BITTER BIRDS
Simmons Injury Unfortunate, But Not Disastrous
By Brian Wright It’s been a long time since the Philadelphia 76ers went into a season without an injury to a big man, all the way back to 2012 in fact. We’d like to forget Andrew Bynum was actually a Sixer, but since then, we’ve seen long-term injuries to Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid (twice), Jahlil Okafor and now Simmons, who stands as the shining light of hope on a franchise that hasn’t had much. Since the Sixers landed the No. 1 pick in the draft back at the lottery and subsequently selected Simons in June, the sense of optimism surrounding this team has been at an all-time high, especially with Embiid presumably healthy and Dario Saric finally arriving from Turkey. Add in a now healthy Okafor and some solid rim protection from Noel and you have a team that could potentially make a run at an 8-seed in a bad Eastern Conference. Then news of Simmons rolling his ankle on Friday broke. Bob Cooney’s report of the injury raised some eyebrows around the Delaware Valley, but when the Sixers confirmed the break, you could feel the collective kick to the testicles. “Oh no, not again,” said every Sixers fan in greater Philadelphia. And yes, given our history of potential franchise players with foot injuries, this reaction is completely justified – hell, this writer had the same thought, and plans to go to the season-opener against Oklahoma City. But after some thought about it, here’s the thing: This isn’t as crushing as it appears. According to several sources, Simmons is scheduled to have surgery next week, which leads one to believe the actual injury is a Jones fracture, rather than the typically less-serious avulsion fracture. And this isn’t the kind of injury which causes an athlete to alter his game; he just needs to make sure he’s fully healed. The court vision, the pinpoint passing, the strength, rebounding and his ability to lead a break will all still be intact when he returns. Conventional wisdom says this is only a two-month injury, and it could be less since he is opting to have the surgery. If we do the math, let’s say he has the procedure next Monday (Oct 3). Eight weeks from that date would put his potential debut at Nov. 28. But let’s add two more weeks just because the Sixers are incredibly cautious when dealing with injuries. So now we’re looking at a possible return of Dec. 12, which means he’ll miss 26 games. That’s only 30 percent of the season. If there is a silver lining to seeing a potential franchise player suffer an injury, it’s this: with Simmons out of the fold, it will give Brett Brown a chance to see what else he has. Simmons’ absence means more minutes for Saric, Noel and Okafor. Embiid will be on a minutes restriction so we’ll leave him alone for now. But fans will get a chance to see Saric and Embiid, or Saric and Okafor on the floor at the same time. This will also probably mean more playing time for Richaun Holmes, who impressed in Summer League. With as good as Simmons is/can be, the real crux of this whole “process” is Embiid. He is probably more important in the grand scheme than Simmons. You don’t see 7’2 guys with his skill set often, if ever, so if he is truly ready to unleash himself onto the NBA, fans at the Wells Fargo Center will still see something special and potentially franchise-changing. He’ll just be from Cameroon instead of Australia. Simmons will be back in time, but for now, let’s enjoy what is to come with Embiid, Saric, Noel and Okafor. The future is still bright in Sixer-land, one blub just burns slightly dimmer for a few months, that’s all. I’ll still be mixing up my Shirley Temple’s in preparation for Embiid’s debut against the Celtics next week – you should do the same.