CAMDEN, N.J. — It’s been anything but business as usual for the Sixers since Game 7 ended on June 20.
Since that time, the drama surrounding Ben Simmons’ desire to be traded has far outweighed any other storyline.
But for now, the reported leaks of his unhappiness and reasons why have mostly quieted. He’s with the team and joined them for the second day in a row at practice Monday. We still have yet to hear from the three-time All-Star — he’s expected to speak on Tuesday before the team departs for New Orleans — but the gaggle of reporters was larger than usual and ready to fire questions at his head coach and teammates.
The most pressing query: Will Simmons play in the season opener Wednesday against the Pelicans?
“I have no idea,” Doc Rivers said. “Honestly, I haven’t even thought about it much. When it comes, I’ll make the decision. But I’m just going to wait and see and watch. The spirit has been so good, and so we’re just going to keep going.”
Since he reported back to the team last week, it’s been largely speculated that it will be Simmons’ choice alone on whether or not he plays. Rivers made it seem like it was more his decision than Simmons’ … but we’ll see.
Rivers said that Simmons has been mixing in with the second group at practice. Asked what Simmons has to show him between now and Wednesday in order to play, it’s what you’d expect he’d be looking for from a guy that wasn’t with the team for three weeks.
“Just learning the new stuff, conditioning, timing, rhythm,” Rivers said. “We’ve been together for three weeks so we’ve established a good rhythm. So the more he’s in, the more he does, especially with the offensive stuff earlier. We’ve built from last year, but we’ve tweaked a lot of stuff. But it’s easy to pick up and that’s a good thing, especially for him.”
For the portion of practice that the media was allowed into, Simmons didn’t seem to engage with his teammates much. When the team huddled, he didn’t join others in putting his hand up and left the court quickly after practice ended.
None of this is surprising for a guy who clearly wants out of Philadelphia.
With that said, there was a much larger portion of practice we didn’t see. Rivers and a few of Simmons’ teammates seemed unbothered by the situation.
“It’ll grow, it’ll come back,” Rivers said. “I’m not that concerned right now with it. They’re interchanging. It’s coming, and it just takes time. … I think overall, our chemistry is phenomenal right now, and we want to keep it growing.”
If there is any awkwardness amongst Simmons and his teammates, they’re hiding it well.
“Things have gone the same as normal,” Danny Green said. “... we’ve got a new guy in, a new face in, that we haven’t seen in a while. That’s the only difference.”
Green went on to say that the adjustments being made with Simmons’ return are minimal.
“It’s not that difficult. We only had two, three weeks without him,” Green said. “Some of these guys played with him for some years. So our offense hasn’t changed a bunch. It’s predicated around those guys — Ben, Tobias [Harris], Joel [Embiid]. So it hasn’t changed much.”
Newcomer Georges Niang has been unfazed by Simmons’ arrival.
“We’ve welcomed him,” Niang said. “I don’t think anything has really changed. Obviously he’s a part of this team and we’re happy that he’s here now. So I don’t think anything has really changed. The vibes are still really high and we’re still really excited to push forward and compete for a championship this season.”
When asked if he has any indication if Simmons will play in the opener, Niang offered up this fantastic quote:
“I’m here and I was told a long time ago: I stay in my lane because when you start getting out of your lane, that’s how you get hit by a Mac track. I stay in my lane, and I show up to work every day and do what I need to do to help the team win.”
That is one self-aware man.
As for the impact Simmons’ presence has had on some of the younger players that have looked up to the 6-foot-10 Australian, Tyrese Maxey was just happy to have his friend back. Whether or not Simmons suits up will have a large impact on Maxey.
The second-year guard is fine either way.
“He’s Ben Simmons,” Maxey said. “We know what he does. It’s great to have him back.”
Has the mood around the team changed?
“I don’t think so,” Maxey said. “Great vibes, great energy. Everybody’s welcoming, and we just move on.”
Is it all that simple?
We’ll find out soon enough.