Ben Simmons suffers from a fate common among athletes of freakish proportions. He makes things look easy. Too easy. So easy that you don’t even realize he is doing them.
In the first quarter of the Sixers’ 113-107 preseason win over the Pacers in Indianapolis on Friday night, there was a moment where Simmons was dribbling near the hashmark on one side of the court, the defense shaded in his direction. A split second later, the ball was 50 feet away, on the opposite side of the court, in the hands of Seth Curry, who was squaring up behind the three-point line without a defender in sight.
There are a couple of reasons you may not remember this moment. First and foremost is the fact that Curry missed the shot. But nearly as significant was the combination of length, strength, and awareness that turned what for many would have been an unthinkable play into a seemingly easy skip pass over the top of a sleeping defense.
It was a perfect example of the sort of thing that Simmons routinely does without generating a level of fanfare commensurate with the value he has provided. It was a perfect example of why the Sixers have been a 50-win team from the moment he stepped on the court. And it was a perfect example of why Daryl Morey would be operating well within the bounds of sanity if his stance really is, “We’re not trading Ben Simmons.”
That latter point might be the most relevant one, given Morey’s decision to go on record with that exact statement on Friday night. He made the comment to Stadium’s Shams Charania after ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski went live with a report that the Sixers had signaled their willingness to include Simmons in a trade for Rockets superstar James Harden.
In order to fully appreciate the magnitude of the dueling dispatches, you need to consider the nature of the NBA’s hot stove. Wojnarowski is as close as it gets to the historical record when it comes to his reporting. If he says it, the assumption across the league is that it is true. That goes for executives, and coaches, and players. Presumably, that means it goes for Simmons, too.
Given these realities, the Sixers response to Wojnarowski’s report was notable, in both its speed and its strength. Morey quickly went on record, and he did so in what would appear to be definitive terms, telling Charania, “We are not trading Ben Simmons -- he is an important part of our future.” This was followed by a phone call to Simmons from Doc Rivers, according to the Sixers coach.
“I can tell you again that none of this has started from us,” Rivers said before Friday night’s game. “I gave Ben a call last night, but I’m not going to share when we said. It’s unfortunate, but it’s part of our business. It is what it is.”
And so it will be, at least until the expiration of whatever time horizon Morey had in mind with his reference to “the future.” If there are any tea leaves to read, it will have to be done in hindsight.
One thing we can say for sure: Simmons proved to be a significant part of the future that unfolded one night after this latest mini-drama. In his 26 minutes of action against the Pacers, Simmons offered a preview of the worst-case scenario that could unfold if the Sixers were to trade him away.
He attacked the basket. He converted at the rim. He showed the exact sort of hunger for the paint that could lead to the achievement of his full potential. The box score wasn’t too far from his baseline: nine points, 4-for-6 from the field, eight assists, five boards, two blocks. To the naked eye, though, he was a player whom few teams would consider trading away.
Of course, the logic that the Sixers must follow is unique to them. It’s worth noting that, on Friday night, Simmons was not sharing the court with Joel Embiid. He is a critical variable in any Harden-Simmons calculus. And with each of the Sixers’ five starters minus in the minus, Embiid’s absence again served to underscore his importance. Simmons’ ability to become a championship scorer is only part of the equation. His ability to do it alongside Embiid is the rest.
The Sixers may just have the makings of a solution. If their first two preseason games are any indication, rookie point guard Tyrese Maxey will be costing somebody else on the team some minutes. For a second straight night, the first-round draft pick out of Kentucky showed a combination of ballhandling ability and body control that looked genuinely alien given the Sixers’ teams we have seen over the last few years.
If Maxey is as close to the De’Aaron Fox clone as he occasionally appears, he could dramatically decrease the Sixers’ urgency to add a star who can can create his own shot. Eventually, anyway.
At the very least, Maxey’s potential to emerge as Simmons’ long-sought complement combo guard is a reason to hope that any decision on Harden get pushed as close to the trade deadline as possible. The Sixers are going to be a fun team to watch evolve over the season. If you’re wondering why on earth Simmons is still a Sixer, a closer look at games like last night is where you should start.