things slow down and games are mostly played in the half court.
Brown is aware of that, which is why he played the 6-foot-10, 240-pound Simmons at various positions over the past couple of months before the injury.
The Sixers would be better suited using Simmons as a screen-setting point forward, at least during certain stretches, in the postseason. The team has had success playing that way this season, and it might be the best way for Simmons and Embiid to coexist.
Shake Milton, who is starting in place of Simmons, could be the perfect point guard in that scenario. Milton, a solid three-point shooter and scorer, would create spacing.
“We played an exciting style of play, and they coexisted just fine,” Brown said of the previous two seasons when JJ Redick was the squad’s floor-spacing sharpshooter. "It always goes down to surrounding cast and style of play and willingness to coexist and the acknowledgment that they need each other.
“They need each other.”
The coach stressed patience for Simmons, 23, and Embiid, who will be 26 on March 16. Michael Jordan was 28 and Scottie Pippen was 25 when they won their first title with Chicago Bulls.
“Do your homework and look at pairings that have won and when they win,” Brown said. “You aren’t going to see many that are 23 and 26. Sometimes it takes a little bit of time.”