The Ben Simmons’ saga hung over the Philadelphia 76ers like a $170 million rain cloud for half of the 2021-22 campaign. It was ready to burst at any given moment, altering the way the coaching staff put together the starting five while forcing players to answer uncomfortable questions from the media.
No one ever used Simmons as a crutch or excuse. The Sixers went about their business, got a trade done, and earned the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. All in all, they made the best of a sticky situation. But the ordeal was a distraction for them, something several players were willing to admit during exit interviews. It hurt their mental focus and maturity at times.
“There were a lot of distractions, it was a roller coaster ride,” veteran Danny Green said on May 13. “I think for the most part – we have a lot of young guys as well – they handled it well, extremely well but we do have some ways to go when it comes to that. I think just being mentally focused and mature, staying locked in for 48 minutes, for the duration of the season – and that comes with age and maturity.
“So we have a lot of young guys, they are just getting it, they are just learning it. Some of them have never seen it or know how to win. Some are learning how to be professionals, but I think we have a good foundation and if we were to have everybody back next year, that’s a pretty good start. We’ll be ahead of the curve to start the season and I think we’ll be right back in the talks for contention.”
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Shake Milton Agreed with Green’s Comments
Shake Milton wasn’t afraid to admit that the Simmons’ saga was hard to ignore. He credited everyone for pulling together and blocking it out, although it certainly was front of mind early in the year.
“I think just as a team, as a whole, it might have been a little bit of a distraction,” Milton said. “But I think guys did a really good job of taking it for what it was and focusing on the guys that were in the locker room and doing what we had to do to make the team and the season a successful one.”
Milton was in a battle with Tyrese Maxey for a starting spot when training camp opened. With Simmons missing, the starting five was in flux and Milton was leading the competition to be the team’s No. 1 point guard early in the preseason.
Then, a sprained ankle sidelined Milton which gave way to Maxey’s meteoric rise. He missed 27 games, including the first four contests of the season. That gave Milton – a potential free agent with Bird Rights – an unexpected front-row seat to Maxey’s development.
“Definitely, man, the growth of that kid is crazy,” Milton said. “I tell him all the time he’s outta here, and I always tell him not to take a step back. With the progress he’s made, everything’s he’s pushed for and worked for, keep going with it and don’t take a step back. Just to see what he does, the work he puts in day in and day out, he deserves it for sure.”
Sixers Need ‘More Time Behind the Wheel’
James Harden only suited up in 21 games for the Sixers following the blockbuster trade involving Simmons. It wasn’t enough time for the team to incorporate the 10-time All-Star into the offense. Doc Rivers blamed that lack of time together for their playoff shortcomings as did several prominent players.
“More time behind the wheel. We just got James a couple of months ago,” Danny Green said. “Besides that, it’s just the little things, mostly buying in – Doc will reiterate that – having everybody buying in. But I think we have the talent, we have the pieces, it’s just putting our individual selves aside with the greater good of the group and that’s making multiple efforts, offensive and defensively, and being sharp.”