Usually, preseason is a very sleepy time filled with small-story optimism. The ninth man had a protein shake and added some muscle. The 10th man may play more of another position and if he’s good at that, maybe he can become the sixth man. A big man who never takes threes was seen shooting threes in practice. A vet got married this summer. A sophomore really does like it in this city. You know, that kind of stuff. And so I’m trying to focus on those stories. I had in mind something like, “Isaiah Joe has clearly improved his handles this offseason” because of plays like this:
Can’t even explain how beneficial it is to have a quality shooter that can do this. Isaiah Joe continues to impress! pic.twitter.com/edZ9KqDOPI— Harrison Grimm (@Harrison_Grimm) October 12, 2021
It was one of those plays where you have to squint at your TV to see the jersey number because you’re not sure who the heck just did that. I thought that was No. 7, but does Joe have handles like that? Let’s go Joe! Philadelphia hero!
But let’s be honest. Last night was another animal altogether. While my phone is blowing up about Jon Gruden, the teams at the center of the two biggest stories in the league (e.g. Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons) had a basketball game.
Aside from the vaccination status of Irving, the Sixers occupy the spotlight for next biggest NBA story right now with their Simmons hold-out/trade situation. So this was one of those weird moments where the game itself felt more like a reason to simply discuss the two most fascinating teams while also watching meaningless basketball. I can’t wait until halftime when the starters are mostly done for the night and we get those Woj bombs, but man is Furkan Korkmaz balling!
The two biggest stories in the NBA right now
Kyrie Irving latest
Kyrie Irving did not play. He was eligible to since the team was not in Brooklyn, where unvaccinated players can’t hoop. But the team is at a bit of a nexus with their whimsical superstar.
This isn’t directly Sixers news but this story has transcended sports and involves the odds-on favorites. Just to catch you up to speed here. Once upon a time, a couple of weeks ago, the Nets were/are heavy title favorites. You remember those halcyon days when Stephen A. Smith was talking about how Kyrie is a “bit bizarre” and so the Nets can’t rely on him to be all-in on basketball and they’d absolutely consider trading Irving for Simmons if not for Kevin Durant being against that? You may have been comfortable nibbling your HipCityVeg Sando, nursing a Yards and scoffing at such drizzle.
Then we learned a couple of Nets players may not be eligible to play basketball in Brooklyn because of a local New York City vax mandate. Then we hear Irving is one of those players. Then we hear he may not push for any type of religious exemption. Then we learned the Nets Brass is preparing to be without him for home games all year. And then just as Isaiah Joe and Paul Reed were taking a halftime breather, we got a Woj bomb.
Per ESPN Insider Adrian Wojnarowski:
“…This is a real moment of truth for the Nets as an organization and you look at their stake holders there, obviously owner Joe Tsai, and Sean Marks their General Manager. But Kevin Durant and James Harden who have a tremendous voice in this, I think all together, they’re going to be part of that decision about whether they’re going to allow Kyrie Irving, if he doesn’t get vaccinated and is ineligible to play home games, …are they going to let him be a part time player.… or are they going to tell him that you’re either going to be a full time player?”
That moment of truth may have gone down last night. It sounds like the Nets ad hoc tribunal ruled against Kyrie Irving as part-time player!
Per ESPN’s Malika Andrews, Tuesday:
Irving must be vaccinated against COVID-19 before he can be a full participant with the team. NY requires players to have at least one dose of the vaccine. https://t.co/VaWGFQrG9N— Malika Andrews (@malika_andrews) October 12, 2021
The Nets are playing some hardball. And you, as a Sixers fan, hear that in the same way Daryl Morey, Elton Brand and Doc Rivers might. Alas, some beautiful Schadenfreude! Something terrible also happening to one of our top rivals! We’re not alone! What if they can’t trade Irving because teams fear him randomly retiring on them and they don’t let him play all season? This thing is wide open again! We’re not the only one who might be missing an All-Star! The Shakespearian parallels are glorious!
Then your rational brain returns and tells you “doofus, the Nets nearly beat the champs with KD and Bruce Brown, one shoe size away and now James Harden is healthy, they’re good.”
But for now, Sixers fans can hope Irving doesn’t play and loses lots of cash and poses a massive distraction for the Nets all season long. Sixers fans are not alone in their anxiety.
Ben Simmons returns?
The other massive story is that Simmons was in Philly and the Sixers are reportedly ready for him!
Sixers are hopeful to start moving toward the next steps of a return with Simmons, per sources. Organization wants him back on the court once he clears protocols, but that remains to be seen. https://t.co/4Zc3gUp50R— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) October 12, 2021
These types of updates raise more questions than they do provide answers. Is Simmons here to play, or is he worming around for some type of loophole which would allow him to get paid without playing? One would imagine Woj wouldn’t give us this type of olive branch report if Simmons had such sinister intentions. Right?
If he’s here to simply fake an injury and cash checks while waiting for a trade, the Sixers should prefer he holdout far away in order to save their money. So is it possible he suits up? Then how hard would he play?
The idea of the home arena booing him and then him not playing hard defense would make some pretty high drama. So would them booing him as he balled out joining Al Horford and Joel Embiid as those who’ve shushed Philly fans.
Here was what Woj added after the game about Simmons dropping in unannounced:
Sixers GM Elton Brand gets a text message essentially saying, 'hey, Ben is outside the building. He needs to get in to come take his COVID test.'— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) October 12, 2021
This is how the Sixers apparently found out about Ben Simmons' return to Philly... pic.twitter.com/9oQ4FO8mAo
The bemused look on Woj’s face as he explains Ben Simmons being at the front door is incredible. pic.twitter.com/fMoFjcm6Mf— Sam Vecenie (@Sam_Vecenie) October 12, 2021
Woj adds that they expected him later in the week after they made progress in talks with Rich Paul, Simmons’ agent. Then Ben just showed up and needed to be let in after a test. Hey, I’m just outside and the door is locked. Want to nasal swab me real quick, Elton?
And all of this, hours after updates like this one:
Here’s a picture of the for sale sign outside Ben Simmons’ residence in Moorestown. pic.twitter.com/KWIIgTLPsK— Keith Pompey (@PompeyOnSixers) October 11, 2021
If you’ve allowed yourself the thought “both teams trade Irving for Simmons and wash your hands of your biggest challenge” you’re not alone. But it doesn’t sound as if the Sixers would do that for fear Irving wouldn’t play.
Instead, we can wonder if one of Daryl Morey’s longest-held credo’s, that locker room chemistry is largely overrated, becomes a factor for the Sixers. We can wonder if the odds on favorites truly are vulnerable. We can wonder about the irony of one dude wanting to play for his team but not being allowed to because they don’t want him and another whose team wants him but him potentially refusing. Both losing game checks in the process. And most importantly, we can wonder what Isaiah Joe’s ceiling is if he can now split a double and snake into the lane for a teardrop.