Sixers training camp story lines to watch, including Ben Simmons’ holdout and Joel Embiid’s next step
Tyrese Maxey’s development, Danny Green’s unfinished business and how the newcomers fit will be monitored as media day and practices begin Monday.
The Ben Simmons saga has lingered all offseason. And unless something changes in the next couple of days, it will hover over 76ers training camp.
Last month, The Inquirer reported that Simmons met with the Sixers’ brass to say he no longer wants to be in Philadelphia, and that he does not plan to report when the team for its media day Monday or the start of training camp Tuesday at its training complex in Camden. . Those intentions were reiterated in reporting from ESPN and others earlier this week, including how the Sixers could fine their All-NBA point guard for missing camp, games and other team obligations.
» READ MORE: Sources: Ben Simmons tells team brass he no longer wants to be a Sixer, and he does not intend to report to training camp
In an NBA news cycle that thrives on prominent player transactions — and the messiness that surrounds them — Simmons will be the most pressing topic in Philly until he is moved or changes his mind and returns to the team.
Still, the Sixers are a team that last season finished with the Eastern Conference’s best regular-season record before disappointing in the playoffs, losing to the Atlanta Hawks in the second round. That means there are several other storylines to monitor throughout camp.
Embiid’s next step
With the breakup of the Embiid-Simmons pairing potentially looming, Embiid will be on a quest to build off his MVP-caliber performance during the 2020-21 season. The big man averaged 28.5 points per game on 51.3% shooting, along with 10.6 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, and 1.0 steal per game while making the NBA All-Defensive second team for the third time.
Footage of Embiid signing his supermax extension last month indicates he is in supreme shape, something he has struggled with entering previous seasons.
And with that hefty contract comes hefty responsibility, especially under these circumstances. The Sixers and Embiid have committed to each other for the next six seasons. How does Embiid help launch a possible post-Simmons era?
Tyrese Maxey followed an impressive finish to his rookie season with a fantastic two-game summer-league stint, where his offensive firepower clearly placed him on the “too good to be here” list. During that time, the second-year point guard said he also worked on being a better facilitator, including left-handed passes and making various reads out of the pick-and-roll.
How has Maxey, the 21st overall pick in the 2020 draft, continued to develop since his Las Vegas appearance? Remember, this was his first full-blown NBA offseason. An array of social-media clips show him working out with personal trainer Chris Johnson, who also trains Simmons.
If and when Simmons departs, Maxey could become the Sixers’ point guard of the future. Or, if a Simmons deal returns a starting-caliber point guard, Maxey could be a bench spark plug. Or, he could be included in a blockbuster trade.
But as long as Simmons is holding out, Maxey is going to get valuable reps with the starters.
Maxey is not the only intriguing young player on this team.
Matisse Thybulle’s offseason included helping Australia win a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics. The third-year wing last season made the NBA All-Defensive second team, averaging 1.6 steals and 1.1 blocks while locking down opposing teams’ top perimeter scorers. But his offensive game is still a work in progress.
» READ MORE: Sixers star Ben Simmons wants out. Here’s how forced trades worked out for 5 All-Stars in recent years.
Shake Milton will be vying to regain his rotation role after struggling offensively during the playoffs and, ultimately, losing minutes to Maxey. He is a career 37.4% three-point shooter (including a terrific 43% clip in 2019-20).
Jaden Springer, the Sixers’ first-round pick this summer, is unlikely to crack the rotation immediately. Though he flashed some crafty finishes at the basket during summer league, his overall performance was uneven and there is a logjam at his position.
Isaiah Joe and Paul Reed also had their moments in Las Vegas, but will likely serve end-of-the-bench roles. Charles Bassey, the Sixers’ second-round pick, did not play in summer league and just signed a contract Thursday.
If and when the Sixers trade Simmons, that will automatically become the move that will most impact the 2021-22 team. But earlier this summer, Philly added Andre Drummond and Georges Niang to shore up the frontcourt.
For both players, fitting on this roster begins at training camp.
Drummond has had one of the more interesting career arcs in recent seasons, going from All-Star with a big contract, to ring chasing with the Lakers following a buyout (and getting benched in the playoffs), to signing a one-year, veteran’s-minimum deal with the Sixers.
Drummond’s past beef with Embiid made this signing spicy, though Drummond insisted last month that any ill will between them is overblown. Now, Drummond will be a capable reserve — particularly as a rebounder — whenever Embiid rests during a game, along with serving as a spot starter when Embiid misses time because of injury or load management.
The 6-foot-7 Niang, meanwhile, will fill the backup power forward position. The 27-year-old is a modern-day success story, rising from a player on a two-way contract to carving out a legitimate career.
He is a dynamite shooter. Niang has connected on at least 40% of his three-pointers the past three seasons (including 42.5% on 4.1 attempts per game in 2020-21).
The Sixers also signed point guard Grant Riller, a 2020 second-round draft pick who most recently played for the Charlotte Hornets, to a two-way contract.
Philly’s offseason also included re-signing veteran Danny Green to a two-year, $20 million contract and Furkan Korkmaz to a three-year, $15 million deal.
Green returns with unfinished business, after missing the end of the playoffs last season with a calf injury. He remains a knock-down shooter (40.5% on 6.3 three-point attempts last season), a trusted defender and a valuable leader with championship experience with the Lakers, Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs.
The 23-year-old Korkmaz is also known for his career 37.7% mark from three-point range. He is another young player with the flexibility to solidify a rotation role or become an additional asset to make salaries work in any potential trade.
Harris a second star?
During an offseason when Simmons and Embiid both made headlines for vastly different reasons, Harris continued to fly under the radar.
But depending on who comes back in any potential Simmons trade, Harris could be elevated into the second-star category.
» READ MORE: Kate Scott to call Sixers games on NBC Sports Philadelphia, replacing Marc Zumoff
Harris will be the highest-paid Sixer this season, illustrating his value as a consistent scorer and level-headed spokesperson. But he has yet to make an All-Star team in his 10-year career, and is coming off an 8-of-24 shooting performance in the Sixers’ decisive Game 7 against Atlanta.
Some will argue that, at this point in Harris’ career, his ceiling as a player has been established. But for the Sixers to remain in contention in the Eastern Conference, Harris will likely need to vault his game to a higher level.
Day to day approach
There is clear pressure to win now for coach Doc Rivers and president of basketball operations Daryl Morey. And with COVID-19 restrictions easing, vaccinated reporters will have far more in-person access to observe the day to day approach and style under their leadership.
Rivers was known for implementing a more relaxed practice and shootaround schedule during his time with the Clippers. Last season, his first in Philadelphia, those official team sessions were far more frequent as Rivers got to know his new roster and organization.
Reporters won’t see much scheming or on-court work during viewing portions of practice, but catching interactions between players and staff could provide a keen window into a team’s culture and progress in the weeks before the 2021-22 season.