The 76ers have 10 players from last season's roster who can enter free agency in a little over a month. But it's one of the few players under contract for the 2019-20 season that should be the central figure in determining how the Sixers handle their offseason.
Ben Simmons is not an easy person to read. While Joel Embiid can sometimes be accused of lacking a filter, Simmons is first-team all-defense when it comes to revealing his thoughts publicly.
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That's not a criticism. It's certainly Simmons' right to keep his thoughts to himself. But where this comes into play for the Sixers is the ability to read what Simmons is thinking about his future in Philadelphia. Does he desire the chance to break away from Joel Embiid and prove he can be the primary force on a winning team? Or does he want to see just how fertile an extended partnership with Embiid can be?
The answer to those questions should impact how Elton Brand approaches this offseason.
If Brand believes Simmons wants to stay long term, the Sixers should be hesitant about running it back with last year's team. While Jimmy Butler proved capable of being an offensive focal point at the end of tightly-contested playoff games, the organization would be better served in the big picture by giving Simmons the chance to develop into that type of player rather than the bystander he became too often on the offensive end in the playoffs.
Taking a look at the Raptors and Warriors, a major factor in making the Finals is having at least one player that can create and make his own shots in the half court. If Simmons can crack that code, the Sixers can attempt to cultivate the depth they lacked this past season with their available cap space.
There's undoubtedly risk involved in this proposition. Everyone knows Simmons has never made a three-point shot in his career. Almost all of his scoring takes place in the paint. There are even well-founded concerns as to whether he's shooting with the correct hand. But even with all of those red flags, the combination of Simmons' age (still just 22), his incredible skill level, and overall maturity lends credence to the belief that he will develop a consistent jump shot. If and when that happens, there will be nothing he cannot do on a basketball court.
Conversely, if the Sixers believe Simmons wants out of Philadelphia as soon as he has the option, then they should attempt to bring back as much of their veteran nucleus as possible and hope that a full season together and the likelihood that Kawhi Leonard will depart Toronto pushes them over the top. This scenario also ensures that the cupboard is not totally bare for Embiid if Simmons departs.
So Elton Brand is left to answer a question that has eluded most: what is Ben Simmons really thinking?
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