All across the Philadelphia 76ers basketball operations staff late on Friday afternoon, an internal email landed like a meteor hitting the side of a mountain: No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons, fractured foot.
From the front office to the coaches to the scouting staff, the news delivered such an unmistakable sense of dread.
There isn’t a franchise that wouldn’t feel the burden of losing its most promising young player before he’s even played a preseason game, but this is different. These are the Sixers, a franchise that has spent far too much time waiting on the broken bones of prodigies. Hello, Joel Embiid; goodbye, Ben Simmons. Once, the Portland Trail Blazers had this kind of awful run over several years, and now, it seems, it happens over and over to the 76ers.
As Joel Embiid prepares to finally make his professional debut in his third season, Simmons goes down with a fracture in the fifth metatarsal of his right foot – which likely means he’s out for months, not weeks.
Ben Simmons is a unique talent, 6-foot-10 and perhaps suited to play point guard. For now, he can do everything with a basketball but shoot it. The passing, the rebounding, finishing at the rim. In summer league, there was an electricity in the gym when Simmons had the ball. He could see things – and make plays – like only the remarkable ones do.
His gifts are so immense, that general manager Bryan Colangelo flatly told the The Vertical recently: Ben Simmons could be one of the greats.
“Hopefully, over the next five to 10 years, we’ll all be part of that same growth and that same process of him becoming a great basketball player, and becoming a Hall of Fame-type of player,” Colangelo told The Vertical.
“Does he have it in him?
“I think he does.”
There isn’t a young star in the league who wants to walk into the opening night of his NBA career on crutches, but Simmons truly needed to be on the floor. He needed to be with his teammates and coaches, needed to be practicing, playing, learning the professional game and life.
At times, he has drifted in his amateur career. At times, people wondered: How important is the game to him? Colangelo even suggested to The Vertical that Simmons could’ve been “bored” in his college season.
On and off the record, the Sixers’ staff has gushed over Simmons so far. He had come to camp with a serious-minded approach, had seemed to come to chase greatness. Now, there could be surgery. There could be months lost. There’s no timetable on a recovery yet, but make no mistake: Simmons needed this Sixers season, the way the franchise assuredly needs him.
“He’s in the gym whenever guys are in the gym playing basketball,” Colangelo told The Vertical. “He’s getting shots up. He’s working with the shooting coach. He’s been terrific. He gets along with everybody. He gets along with the people on staff, he gets along with the players that he’s been playing with, both in summer league and now that he’s been training in the gym. So far everything is spot on …”
Until Friday, when Ben Simmons, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, was lost to a fractured right foot. They are far too used to this routine in Philadelphia, far too accustomed to the dull ache of a prodigy on crutches and on the mend.
All around that franchise, it hit hard today.