CAMDEN, N.J. — The media room in the Sixers’ practice facility features various magazine covers from the team’s storied history. Julius Erving, Moses Malone and Joel Embiid grace the walls.
But as you look up, there’s one that features Ben Simmons just above your head.
As the Sixers began training camp, their three-time All-Star point guard was not present. We all knew it was coming, but it became a reality Tuesday afternoon. And as another report surfaced earlier in the day that Simmons thought his on-court relationship with Joel Embiid had “run its course.”
After just about every member of the Sixers organization at media day Monday backed Simmons and expressed hope for a return, it seemed like the message Tuesday was to work with what they have.
“I don’t have a reaction to that [report] because Ben’s not here,” Doc Rivers said. “I do believe at some point he will be. If he isn’t, then you’ve got another story. I don’t get caught up on that. Right now I’m going to focus on the guys that are on the floor. That’s more important.”
When pressed, Rivers seemed unmoved by this development in the Simmons saga.
“This is not the first time that guys didn’t think they could play together,” Rivers said. “This is basketball. I don’t think this is any earth-shattering thing to me.”
As media day went on Monday, the Simmons questions seemed to lose steam. Even after practice Tuesday, the players seemed ready to discuss what they’re doing to prepare for the season, even if Simmons chooses not to be a part of it.
Rivers confirmed that Maxey ran with the ones as the starting point guard during practice. No surprise there. While Rivers acknowledged that it will take Maxey a little time to adjust to becoming more of a point guard instead of the natural score-first guard that he is, he seemed encouraged by his progress.
A couple of the veterans on the team expressed optimism in Maxey’s ability to run the point.
“I think when you’re at the point guard spot, playing at the one, it’s important to be patient, be poised,” Tobias Harris said, “but Tyrese’s greatest skill is his speed out there on the floor and being able to finish at the rim. For us being able to get him into positions to get downhill and create plays [is important].
“He’s a young player, but he’s continuing to evolve into his game, so I think throughout this training camp we’re going to see more and more of him doing more things out there that he feels comfortable with in the half-court offense with different guys. I thought he did a great job today just coming in and handling the team and being able to put us in the right spots. The point guard position is a crucial position. For him, I think it’s going to grow his leadership skills.”
Seth Curry, who will likely aid Maxey in ball-handling duties, did see growth in the second-year guard from last season.
“He’s getting more confident,” Curry said. “He’s just trying to figure it out. It’s a different role, different lineups out there. It’s the first day. Just trying to get better and better and figure out how we’re going to play early on.”
This is an unprecedented situation in NBA history where a 25-year-old All-Star is holding out with four years left on a max contract. So far, Maxey’s career hasn’t exactly followed a conventional path anyway. Replacing a former All-NBA pick as a 20-year-old seems par for the course.
And so day one of life without Simmons is in the books, but his presence — or lack thereof — still very much hangs over everything the Sixers do.