With less than a month until the Feb. 10 trade deadline, the ongoing stalemate between Ben Simmons and the 76ers is again creating a buzz across the NBA.
The Inquirer confirmed an ESPN report that Simmons’ agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, met Wednesday with Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey and general manager Elton Brand. ESPN’s reporting added that the stances of both sides remain “unchanged,” that the Sixers desire a significant return in any deal for Simmons, and that the All-Star point guard is no closer to playing for the team.
That last part lines up with coach Doc Rivers’ comments Wednesday ahead of the Sixers’ home game against Charlotte. When asked if there was any update on Simmons’ potential to return to the floor, Rivers said: “I don’t think so, but I don’t even know the answer. He does come to the facility, but I don’t know what that means right now. Hopefully, we’ll have an answer sooner or later.”
Paul, who also represents Sixers starting point guard Tyrese Maxey and the Hornets’ Miles Bridges, stayed for Wednesday night’s game. At one point, a fan sitting behind Paul’s courtside seat yelled: “Yo, Rich Paul! Get Ben Simmons out of Philly!”
This time of the season is always important for coaches, who must help players navigate the emotions and uncertainty of seeing their names in trade rumors and credible reports. Yet Rivers acknowledged the outside noise could be even greater around his team this year because, “obviously, we have the Ben thing.”
“I’m sure there’ll be some crazy rumors, and there’s not a lot I can do about that,” Rivers said. “But there may be more than usual, and if that’s the case, then you have to deal with this. It’s just part of my job, I guess.”
Simmons, a three-time All-Star and last season’s runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year, has not played this season after requesting a trade during the summer and vowing to never play for the organization again.
When the Sixers began fining Simmons for his absences, he briefly returned to preseason practices, before Rivers kicked him out of the session the day before the opener for not being engaged. After that, Simmons’ camp cited him as mentally unprepared to play and noted his lack of readiness as the reason he is not with the team. Simmons has been listed out for “personal reasons” on game-by-game injury reports. Since the preseason, the Sixers have wanted Simmons to play for the team in 2021-22, league sources told The Inquirer.
Rivers said he talks regularly with Morey and Brand about building a team that entered Wednesday on a seven-game winning streak and in fifth place in the Eastern Conference. The coach’s only request: “Don’t bring me anything that’s not going to happen.”
“But things that are possible, let’s talk about them,” Rivers said. “And that’s how we work. … You’re just not going to throw any trade together and do it. We’re looking at our team and what fits and how it works, what fits with the style that I want to play with this group. We discuss that all the time.”
Maxey returns after asymptomatic COVID-19 case
As Tyrese Maxey walked toward a crowd gathered in the corner of the 76ers’ practice court, he yelled, “I’m back!”
After missing four games while in COVID-19 health and safety protocols, the second-year starting point guard rejoined his team for the shootaround ahead of Wednesday’s game against the Hornets. Maxey said his COVID-19 case was completely asymptomatic, making his isolation period “extremely weird.” It was most important for him to stay away from his parents, who are in the area helping him move from a hotel into temporary housing after his South Jersey residence caught fire on Christmas Eve.
“I didn’t cough one time [or] sneeze,” Maxey said. “No congestion. Was never tired. I was basically at home, acting like I was sick, [but] perfectly healthy. … I’m blessed to have no symptoms, and I’m blessed to be back.”
Maxey said he produced his first negative test on Sunday, freeing him up for a couple of workouts and a mini scrimmage ahead of Wednesday’s shootaround. He was unsure if he would be on a minutes restriction for the game against the Hornets, but hoped to “fit right in” for a surging Sixers team that has won seven games in a row and boasts the NBA’s second-most efficient offense (119.5 points per 100 possessions) during that span.
Maxey is in the midst of a breakout season, averaging 16.8 points, 4.5 assists, and 3.5 rebounds per game while shooting 47.3% from the floor, 38% from three-point range, and 87.1% from the free-throw line entering Wednesday.
“Continue to bring the energy,” Maxey said of his goals in his return. “Continue pushing the pace, knocking down open shots ... and just go out there trying to be aggressive and help my team.”
Maxey’s return provides a boost to a backcourt that has been depleted in recent games.
Backup point guard Shake Milton remains out with a back contusion, though starting shooting guard Seth Curry was able to return after missing Monday’s win at Houston with ankle soreness.
Reserve big man Paul Reed was also back from health and safety protocols Wednesday. Starting forward Tobias Harris was also available to play against the Hornets after being listed as probable with right shoulder pain, though The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey reported Wednesday that Harris is playing with bursitis in that shoulder and biceps tendinitis. His shoulder was taped during Wednesday’s loss to the Hornets.
Harris said after the game that the injury initially occurred in the Sixers’ loss at Utah on Nov. 16 and that is has been aggravated “in numerous games” since then.
“It’s one of those things that I feel every single day,” Harris said. “... The pain is doable enough to play with, but when the time is right, I’ll probably look into some things to do for that. But right now, I can manage through it.”
Charlie Brown Jr. rewarded with two-way contract
Charlie Brown Jr. took a screenshot of a tweet from the Sixers’ feed and sent it to his parents and nephew. It was the announcement that his 10-day contract had been converted to a two-way deal, yielding an “ecstatic” reaction from family.
“I didn’t really expect anything coming in,” Brown said. “I knew me working hard and perfecting my craft would potentially get me a bigger contract. … To see it come to fruition and just to talk about it and be here in the present moment, it’s a blessing.”
It’s the latest step in a winding journey for Brown, the former George Washington High star and and St. Joseph’s product who has taken advantage of the increased opportunity for fringe players while the omicron COVID-19 variant ripped through the NBA.
Brown made an immediate impression with his length, athleticism and energy in two Sixers appearances. During last Friday’s win against San Antonio, he scored his first bucket on a transition and-one finish and added three rebounds and two steals in 12 minutes. Against Houston on Monday, he totaled four rebounds and two steals in 22 minutes.
“He has great instincts,” Rivers said of Brown. “Gets his hands on everything. He’s not raw offensively, because he can actually score, but on the NBA level we don’t know that yet. I do know, on an NBA level, he can defend.”
This deal gives Brown a significant pay bump, and will allow him to toggle back and forth between the Sixers and the G League’s Delaware Blue Coats. But he does not feel that extra dose of security, a quality he said he gets from his father. He’s also seen the volatility of the NBA firsthand while peppering stretches in the G League with short NBA stints over the past three seasons. This season alone, he played for the Blue Coats and spent a 10-day contract with Dallas before the Sixers call-up.
“[My dad] always tells me anything can happen,” Brown said. “So you’ve got to stay in the present moment and just not be comfortable. It’s a business, and things can change like that.”