Are we even emotionally ready to climb on this roller coaster again?
On Wednesday, October 20th, exactly four months removed from Game 7 against the Atlanta Hawks, the 76ers will travel to New Orleans to kickoff the 2021-22 campaign against the Pelicans. And what a turbulent ride we were treated to over these last four months.
Addressing anything other than the elephant in the room first and foremost would be doing a disservice to the amount of chaos that one man has sowed. "Elephant in the room" might even be an understatement. It is quite literally impossible to discuss anything about this team without Ben Simmons being in the middle of it one way or another. Just the way he would want it, right?
Yesterday morning at team practice, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that the team had elected to suspend Ben Simmons for tonight's opening game. At that time, I think most of us just speculated that this was because of the trials and tribulations he had put the organization through this offseason. But minutes later, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that coach Doc Rivers had to kick Simmons out of practice due to him "not being engaged" (shocking!) after declining to participate in team drills. As it once looked like he might be gearing up to play for the team again, that's back to being called into question.
On top of Simmons, the team will also be without guard Shake Milton (ankle) and two-way signee Grant Riller (knee) for their opener. Matisse Thybulle is also hoping to return to play after missing all of the 76ers' preseason action with a sore shoulder. The Pelicans will be without their all-star forward Zion Williamson as he is continuing to ease his way back from offseason foot surgery.
There will be plenty of things to keep an eye on with the Sixers, one of the most intriguing is what the guard rotation will look like. With Shake Milton out, the starting unit will presumably be Tyrese Maxey, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid. If Matisse Thybulle is back and ready to resume play, how will the wing minutes be split up between Curry, Green, Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz and Isaiah Joe? Given their shortage of ball handlers with the injuries and suspension, could we see Jaden Springer give the team some meaningful minutes in his NBA debut?
Without Simmons in their first real game action of the year, what will the offense look like? Can the 20-year-old Tyrese Maxey handle the responsibility of running the show this early into his career? Will he be given the green light to play his game and hunt for his shot, or will Doc Rivers try to shoehorn him into becoming a "point guard?" Will Maxey's presence as a scorer be as refreshing of an element to the Sixers offensive attack as many of us seem to think?
Not having to deal with Simmons clogging his paint, Joel Embiid should thrive like we have never seen before. In the preseason action we saw (aside from Toronto, who sends bodies at him like no one else does), the difference in pressure we saw on Embiid was very noticeable. Running 4 out around Embiid is going to be a doozy for anyone, but especially for teams that don't have anyone to check him from a size perspective. But will Simmons' absence have positive effects on any of his other teammates? Will his absence hurt anyone?
The dawn of a new season should take at least some of the daily point of conversation around this team off of Simmons and his tantrums. Since last season ended, the daily conversation is all about what he and his agency said or did today. I cannot wait to talk about actual basketball with this team again. This team had the best regular season record in the Eastern conference last season. Joel Embiid is a legitimate MVP candidate, is just now entering his prime and in the best shape of his life by all accounts. He just elected to sign a $198M supermax extension to keep him in Philadelphia until 2027. And let's hope he intends to actually follow the basic rules set forth in the contract he chose to sign!
Will it be painful to endure the uncertainty of what looms ahead, and deal with the inevitable downs of a season already off to a turbulent beginning? Absolutely. But it is going to be fun to watch our young guys grow and develop over the course of an 82-game season. There will be a sense of relief when we can all stop dealing with a million hypothetical scenarios and focus on the concrete roster we have when the Ben Simmons issue is resolved. And it will all feel worth it when we see Joel Embiid go to the line looking for his 55th point on the night, but not before egging on 19,000 strong, as they shower him with MVP chants. There is a new era of Sixers basketball on the horizon. And no matter who he is playing with, I look forward to being able to watch our superstar athlete do what he does best again: respectfully dominate.