On Sunday, while many of you watched the Eagles’ season transition from a standings-watch situation to more of a tankathon situation, the Sixers took to OKC. And fueled by Seth Curry’s scorching hot start, they powered past a fledgling Thunder group. The team improved to 2-1, and if not for a five-minute melt down the final leg of the home opener against Brooklyn, they would be undefeated.
But the big story all offseason (and into the early portion of this year) of course has been the void left by former first overall pick in 2016, Ben Simmons. Simmons has reportedly made clear he would like a trade. But it’s possible there has very recently been a bit of a thaw in this icy stalemate that’s marched on since June.
The situation has been that Simmons wants a new team but the team isn’t very interested in trading him; at least not for anyone except a couple of superstars. Morey appeared on 97.5 The Fanatic last week and took a hardball stance, suggesting fans should “buckle in” because this could go on (if Simmons were willing to hold out that long) for “four years.”
Daryl Morey on @975TheFanatic: "Would you rather eliminate what people perceive to be a distraction, or would you rather have better playoff odds? I'll take playoff odds...Whatever we have to deal with that helps the Philadelphia 76ers win the title, we'll do it."— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) October 21, 2021
Before the start of the Thunder game, Morey appeared on NBCSP to talk hoops with Amy Fadool.
Morey said he likes how his team has played so far this year. He went out of his way to mention newly extended sniper Furkan Korkmaz, and how the native of Turkey has stepped up to fill the Simmons’ lineup void.
Morey, (per NBCSP):
“Yeah, coach [Doc] Rivers and I, we really like what were’s seeing so far. Obviously had a disappointing ending to the Nets game... but we felt like those wounds were self-inflicted things that we can work on and improve.”
Morey continued, shouting out Korkmaz, as well as the team’s best players Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris:
“We like how guys like Furkan Korkmaz are really stepping up in this period [without Simmons] and we’re still able to lean on our best players Joel and Tobias.”
But the biggest questions continue to be the ones regarding Simmons’ willingness and/or readiness to return. The Sixers were the top seed in the east last season. They might be lucky to avoid the Play-In Tournament if the 6-foot-10 playmaker were to miss the full season.
The landscape of the East is ripe for a Sixers run. With Kyrie Irving’s ongoing absence and the Nets starting off 1-2 without him, the Sixers could maintain their standing as an Eastern Conference powerhouse if they could at least return Simmons to their roster.
The latest on that slowly increasing possibility, per Morey:
“Yeah Ben came in at the end of last week and said he had back stiffness and he has, he’s dealing with some personal reasons off the court. Both [the Sixers] take very seriously. We’re working with Ben to provide every resource to help him with what is needed. And he spoke to his teammates, things seem to be moving very much in a positive direction. We’re gonna provide all the resources and get Ben what he needs and get him out there as soon as we can.”
Cynical readers would be forgiven for dismissing any form of “optimistic” update. Maybe Ben will sit out as the Sixers wait for Dec. 15, the date when a handful of newly-signed players become trade eligible. Marc Stein suggests, via Substack, they’ll at least wait that long before pursuing trades “with greater intent.”
But the fact that Simmons met with the team and suggested he is not yet mentally ready to play represents an important change in tone from the offseason.
Further, I don’t believe Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris would have been as vocally supportive as they have been if they didn’t feel positive steps were made in bridging a gap which existed all summer long.
Fadool pressed Morey to reaffirm his position that he wants and expects Simmons to play for the Sixers in the future:
Fadool: “...to be clear though, you’re still focused on Ben Simmons, when he does return whenever that may be, being in a Sixers uniform?”
Morey: “Absolutely yeah, we’re taking it day by day getting Ben what he needs. He’ll probably be doing individual workouts while he works through this and working through everything that we can help him with and hope to get him back out there as soon as he’s ready.”
For now, the 2-1 Sixers will aim to do all they can while Simmons is not yet available. But if you thought that Simmons had certainly played his last game in a Sixers’ uniform, it sounds more and more by the day like the team president never agreed with you. And he may be willing to lean on the full extent of his franchise’s resources to help the three-time All-Star and runner up for 2021 Defensive Player of the Year take the court in Philly again.