Ben Simmons was asked the same question twice after he earned his 30th career triple-double in the 76ers’ 125-108 win over the visiting Miami Heat on Thursday night, and he responded similarly when posed with the same question during the preseason.
Simmons answered the lingering question of how he feels about having had his name involved in the James Harden trade rumors before the disgruntled Houston Rockets guard was traded Wednesday to the Brooklyn Nets. Simmons and Matisse Thybulle were informed by their agents on Wednesday of a potential trade, The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey reported.
“I come into work every day, so my job is to get better and get wins,” Simmons said after recording 10 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists, and 3 steals Thursday against the Heat. “All that other stuff I can’t control.”
While some players would admit to a major chip on their shoulder, Simmons chose the opposite route. He might have a chip, but he won’t say. Instead, he attempted to stay positive, at least publicly.
“I am blessed. I get to play the game I love every day at the highest level in the world, so there’s far worse things going on in the world,” he said. “So I’m in a blessed position. If you tell me I’ll never play the game again, that would be a different story.”
Asked if he was happy to still be with the Sixers, he replied, “Of course.”
If this were the end of it, that would be one thing, but what if Simmons’ name comes up again? There’s bound to be speculation about Bradley Beal, whether the Washington Wizards’ All-Star wants to be traded or not. Simmons said it’s a business and he understands all the trade talk.
The Sixers’ All-Star guard has said all the right things, and on Thursday, he backed it up with his play after a subpar performance in Tuesday’s 137-134 overtime win against Miami. It’s rare that a player can have 12 assists and his performance be labeled as subpar, but that was the case Tuesday with Simmons, who had missed the previous two games with left knee swelling.
Besides the 12 assists, he committed six turnovers and fouled out. More alarming, he had just two field-goal attempts in nearly 32 minutes. Even for a player who prioritizes scoring below passing and defense, Simmons produced a passive effort on the offensive end.
» READ MORE: Three reasons the Sixers defeated the Miami Heat
His performance Thursday wasn’t flawless, but it was more in line with what to expect, aside from five turnovers. He’s tied for eighth in the league in turnovers, averaging 3.9.
Turnovers aside, coach Doc Rivers said Thursday’s performance is indicative of the player he’s looking to show up at all times.
“I thought tonight is who he has to be every night,” said Rivers, whose Sixers will carry a 9-4 record into weekend road games Saturday in Memphis and Sunday at Oklahoma City. “I loved the way he played. I love how he played under control, didn’t force it.”
Evaluating Simmons is never easy. He is among the NBA’s best defensive players and passers, but he is a reluctant shooter and, although he can get to the basket, he has trouble finishing consistently. Even without the shooting, the next step for Simmons is to play with more consistency -- less of the Tuesday Simmons and more of the Thursday edition.
Rivers understands that when Simmons plays the way he did Thursday, the Sixers are difficult to beat.
“He was a presence on the floor, and not just on the offensive end but the defensive end as well,” Rivers said. “And that takes us to another level when he plays like that.”