They had their chance. The Sixers were gifted a golden opportunity to make their franchise instant title contenders in acquiring James Harden from Houston.
It would have cost them a franchise cornerstone in Ben Simmons, and much more, judging from the king’s ransom the Rockets received Wednesday in their blockbuster deal to jettison their lone star from Texas to the Nets. And it would have been worth it.
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Now that they haven’t, the ball lies squarely in Simmons’ court.
Since Daryl Morey considered Simmons too much to part with to acquire Harden – an NBA MVP and three-time scoring champion – Simmons must now show Morey that keeping him is ultimately worth it.
We all know what we’re talking about here. He needs to expand his offensive game, outside the painted area.
Ben Simmons is extremely talented, but his mental block that stops him from taking virtually any shot outside the lane is crippling to his offensive game.
He has been in the NBA, healthy and otherwise, for five years. His next game will be his 250th, counting the playoffs. You can count the three-pointers he has made on one hand, and have two fingers left over.
His game, in its current state, is a playoff albatross at the offensive end. In the postseason, especially in crunch time, the game ceases to be a Formula 1 Ballet, the speed at which Simmons is truly himself, and can excel. It grinds down to glacial speeds by comparison, where defenses crowd the lane like at no point in the regular season.
Players are forced to move without the ball, and yes, take and make shots from the outside.
No one has ever asked Simmons to become Steph Curry, or even Seth Curry. But we have seen Simmons rocket down the floor hundreds of times, only to be walled off 12 feet from the basket – an easy make for virtually anyone paid to play the game.
Instead, Simmons freezes, as if he wasn’t expecting what everyone watching expected. He pulls up, not a soul within six feet of him. Wide open. Only to look to get rid of the ball as if someone had pulled the pin on his giant, orange grenade.
It was a novelty when so many made a big thing when Simmons made a three-pointer earlier in his career. Brett Brown said his wish was for Simmons to take one three-pointer per game – not a big ask for any player, let alone a point guard.
Now it’s the running joke of the NBA.
For the Sixers to have any chance at making a deep playoff run, this season or any season as long as Simmons plays for this team, they need to see him open up his game. Take the mid-range shot that everyone is giving him. He doesn’t have to make them all. Heck, he doesn’t have to make half of them. What it does, if nothing else, is keep the defense honest. Put it in their collective psyche that he can. That he will. It will open up everything.
I liken it to a mobile quarterback. They don’t tuck and run every play. They do it maybe five to eight times in a game. Suddenly, the defensive line changes the way they attack. The defensive coordinator makes a linebacker a "spy." And now, the field is more open, and the mobile quarterback beats you, not because he ran, but because maybe he will.
The fans have been patient. Brown was too patient. Doc Rivers, thus far, has been patient. Patience has its limits.
Five seasons ago, the Sixers’ slogan was “This Starts Now.” The truth is, it really does have to start now.